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Jagger jumped at chance to film Brown biopic

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Chadwick Boseman stars as the Godfather of Soul in Get On Up, which opens in Winnipeg on Friday.

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Chadwick Boseman stars as the Godfather of Soul in Get On Up, which opens in Winnipeg on Friday.

Mick Jagger copped plenty of dance moves from James Brown, and the similarities don't end there.

"James was definitely one of those guys with super drive and energy," Jagger says of the late Godfather of Soul. "He stayed in shape all the time. He never left the audience bored. He involved the audience and kept them amused and entertained. He gave his best in every show."

Jagger, who turned 71 Saturday, could be talking about himself. The Rolling Stones singer, on a break from the band's 14 On Fire world tour, is promoting the Brown biopic Get On Up, which he produced through his Jagged Films. It opens Friday.

Early in his career, the singer was inspired by Brown's charisma, footwork and vocal chops. When the film project hit his doorstep eight years ago, Jagger jumped.

Producer Brian Grazer had secured the rights to Brown's life in 2002, "but the project never got anywhere for various reasons," Jagger says. "James didn't like this or that, Brian had to keep extending the rights, and it just ran out of steam. When James died, it got more complicated because people in the estate were arguing amongst themselves."

His widow and children continue to litigate over the fortune Brown left when he died on Christmas Day in 2006. Estate manager Peter Afterman asked pal Jagger if he wanted to produce a Brown documentary. Assured that Afterman had acquired full music rights ("You need one person administering them, not 20"), Jagger agreed, then suggested a feature.

Next, Jagger tracked down an early script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and partnered with Grazer.

"We had to go to the studio to get the money," Jagger says. "These kind of biopics have a mixed run at the box office. Once Universal made up its mind, they got behind it. It went quickly from there."

The $30-million film, directed by Tate Taylor and starring Chadwick Boseman, was shot in 49 days, and Jagger was thrilled with the results: a music-driven non-linear depiction of Brown's ascent from poverty and abuse to global acclaim.

"It's not so unconventional that it puts you off, and it's not a whitewash but not too negative," he says. "And the music really sounds great."

It always has, says Jagger, whose first exposure to Brown was such early singles as 1958's Try Me and 1960's Think (covered live in recent years by the Stones), then the 1963 album Live at the Apollo.

"I listened to it intently," Jagger says. "You can hear that he's a great performer, and I was picturing how he would dance. Then I went to see him at the Apollo and I was blown away. I was impressed by how hard he worked and how he had the audience in the palm of his hand. That was a learning experience for me."

The two struck up a friendship after one of Brown's shows at the fabled Harlem theatre.

"He was always very nice, very generous, but he talked about business a lot and I wasn't that interested in it," says Jagger, who considers Brown a forerunner to such contemporary black music moguls as Jay Z and Puffy Combs.

Get On Up revisits the milestone Apollo gig, the 1968 Boston Garden concert the night after Martin Luther King's death and 1964's legendary T.A.M.I. Show in Santa Monica, where Brown upstaged the Stones after complaining about his lower spot on the bill.

"That's a little poetic licence," Jagger says of a scene showing the nervous British rockers in the wings as Soul Brother No. 1 steals the show. Jagger says he didn't watch Brown, but he does recall Brown stewing about not headlining. Promoters, uneasy about approaching the perturbed singer, dispatched Jagger to appease him.

"James was very competitive, and I'm sure he wanted to put on the best show," Jagger says. "It was an odd project, a rock 'n' roll film with a very eclectic cast. The Motown acts already had No. 1 singles. The Rolling Stones were big in California. They had The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore. For James, it was a non-chitlin' circuit, mainstream breakthrough, very important for him."

For decades, Jagger was well-versed in Brown's catalogue and its impact on all genres. He was less familiar with Brown's early life until he began digging.

"I never knew much about the abject poverty and abandonment or life in the backwoods of Georgia," he says. "That was like another country. When I first came to the States, I'd go to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and middle-class people you rubbed shoulders with in those towns didn't know that other America existed."

Jagger also produced upcoming documentary Mr. Dynamite: James Brown and the Power of Soul, directed by Alex Gibney. The HBO series Rock and Roll, his music-business drama with partners Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter, is in production. And Elvis Presley biopic Last Train to Memphis gets under way soon.

Not on Jagger's to-do list? A film version of his own storied career.

"There's been some garbage script floating around," he grouses. "It's of no literary merit. Most people that write this stuff are useless. Probably someone will do one someday. Who knows?"

-- USA Today


Please see Friday's Free Press for a review of Get On Up.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2014 C3

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