Take Two for April 12, 2013

'42' director Brian Helgeland on telling Jackie Robinson's story

42 Jackie Robinson

42

Still from the film "42."

Monday will mark the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier. 

His story is arguably one of the most well-known in sports history. It has everything you'd put in a movie, a likable hero put in an extreme situation where he faces huge obstacles but comes out on top. 

In the nearly seven decades since Robinson's breakthrough, there has been only one film about his life to hit the big screen. That was in 1950 when Robinson played himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story."



Well, as of today, there's a second, the film '42' opens nationwide. 

It chronicles how Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, found, signed and delivered Jackie Robinson to the majors. 

Writer and director Brian Helgeland joins the show to talk about why he wanted to do this film. 

Interview Highlights:

On why he chose to tell Jackie Robinson's story:
"I knew a lot about him just as an average baseball fan, and then in my own misguided head somewhere it felt like when he stepped out onto the field that was his great act of bravery, but when I started to research and read about it it was really about 10,000 little moments of bravery that all added up to one enormous act of courage. I was kind of struck by all those: having to go to the plate everyday four times a day all through a long grinding season, going on the road from city to constantly be on display. It got to the point where it was almost incomprehensible that he could have done this, and I knew I would never have a better chance to tell a man's story and kind of get out of the way of that story, so I was thrilled to be able to do it."

On how he wrote a script for a story that is such a big part of American history:
"My first task was to figure out what part of his life to tell. He had a rich life, he had a huge sports career at UCLA, he had trials and tribulations in the army, he was court marshaled for not going to the back of the military bus, he had an enormous life and career after baseball, and into the '60s with the civil-rights movement. So I decided early on that I really needed to focus on what got that number retired. From there I just needed to convince Mrs. Robinson of that. I think she was hoping with something with more breath to it as far as his life was concerned and I convinced her that if we showed that crucible it would illuminate the man who came before and hopefully illuminate the man who came after."

On if he thought the Jackie Robinson's story be told accurately without racial slurs:
"I don't think so, I can only speak to the way they're used in this movie, but the thing about him was that — civil rights, segregation, racism, they're all things that can be talked around the dinner table as ideas, but he put a face on all of that and a number, the ironic thing being you don't want to be treated as a number, but in baseball your number is pride. He put a face on all of it, he made people choose a person over an idea, and racial language is meant to dehumanize and turn you into a thing and that was a great part of the attack against him to dehumanize him and try and take that face off of him. I don't think you could do this movie without being honest about the racially violent language that was used against him."


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