Alan Tudyk stars as Ben Chapman in the upcoming movie 42, which chronicles the life of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Now, the actor speaks to Hypable about the controversial role.
Hypable has spoken to actor Alan Tudyk both about his upcoming Suburgatory storylines and about his thoughts on a Firefly revival, and now we bring you the final part of the interview. Here, Tudyk previews his role in the upcoming movie 42, which premieres April 12.
42 tells the incredible story of baseball legend Jackie Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman), who became the first black Major League Baseball player in the United States when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
In the movie, Alan Tudyk plays Phillies manager Ben Chapman – Robinson’s greatest adversary off the field, who actively tries to undermine Robinson’s position and spreads very vocal racial slurs about the player.
Naturally, any actor might find such a role hard to take on, but writer and director Brian Helgeland believed that Tudyk was the man for the job. Tudyk, on his part, has nothing but praise for the director.
“I was really excited to work with Brian Helgeland again after working on The Knight’s Tale together,” he says, “and the script was just so brilliantly written.”
It was Helgeland who approached Tudyk about playing Ben Chapman because of the complexity of the character. While Ben Chapman was, in Tudyk’s words, “not a very nice guy, basically the face of the worst racism at the time,” he was also someone who a lot of people really liked. “So Brian had said that he wanted me to play it, because he didn’t want somebody who just comes on and plays a villain,” Tudyk explains.
Helgeland’s vision for the movie included a Ben Chapman who wasn’t just an average bad guy. “He wanted someone to do Ben who could show that he wasn’t just straight-up evil. That he was a ‘good ol’ boy’ who just had this very narrow view of race,” Tudyk says. “Ben was a product of where he grew up – and that’s how I played him. He’s not out there just being a meanie, he’s out there having a good time, he’s having fun.”
While Tudyk was happy to take on this role, he did have a few reservations going in. “I was a little worried,” he confesses. “People identify actors with their characters, and up until this point it’s been really good for me. I’ve played a lot of really funny, silly characters… so people will be like, ‘oh, I really like that pirate who plays dodgeball, there he is right there!’ It’s a good thing.” Now, there is perhaps a slight worry that people will identify him as, “‘that racist guy who got fired from baseball after being such an ass.’”
At the same time, “the things he’s saying aren’t being said just to make the audience feel a certain way. It’s actually what was being said, and this guy was actually the manager of a major-league team standing out in front of everybody, saying these things.”
Tudyk also confesses that shooting some of the more explicit scenes took a toll on him. “There were some scenes, the scenes where I was just really race-bating Jackie, those scenes were very hard,” he says. “And they put me in a really bad mood. And then I went home, I realised that I was in this terrible mood, basically taking my work home with me.”
Despite having to get into the mindset of this character however, “being a part of this movie is just really fantastic,” Tudyk says. “There’s some laughs in it, too, and some really great performances. Certainly, there’s Harrison Ford like you’ve never seen him before.”
Harrison Ford underwent quite a transformation to play Robinson’s coach Branch Rickey, and even Tudyk admits that, “there are moments within it where you’re like, ‘oh right, this is Harrison Ford!’ He doesn’t look like him, and he’s got this deep voice as the cigar-chomping Branch Rickey – who was also this great, colourful character at the time.”
Ultimately, Tudyk says, this movie tells a story which should have been told a long time ago. “It was an important time in baseball, in the United States,” he says. “All the characters who were around at that time, the baseball hall of famers who were just getting their start at that time, they were on that team.”
And more than anything else, “it shows how amazing Jackie Robinson was. That’s gonna come across: what an amazing – not just baseball player – but civil rights leader and human being he was.”
42 hits theaters on April 12. It also stars Christopher Meloni, Lucas Black, and Nicole Beharie.