Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa in the ancestral plane in Black Panther

Since August, we’ve been mourning a legend. Chadwick Boseman touched the lives of many with his work as an actor and his insurmountable presence. The actor, playwright, producer and philanthropist died on August, 28, 2020 at the age of 43 best known for being Marvel’s Black Panther. In tribute to the legend, Netflix put together a special for the late actor called Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist and it had a number of highlights we won’t soon forget.

Portrait of an Artist features a few of Chadwick Boseman’s close collaborators such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom actress Viola Davis and Da 5 Bloods’ Spike Lee. They shared their experiences with Boseman and what he was like as an actor, or as he preferred to call himself: an “artist.” Here are a few things the new release currently streaming on Netflix for a limited time revealed about him:

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson on the field in 42

What Chadwick Boseman Was Like At Howard University

Chadwick Boseman has always been proud of his college, D.C.’s Howard University, an alma mater he shares with Taraji P. Henson, Anthony Anderson and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. During Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist, his former teacher Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role in The Cosby Show, shared her own impressions of the actor while he was part of her class. In Rashad’s words:

He was this lanky young man with a very gentle face and a gentle smile. Eyes big and wide open, wanting to take everything in, wanting to know all there was to know about theater and I mean everything.

Rashad has been known to be one of Boseman’s early mentors when he studied directing at Howard. In the special, she shared her personal experiences with him before he became a Hollywood star. She spoke about how he wanted to learn everything involved in studying theater. He came in to become a director, but ended up finding a calling in acting. It’s quite amazing to hear how highly Phylicia Rashad speaks of him from the inception of his career.

Chadwick Boseman as Levee with Viola Davis as Ma Rainey

Viola Davis Felt Like She Needed To ‘Step Up’ With Chadwick

Chadwick Boseman had some incredible opportunities to work with some truly talented actors to match his own expertise, including Viola Davis. The late actor worked with the Suicide Squad’s Amanda Waller in Get On Up and his last performance on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Davis was prominent in the special, saying a number of memorable things about her co-star. Here’s one thing she said about working with him:

Chadwick was one of those actors that scares you because you know you have to step up when you’re in his presence, that he is going to go 100 percent. He just is, you feel it. He’s looking at your work and he’s like ‘I have to believe you in order to believe myself, in order to believe this, that we are in this world.’

The actress went on to open up his personal script for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and read some of the notes he had written down for his character of Levee. Viola Davis got emotional reading his notes about the character because she felt he truly understood the character and took it one step further with it. Quite a few other collaborators in the special revealed Boseman’s tendency to want to embody the “essence” of a character, rather than run lines or imitate them.

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown performing in a blue tux in Get On Up

He Was A Perfectionist, Especially When It Came To Playing Famous Figures

The special also revealed how committed Chadwick Boseman was to playing the real people he portrayed in some of the biopics he was part of. The actor played Jackie Robinson, the first African American MLB player, in 2013’s 42, Godfather of Soul James Brown in 2015’s Get On Up, the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s Marshall. It was an impressive run of real people to play, and while it’s clear he took his roles seriously through his work, he was apparently a perfectionist about getting things absolutely right.

He studied the foot movements of James Brown, he studied the techniques to slide on bases just like Jackie Robinson and picked up the cornet with precision and ease for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. His co-star Glynn Turman called him a “technician.” His Get On Up director Tate Taylor remembered Chadwick Boseman practicing his James Brown moves every waking moment, even while waiting for a table at dinner.

Denzel Washington in The Little Things with Jared Leto

Denzel Washington’s Powerful Words About The Actor

You may be aware of Chadwick Boseman’s unique connection with Denzel Washington. Back in 2019, Boseman told the story at an AFI award show about the time when Washington paid for his summer tuition for a theater program at Oxford. He shared there was no Black Panther without Denzel Washington during the speech. Years following the anonymous donation, the actors established a relationship with one another. During Portrait of an Artist, Washington described the late actor with these words:

Some people have a concentrated dose of life. It’s like the old frozen orange juice that was in that little container and you have to put a gallon of water in it to make it a quart of orange juice. Well, some people are that concentrated juice with no water in it. It’s too strong. It’s too good. It’s too powerful.

It’s a beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman because it really illustrates who he was from a fellow talented and respected member of the Hollywood community. The documentary shows that he was truly an inspiring person even to the elder Oscar winner because of his zest for life and ability to be a complete version of himself that was not watered down.

Chadwick Boseman as Levee in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Why Chadwick Boseman Stood Out Among Hollywood’s Finest

Ultimately, Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist is simply as advertised. It shared a brief but powerful picture into who he was and why his shocking loss to colon cancer is felt so deeply. He was truly a one of a kind human and a special person who touched all who knew him. As Viola Davis put it in the special:

Chadwick was a character actor in a leading man’s body. He was 100 dedicated and was just interested in the work… I will continue to say this. He was not interested in Black Panther, what he did before, his ego. He wasn’t interested in any of that. He was just interested in the work. That’s Chad.

Davis went on to share how many actors are in Hollywood to be famous, but that was never his goal. He truly and deeply cared about acting as a medium to be an artist. The Netflix production is not lavish or too in depth, but that message alone feels like a worthwhile and meaningful one.

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