Viola Davis Talks Working With Chadwick Boseman On Netflix's Ma Rainey, Revealing Her Nickname For Him

Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
(Image credit: (Netflix))

Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of the year and is part of the early award season buzz. Considering the talent at hand, led by the incomparable Viola Davis, it feels like it was fated to be in the Oscar conversation. But now that it has become Chadwick Boseman’s final performance, the film’s release gives the cast a chance to share their memories of the late Black Panther star.

Chadwick Boseman passed in August at the age of 43, after a four-year private battle with colon cancer. The actor was preparing to reprise his role in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther sequel, which will now continue without T’Challa in 2022. Viola Davis, who worked closely with Boseman on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, shared the nickname she gave him with these words:

I played his mom, so I was always calling him my baby. I always sort of saw him like that. I probably would not have said that to him because he may have cringed. To work with Chadwick is to be in the presence of greatness, really. And I actually don’t see him tragically — I know he lost his life at 43 — because of what he did with the time he had.

Prior to Ma Rainey, Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman worked together to adapt another real story. Davis played Susie Brown, James Brown’s mother in Get On Up, where the actor memorably portrayed the King of Soul. Since filming the movie in 2013, Davis thought of her actor as her “baby,” even though she never necessarily called him this in person. She also told Arab News how privileged she felt to get to work alongside him. And because he gave his performances and his own life his all, she does not look at his recent death as “tragic.”

Although he did not share his battle with cancer with the public or even his closest collaborators, it feels as though Chadwick Boseman was attracted to films tackling legacy. And looking back, it’s quite amazing to know that when the actor first became a scene stealer with his introduction as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, he was in his first year dealing with colon cancer. Of course, we won’t be remembering Boseman for the condition that led to his untimely death earlier this year, it's his contributions to cinema and his regal and light presence that will stick with fans for years to come.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an adaptation of an award-winning August Wilson play of the same name about the “Mother of the Blues” during an afternoon in her life in Chicago when she clashes with her manager. Chadwick Boseman plays her hot-headed trumpet player, Levee alongside an all-star cast. Ma Rainey is streaming on Netflix now and check out CinemaBlend’s ranking of the streaming service’s best original 2020 releases.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.