As portrayed by the Google Doodle, baseball player Jackie Robinson would have turned 94 today, but the biopic coming out in April about his life and his struggle to survive as he played in the baseball major leagues will take its title from a different number – “42,” Robinson’s famous jersey numeral.
“42” stars “The Express” actor Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, an executive in major league baseball who was responsible for bringing Robinson onto the Brooklyn Dodgers. John C. McGinley of the TV show “Scrubs” will play broadcaster Walter “Red” Barber, “Law and Order: SVU” actor Christopher Meloni will portray Dodgers manager Leo Durocher and actress Nicole Beharie (also of “The Express”) will play Robinson’s wife Rachel Isum.
The best-known adaptation of Robinson’s life before now was the 1950 film “The Jackie Robinson Story,” in which Robinson played himself in the story of how he broke the color barrier in baseball. The second baseman (though he started his time on the Dodgers on first base) starred as himself eight years after the film about Lou Gehrig’s life, “The Pride of the Yankees,” featured New York Yankees Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig, and Bob Meusel playing themselves.
“The Express,” the 2008 film in which Boseman and Beharie both acted, was also a sports film, telling the story of African-American Ernie Davis, who played for Syracuse University and was the first black player to win the Heisman trophy. Boseman portrayed Floyd Little, a running back for Syracuse, while Beharie played Sarah Ward, a fictionalized version of Davis’s girlfriend.
“42” will open on April 12, three days before the date Robinson first played for the Dodgers. (April 12 is a Friday this year, a traditional movie-opening day, which may explain the slight difference.)
Boseman said that he met Rachel Isum Robinson early on once he had been cast as the famous baseball player.
“The first thing she said was basically, 'Who are you, and why do you get to play my husband?’” Boseman told the Los Angeles Times. “We were sitting in her office down on [New York's] Varick Street, and she was talking to me and showing me photo albums, and she told me she was a little nervous about me playing him.”
Robinson later told him that her fears were allayed, he said, but Boseman himself still feels the pressure of portraying a legend.
“It's intimidating because everybody has their interest in who he is," he said. "He's a lot of different things to a lot of different people."