Kayla Gilmore of Starkville and “Get On Up” assistant director Ted Leonard pause for a picture in the Mississippi Coliseum earlier this year during filming of the movie about singer James Brown. The film’s Boston Garden concert scenes were shot in the Coliseum. Photo by: Courtesy photo
August 30, 2014 10:43:19 PM
Kayla Gilmore sat in the darkened Malco Theatre. Reflections from the big screen danced across her face, just as they had hundreds of times before. But this movie night was different. Kayla -- and her mother -- intently watched images move across the sprawling pearlescent landscape as the James Brown bio-drama "Get On Up" unfolded. And there it was. Kayla, in the movie. And again, and again.
"I had to scream a little," laughed Gilmore, admitting to a modest celebration when she saw herself on screen as a background actor. "Mama wanted to yell; she really got excited at the cafe scene."
Elsewhere in the theater, Gilmore heard someone shout, "That's my nephew!" Similar reactions have no doubt played out in cinemas across the Magnolia State lately, as the major motion picture filmed in Natchez and Jackson, with an army of extras, was released nationwide.
The acclaimed PG-13 movie is directed by Mississippi's Tate Taylor and co-produced by Mick Jagger. It features Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in "42') as the Godfather of Soul, Dan Akyroyd, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Jill Scott and Nelsan Ellis in the ensemble cast. Taylor directed Spencer and Davis in "The Help," which was shot in the Delta and in Jackson. It was reportedly Taylor's idea to film "Get On Up" in Mississippi, too. For Starkville residents Kayla Gilmore and Clyde Williams, it was an opportunity to glimpse inside the world of movie-making.
Keep an ear to the ground
"I remember my daughter said, 'Daddy, you might want to do this ... '" said Williams, when asked how he heard about auditions. He answered a casting call in Natchez in 2013, hoping to get a part as a musician. He's a lead guitarist with the Gospel Tones and plays with the Brown Sugar band. Unfortunately, musician roles were filled.
"At home I was lying on the bed one night about 8:30 when the phone rang," Williams said. Would he be interested in coming back as an extra? He was.
Gilmore operates KMG Creations Dance, Fitness and Productions. She is also a Starkville schools dance instructor and teaches liturgical dance at First United Methodist Church in Starkville.
"I'm a dancer," she said. "In this profession you stay alert. I knew there was going to be a movie about James Brown here; I just kept my ear to the ground and kept listening, and finally news about the casting call came out."
Gilmore had a look producers were seeking for the movie set primarily in the 1960s. She was called back to work in eight scenes as a background actor; several ended up in the final cut.
In the mix
"I guess my favorite scene was the cafe scene because I actually got to hear what's going on, him (Boseman as James Brown) talking to Bobby Byrd (portrayed by Nelsan Ellis), where they meet a rep from King Records," said Gilmore. That was the "blue dress" scene.
For a juke joint scene set in the 1950s, wardrobe outfitted the Mississippi State graduate in red.
"It's where he (James Brown) meets Little Richard, and I get to walk in front of Chad (Boseman) and his group and order a drink and then go back to the table," Gilmore explained. That particular shoot was a marathon, beginning at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon and wrapping at 5:30 a.m. "I remember the sun was coming up," she smiled.
Fast forward to 1968 and a scenario recreating Brown's memorable concert at the Boston Garden the night after Martin Luther King Jr. died. Gilmore was outfitted in black dress, knee high boots and a hairstyle of the times. The scenes were filmed in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. (Thalia Mara Hall was used, too, for other large group scenes.)
How several hundred people (600 to 800 by Gilmore's rough estimate) were made to look like thousands was a revelation.
"We would sit in one section and clap our hands, and then hurry to another section and mix it up and do it again, maybe about 15 times," she explained.
Williams' costuming was a simpler affair, extending to shirt and vest. Makeup was minimal. "They wanted my hair natural," he added.
I'd do it again
Both Gilmore and Williams have high praise for the people they worked with, notably assistant director Ted Leonard and Tammy Smith Casting. And there are certainly no complaints about the food.
"I'm gonna tell you, we never went wanting -- they had food all around," said Williams. "You weren't going to go hungry!" And if you're sharing a dining area with Mick Jagger, as Gilmore did, any meal takes on significance, no matter the menu.
Gilmore and Williams feel good about their foray into film. Gilmore even got to stand in for a few lines with Boseman. She briefly met Jagger, Akyroyd, Spencer and other cast members and feels she gained work in another movie, "Mississippi Grind" (due out in 2015), because of "Get On Up."
"It was all a great experience," she said. "I'm a James Brown fan because I'm a dancer. I knew I wanted to be part of this history, this picture-making process, and get a chance to learn more about his life as well. I am so grateful I was chosen."
Williams' favorite take-away was the interaction with directors and crew, the vibe of the set. "And just meeting a few stars, being in the midst of them, like Jill Scott, just being around her. She really is down to earth," the father of four said. "I really hope I get to do something like this again."
He remembers looking around the shoot with almost wonder -- at the trailers, cameras, crew, all the trappings -- and thinking, "This is really show business."
James Brown was born in a shack in Barnwell, South Carolina, in 1933. He died on Christmas Day 2006 in Atlanta. In the years between, he became an iconic pioneer in soul and funk. He was compelling, dynamic, flawed -- and influenced generations.
For Gilmore, the movie was educational and encouraging.
"He grew up in extreme poverty. I grew up not having a lot of things, but I went to school to get my education, and I have my own business now."
For her, the title means "You can get on up; to me it means get up and do something. Don't wait around for someone else to do it for you. Go for your dreams and your goals ... if you follow the whole movie, it's uplifting. That movie elevated me."
Editor's note: "Get On Up" is scheduled to run through at least Sept. 4 at Hollywood Premier Cinema in Starkville, according to theater management.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.