13 Dec

Chadwick Boseman remembered by Ruth E Carter

Chadwick Boseman photographed at the Toronto Film Festival, 2016. Photograph: Andrew H Walker/Variety/Rex/Shutterstock

29 November 1976 – 28 August 2020
The Oscar-winning costume designer – who worked with the actor on Black Panther – recalls a kind, self-assured man who would rather crack a joke than talk about his illness

by Ruth E Carter | The Guardian/Observer

In 2015, I interviewed for the film Marshall, about the supreme court justice Thurgood Marshall in the 1940s, and they told me that Chadwick Boseman was playing the lead. I really loved his work in 42[playing Jackie Robinson], and as James Brown in Get on Up, so I was excited to meet him. He walked in for his first fitting and I showed him images and black-and-white videos of people in the 40s doing the lindy hop and going out partying. He started doing some of his James Brown moves in the room, to get us into the mood – I was amazed at his dancing abilities. Thurgood Marshall would have had the tie and the pinstripe double-breasted suit and the pocket squares, so I put all of those things on Chadwick and he started to embody, maybe for the first time, what he was feeling about the character. It was wonderful to work with someone who wanted to connect costume to character like that.

He was a very thoughtful person, and quiet, but not necessarily reserved. Once you asked him a question, he was an open book, but he wasn’t volunteering the information, probably because he wanted to hear what you had to say. On the first day of filming on Marshall I found out that I would be designing for Black Panther, which meant we’d be working together again. I wondered if I should tell him, but I decided not to. Around two weeks before we finished, I finally told him, and he said: “Oh, I already knew.”

Every time Chad came to a fitting, he’d just been doing some intense workout – he was a master of martial arts, and constantly training – so he was usually kind of sweaty, or damp from the shower, and extremely hungry. One time he came to my office to put on the Panther suit that he’d worn in Captain America: Civil War, because I wanted to see what the fit was like and discuss any problems he might have had. The suit looked so unimpressive on a mannequin, but when he came in and put it on, it was a complete transformation. My mouth dropped. That suit was majestic. I really could see how these superheroes have an effect on people – it certainly had an effect on me!Advertisement

When we shot the Warrior Falls scene in Black Panther, I was really concerned about the fabrication of his trunks, so I was hiding just off-camera hoping nothing went wrong. As he was preparing to go down, he gave me a smile. He understood the process and the team effort involved in telling a story, having directed for film and theatre himself, so he was never bothered by you being there. I would go into his dressing room and he’d wake up from a nap, for the umpteenth time, to try on the Panther suit so we could get something right. It took three guys to put him in it, but he never seemed bothered.

Black Panther shot him out of a cannon. Before, he was Chadwick Boseman the actor, the Howard University grad, the man that could direct and was very interesting, and after Black Panther he was a superstar. I think other actors respected that growth in his career. He was spiritually rooted. He was strong in his own self-assurance and mature in his approach to his work. And he was very kind. There are some celebrities who make you nervous, like: “Oh, God, maybe they’ll get me fired because they don’t like their pants.” He never seemed to be that way. We would crack jokes about things that didn’t work. It made that feeling of having messed things up not so bad.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa in Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa in Black Panther. Photograph: Allstar/Marvel Studios/Disney

When I heard he’d passed away, I was stunned. I was alone in my house when I heard. It feels like your whole insides are empty. Your heart doesn’t beat, your lungs don’t breathe, your blood isn’t turning, your mind is not focused on anything, you’re just in a state of disbelief. My phone started to get a lot of text messages and calls, but I wouldn’t answer them because I felt, if this is true, I need to sit with it. I wanted to fill myself up with him and just be still. And that’s what I did for the entire night. The next day, I started connecting with other Marvel people and collaborators and friends, and the loss becomes more communal.

He’ll be remembered as an amazing actor who departed on his own terms. He did seven movies – including the two I worked with him on – knowing that he had colon cancer. And he didn’t tell anyone, apart from a very intimate group. Had we known, we would have probably been hugging him and crying and trying to help him and he didn’t want all that. For somebody with so much energy and work ethic to be going through that at the same time is staggering. I think the love of what we do really shined in him.

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