Viola Davis admits breaking down when 'Ma Rainey' co-star Chadwick Boseman died

Watch: Viola Davis talks to Yahoo about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

By Kevin Polowy

When Viola Davis, Colman Domingo and the rest of the cast of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom filmed the August Wilson stage-to-screen adaptation in Pittsburgh in the summer of 2019, they had no idea what their co-star Chadwick Boseman was enduring behind the scenes.

The Black Panther star kept his four-year battle with colon cancer intensely private until the day he died, 28 August, at 43.

Now director George C. Wolfe, Davis, Domingo and co-stars are speaking to what they saw from the supremely talented actor in his final film role, a powerhouse performance that is being universally applauded as the best of a career cut short. Boseman plays a hot-tempered trumpeter in the band of Davis’s eponymous “Mother of Blues” as they record for white producers and petty wages in 1927 Chicago.

“What I hold onto with Chad is that he lived his life his way,” Davis (Fences, Widows) told Yahoo Entertainment during a recent press day for the Netflix release (watch above). “I would say his professional life as absolutely paralleled his personal life, that’s my guess, in terms of how he lived with the utmost integrity.”

Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' (Netflix)
Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. (Photo: Netflix)

Davis says she can’t see Boseman’s life as tragic, though. “I broke down when I heard he passed. Lord knows we all would’ve wanted him to live another 50 years. We all want longevity. But I can’t see his life tragically at all. … Because I felt like he was always living in the moment, squeezing out every bit of life. What it makes me think is, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality.”

Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk, Fear the Walking Dead) was amazed by Boseman’s devotion to his craft.

“He left it all on the screen,” said the actor, who was joined by onscreen bandmates Glynn Turman and Michael Potts. “We never saw a moment where he wasn’t ready or exploring.

“He showed up and did it every single time, and put everything into it.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres Friday on Netflix.

— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee