Helgeland began working on the film two years ago, with the blessing of Robinson's widow, Rachel, because he felt Robinson "deserves a great, big movie." Robinson himself starred in the 1950 biography "The Jackie Robinson Story," which also details how Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey (played here by a feisty Harrison Ford) had the courage to sign the fleet-footed Negro League player, despite receiving discouragement from around the league and death threats from fans.
"People would say to me, 'You're making another Jackie Robinson movie?' and I'd say, 'What was the other one you saw?'" Helgeland said. "(Racism is) always going to be a relevant thing. It's not a thing that's ever going to be eradicated. Society has to stay on guard about it and not get complacent about it."
Boseman, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Robinson, grew up playing basketball but said he learned of Robinson's importance around the same time he first learned of Martin Luther King Jr.'s crucial role in fighting for civil rights. Robinson's uniform number has been retired throughout the league — only New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera still wears it, and he's retiring after this season — but every year on April 15, everyone in baseball wears No. 42.
"The story is relevant because we still stand on his shoulders. He started something — I would even say maybe he didn't even start it, it started before him. But he carried the torch. And he carried it alone for a period of time before other people could help him," Boseman said.
Still, it's a challenge to depict the life of someone who was so inspirational without deifying him. In "42," which opens April 12, Robinson shows grace in the face of nearly incessant bigotry. That's why Rickey chooses him of all the talented black baseball players at the time: He had the skills, but he also had the strength not to fight back.