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One of the final performances by Chadwick Boseman was as Stormin' Norman in Spike Lee's excellent Netflix drama Da 5 Bloods, also starring Jonathan Majors and Delroy Lindo. In a new cover story, the prolific Lee reflected on working with Boseman on the acclaimed Vietnam War-centric film.
Speaking with Clayton Davis for a Variety piece published on Wednesday, Lee—who now keeps a flag of Boseman flying outside his office—recalled the intense experience of shooting Da 5 Bloods and noted that he (like other collaborators) was not aware of the actor's private cancer diagnosis.
"He did not look well, but my mind never took that he had cancer," Lee explained. "It was a very strenuous shoot. I mean, we all didn't get to Vietnam until the end of the movie at Ho Chi Minh City. But that other stuff, the jungle stuff, was shot in Thailand. It was 100 degrees every day. It was also at that time the worst air pollution in the world. I understand why Chadwick didn't tell me because he didn't want me to take it easy. If I had known, I wouldn't have made him do the stuff. And I respect him for that."
Asked how he learned of Boseman's passing, Lee recalled going to bed early that night, resulting in an earlier-than-usual morning rise.
"I went to open my phone, and my phone—the whole thing had been blowing up," he said. "I turned it off. I was in shock."
Recently, however, he and his wife Tonya rewatched Da 5 Bloods for the first time since Boseman's death, with Lee remarking that it now plays "totally different" to him.
"He's a ghost already. You know the scene I'm talking about? It's the scene where he comes back, him and Delroy. I felt it when we shot it," Lee recalled, adding that it's his belief that it was "God's heavenly light" in which Boseman was standing for the scene.
"It's Chadwick standing in that light, in that pose," he said. "That was God up there. I don't care what nobody says. That was God's heavenly light, because that scene's not lit. That's natural light. And that was God sending heavenly light on Chadwick. Paul, played by Delroy Lindo, he says, 'I died for you.' I mean it was hard to look at the film again for me since his transition."
Lee also pondered, while conceding that "this is conjecture," that there's a chance that Boseman believed Da 5 Bloods could have ended up being his final project.
"And God gave him one more with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," he said.
The full interview is well worth your attention and also sees Lee pushing back against the increasing tired "New York is dead" narrative, reflecting on Trump's extensive damage to the country, and more. Peep it here.
Da 5 Bloods is now available on Netflix.