Are you ready for some football? Are you ready for the story of college gridiron legend Ernie Davis?
“The Express: The Ernie Davis Story” opens this weekend, starring Rob Brown as the Davis, the first African-American to win the coveted Heisman Trophy.
The film follows the triumphant and tragic story of the college football hero, who changed the face of American football.
“The Express” will bring the story to a new generation of sports fans and movie goers, as it has for the lead actor Brown, who told reporters that he didn’t actually know too much about Davis working on the film.
“I knew he went to Syracuse. I knew he won the Heisman. That was it,” Brown said. But the young actor continued that he was immediately attracted to the role because of the amazing and inspirational story.
“What didn’t attract me?” he said. In addition to a good script, based on the incredible true story, the film also has a powerful and acclaimed cast including Charles S. Dutton and Dennis Quaid. What might have discouraged Brown is the fact that he would be taking on a true story; the role of a real person.
“It was a gift and a curse as an artist because there was no blueprint to go off of,” Brown said. He said that he learned much of Davis mostly by watching game film, as there was/is not much media coverage of Davis.
“But I [had] the flexibility to be an artist,” he continued. “The thing that’s daunting is the responsibility associated with the role – to him, his family, Syracuse, to the (Cleveland) Browns organization, to Jim Brown. With that responsibility, I took it on because it was a dream role and an honor to walk in his shoes for a little while.”
From Wikipedia: Ernie Davis (December 14, 1939 – May 18, 1963), pictured above, was a football running back and the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy. Wearing number 44, Davis competed collegiately for Syracuse University before being drafted by the Washington Redskins, then almost immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns in December 1961. However, he would never play a professional game after developing leukemia in 1962.
Brown, who catapulted onto the scene in 2000 in “Finding Forrester” with Sean Connery, also considered the film a “dream role” because of the fun he had playing football.
“I was like a kid in the candy store,” he said of shooting scenes on the field. “And when you play running back, you get the ball. You got the ball in your hands most of the time.”
Brown said that the difficulty in filming the football scenes came from the fact that the sport had changed over the past 45 years. Little things like certain movements, tackles, and celebrations had to reigned in.
“A lot of guys lead with their head these days or their chest. Back then, people used their shoulder more often. Little things like, if I was to score today, I’d give my friend a high-five this movement didn’t exist back then. People didn’t do this, all these chest bumps. Things of that nature are different,” he said, “But playing, it’s just football. In a lot of ways, we just played.”
Brown said that the realism on the field included authentic division one football players. However, that didn’t scare Brown from trying to bring realism to his scenes.
“Whenever I could, I tried to stick a shoulder in somebody or try to do something I wasn’t supposed to do,” he confessed. “I was told very early on that I couldn’t take any hits because that would jeopardize the production. I did as much as I could – up until they said ‘No,’ and they brought in one of the four doubles I had.”
“Football is all fun for me,” he continued in comparing the emotional and physical drains of the role, “but either way I just wanted to be prepared. Whenever I work, I just try to be as prepared as possible. I treated this no different. I just wanted to be prepared every day at work.”
Brown prepared for the role to the praise of critics, his cast mates and the Davis family.
“The First time I met them was in Atlanta at a screening,” Brown said in meeting the Davis family. “I didn’t know they were going to be there. Ernie’s nephew stood up, and my heart was pounding, and he said he was satisfied with the film.”
“In a lot of ways we were just trying to capture Ernie’s spirit and Ernie’s essence and not worry about an impersonation. There’s not that much of a blueprint out there because he was not in the media and he passed away so early. We just wanted to capture his spirit and still maintain his legacy.”
Watch the trailer for ‘The Express: The Ernie Davis Story’:
“The Express: The Ernie Davis Story” opens this weekend in theaters nationwide. For more on the film, check out www.theexpressmovie.com.