Neither Jeff Guffey nor Jake Sharrock were even born when Robinson made history, but both men are getting an opportunity to help share Robinson’s story with the world.
Guffey, a teacher and coach at Gordon Lee Middle School, and Sharrock, a former baseball player at Gordon Lee High School, both have roles in the upcoming movie “42”, a Robinson biopic, currently being filmed in Chattanooga at historic Engel Stadium.
The movie reportedly is due to be released on April 12, 2013, nearly 66 years to the day that Robinson made his Major League debut.
For both men, getting to be in the movie was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that neither could pass up.
“In one of my classes, I show the original Jackie Robinson movie to my students and we talk about what he did,” Guffey explained after a day of filming at the stadium. “I actually went to the tryouts for position players, but they required a month’s worth of training camp, which I just couldn’t do.
“But when I heard they were needing extras, I gave it a shot and sent in my information and photos. Sure enough, the phone call came and they wanted me for a dugout scene. I was at school on my lunch break when the call came and it was pretty exciting. They offered me four or five days’ of filming, so I knew I had to jump at the opportunity.”
Guffey said his scenes required him to do things he was used to doing in his day-to-day job.
“Basically I stand, sit, spit, and try to look like an older player or a coach,” he said with a laugh. “We shot a scene the other day where I just had to stand in the dugout with my foot propped up and watch the game. It wasn’t really that much different than standing in the dugout coaching middle school, so I guess you can say playing the part came fairly natural.”
Doing what felt natural also applied to Sharrock, who landed the role of Dodgers player Cookie Lavagetto, who played for Brooklyn in the 1947 World Series. Sharrock got the part after interviews and two rounds of baseball tryouts in front of coaches and movie consultants in Marietta.
“The training was more baseball-esque, like spring training,” said Sharrock, who also played college ball at Jacksonville State (Ala.). “But here at filming, you have to do things a certain way, and if the director doesn’t like it, we have to change things and do them again. You can’t play the way you were taught to play because it has to look a certain way.
“Today, baseball players are all about being smooth, but that’s not the way players were back then. They were hard-nosed, rough guys that went hard on every play and that’s what we’re trying to recreate. It’s easier to have a baseball player do choreographed baseball scenes than to have an actor do them, but the actors are doing great and they’ve really come along as players. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re kind of playing baseball and kind of not playing baseball, but even on a set, we’re on a baseball field, so it’s kind of like home to me.”
Both Guffey and Sharrock say they have gotten to know some of the main actors that will star in the film, including Chadwick Boseman (Robinson), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese) and Jesse Luken (Eddie Stanky).
“We get to eat breakfast and dinner with them in the catering tents just across from the stadium,” explained Guffey, who plays a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. “They are super nice guys and really easy to talk to.”
Sharrock said that being a part of a movie crew was like being a part of a team where everyone is treated equally and everyone knows they have a job to do.
“You think about the movies and it seems like it’s all about the cameras, the lights, and the big-name actors,” he explained, “but everyone around here treats you just like anyone else. You are definitely part of a team. The team has a job to get done, and that’s the way they look at it.”
Being a period piece, with the movie set in the late 1940’s, careful steps are being taken to make the movie seem as authentic as possible, and Guffey said the crew’s attention to detail is amazing.
“Everything in this movie is stressed down to the very last detail,” he said. “Even some of the lines I’ve heard are really historically accurate. This is really an exact science and it’s really neat to see how much goes into making a movie.”
That authenticity wasn’t lost on Sharrock, who said his eyes were opened up even more about the things Robinson had to handle to make it in the big leagues.
“I knew a lot about Jackie Robinson before, but I didn’t know everything, especially the racism he endured,” Sharrock explained. “What people think racism is today is nothing compared to what Jackie went through. I’m not offended by a lot of things, but being out here and having to listen to some of the things people said to him, even with everyone understanding we’re just acting out here, was still pretty shocking. To feel the hatred that some people had toward him, simply because of the color of his skin, was unbelievable.
“But it’s great to be a part of a movie that gets to tell his side of the story and shows what a great man and player he was. It’s just been an awesome experience so far. I’m looking forward to seeing it and knowing that 50 years from now, I’ll be able to look back and not only tell my grandkids that I was in a movie, but I’ll have proof of it that I can show them.”
Guffey added that he was also anxious to see the movie on the big screen.
“It’s going to be a weird feeling seeing myself on the screen,” he said. “But my students encouraged to me to do it and I hope they’re pleased with what they see. I don’t see acting becoming a new career for me. I hope I remain a teacher and coach for the rest of my life, but I did this for the fun of it and for the sake of it being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I guess you can say I’m enjoying my 15 minutes of fame.”