"I remember the movie. I've seen it multiple times," she says. "Besides one legendary scene where the Black woman gets the baseball and throws it to Geena Davis, I didn't see any women that looked like me."
Little did Adams know that the character of Max Chapman would effectively carry the first season of Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham's reimagining of the franchise. In a parallel storyline to the journey taken by the Rockford Peaches, Adams portrays a Black woman who is denied the opportunities afforded to her white counterparts but refuses to let that stop her from pursuing her dream.
"After I booked the role, I sat down with Will and Abbi, and they went into a deep dive about Black women who played baseball in this time period, specifically three women: Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson, and Connie Morgan, who played in the Negro Leagues," says Chapman. "I thought that was so beautiful. And it's exactly up my alley, in terms of what I love to do with my career, which is tell stories of Black women — especially stories that have been forgotten about and that need to be resurrected."
Here, Adams talks to Metacritic about how she was able to help shape the character, how her career to-date prepared her for the role, and her improving baseball skills.
How would you describe Max?
Max Chapman is a very passionate and driven individual. She eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball. She's an amazing pitcher. Her lifelong dream is to play baseball on a team and she will do whatever she has to in order to make that dream happen. But she is a Black woman in the era where Black women aren't supposed to do anything but be housewives or maids. She wants to be her own person and an athlete, at that, and she's not going to stop until she gets it done. She's also a queer individual trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs. She's trying to find her team on all fronts of her life.
What did you know about Max's sexuality when you signed on?
I knew about it from the beginning. We don't get to see Max's queerness until that little plot twist at the end of Episode 2, but originally it was in Episode 1. So, we talked about it, and I thought that was really, really great because if we're speaking authentically about the time period, a lot of those women who played baseball during this time were queer. So, I was all for it, game on, let's do it.
What is her relationship to the Rockford Peaches?
She never really gets to interact with the Peaches per se, but during tryouts, Max arrives as a woman who wants to play baseball like the rest of them, and she gets removed off the field because she's Black. They don't want Black women in the league, so she never even gets to even try out for the All-American League. But that doesn't stop her from finding her team. We're paralleling two stories that are about women in baseball. We just start with this one door that white women and white-passing women are able to walk through and Black women are not.
How would you describe her relationship with Carson?
Carson and Max have a very unique relationship. It starts out a little rocky and involves a little bit of blackmail. Then they realize that they have a lot of things in common. They're both hiding their true selves from the people that they love. And they're both experiencing new things when it comes to their sexuality. They become this safe haven for each other. Not only can they play baseball, which Max doesn't get to do that often because no one else in her life besides her dad really plays with her, but they also get to speak openly and freely about sexuality and the fact that they both are attracted to women.
What was the research of this character like for you?
Along with just researching those three women that the character is inspired by and diving into the time period, it also allowed me to do a deep dive into my own family. Max is a Midwestern girl. I'm from Michigan and a Midwestern girl. So, a lot of the research involved me researching the Great Migration and how most of the Black people in the North came from the South. Being able to figure out what that meant and to create Max's history, that was super fun. Also, asking about my family members and my ancestors and figuring out how I could infuse them into my Max.
What did you infuse?
When people watch the series and they see the Chapman house, in the Chapman dining room, the majority of those photographs are my family. One of our first family photos is my great, great grandmother and her family in the 1890s. We were able to put that on the wall. My grandfather is hanging up there in his army uniform, which just warms my heart. But not only that, it also involved me asking about my queer family. Being queer wasn't spoken about during this era, and especially not when you were Black. You already had a war to fight on that front. Those family members were often estranged. My grandmother's brother was gay and he ended up moving to San Francisco and living a very private life there. The family members that are still alive don't know much about him, and I wish I could discover more. But my uncle Edgar was an openly gay man and in order to honor him, Will and Abbi came up with the idea of using that as Max's father's name. That is how Edgar Chapman came about.
How emotional is the experience of being able to represent not just people that you know of, but your own family?
It's very emotional. The highest honor that I can do with my career is to reflect the people that I come from. I hope that when my family watches the show that they feel seen and like a little piece of our history has been displayed on the screen.
How did you feel that your career thus far prepared you for this role?
As an artist and as an actor, I knew that this was going to be a role that was going to stretch me artistically. I've been known for very heavy and dramatic roles, so to be able to step into a show that was labeled as a comedy, and be a part of those lighthearted moments and those jokes, I've really never done that before, especially not on this level and next to amazing comedians, like Abbi Jacobson, Gbemisola Ikumelo, D'Arcy Carden, and Kate Berlant. To be able to do that on this scale was really a stretch for me and helped me grow as an actor.
I've played two real life women before. I knew that experience. But this allowed me to have that research to pull from, while still using my imagination to create. This was my first time having to create somebody who is inspired by multiple people, but I get to decide how she talks, how she walks, and how she moves. It's really fun to create a character like that.
In terms of collaboration, what kind of input were you able to have into Max's story?
This is the most collaborative project I've ever been a part of. Throughout the entire writing process, Abbi, Will, and Desta [Tedros] always made sure to include me and ask if I had any ideas, any opinions about Max's storyline, about her arc. They were always open to me switching around or changing dialogue. That was really special because I don't get that on every job. They were the perfect examples of what producers should be and the type of producer that I want to be one day.
What were the things that you did want to get in there?
I wanted to make sure it wasn't trauma heavy. When we're talking about a Black person, especially a Black woman in this era, your first thoughts are about oppression and racism and everything that comes with this pre-Civil Rights era. And I didn't want to do the project if Max's story was going to be centered on that. It's not. Max's story is centered on her love for baseball, her love for her family, the love that she receives from her family [and] from her best friend. We did a beautiful job of making sure that we're also displaying Black joy and Black love and what it means for a Black woman to own a business and live in a big house and have a beautiful family. That's what I wanted.
What was the physical part like? Are you a baseball player?
I would really love to say that I was, but no. I told them I was in my audition. We learned, once I got cast, that I could not play baseball at all. But we had great training. Justine Siegal, who was the first woman to ever be employed as a coach in the MLB, was the head coach of our cast. She also brought in female professional baseball players from her organization, Baseball for All, and they were our coaches. It was very rigorous. Baseball is definitely a full body sport. I thought it was just a lot of upper body. It is not; the legs are included. But it was a lot of fun.
Is this a skill one can learn or do you just learn effectively to fake it?
It is a skill that one can learn. I actually have! I know how to play catch now. My dad's really impressed. We play catch and he almost shed a tear because all I wanted to do was cheer when I was younger. So, though I'm not a professional, I can hold my own.
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Get to know Chanté Adams:
Adams first garnered attention as the lead in Roxanne, Roxanne (72), but has also made her mark as Dana Canedy in the Denzel Washington directed A Journal for Jordan (42). She has appeared in Monsters and Men (68), Good Girls Get High (63), and The Photograph (62).