Director Spike Lee is opening up about the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman as he recalls working with the actor on his recent film “Da 5 Bloods”.

“I didn’t know Chad was sick. He did not look well, but my mind never took that he had cancer,” Lee says in a new cover story for Variety‘s “New York” issue. Released in June, “Da 5 Bloods” follows four Vietnam War veterans who return to search for the remains of their fallen squad leader and hunt for the gold they buried. Boseman plays the deceased squad leader. It was an arduous shoot in stifling jungle heat, which Lee assumed was the cause for Boseman’s appearance.

“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,” he recalls.

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Lee says, had he known about Boseman’s illness, he wouldn’t have pushed him through the filming conditions — but that’s exactly what the actor didn’t want him to do, he surmises.

“I understand why Chadwick didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to take it easy,” Lee adds. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have made him do the stuff. And I respect him for that.”

Lee says he didn’t hear the news of Boseman’s death on August 28 until the following morning when it came as a shock.

“That night, for some reason, I went to bed early. And the fact that I went to bed early, I woke up early. It must have been I was tired. I went to open my phone, and my phone — the whole thing had been blowing up. I turned it off. I was in shock,” he says.

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“Da 5 Bloods” has taken on new meaning for Lee who rewatched the film following Boseman’s passing, in particular, the scene in which Delroy Lindo has a conversation with God and is bathed in light.

“It’s Chadwick standing in that light, in that pose. 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,” Lee asserts. “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. It is just a whole ’nother experience.”

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Though “Da 5 Bloods” is the last film released during Boseman’s lifetime, he has another movie that will be released posthumously. He will be seen in Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” opposite Viola Davis in his final acting role, as an ambitious horn player in the blues singer’s band.

“This is conjecture: There’s a possibility he thought this might be his last film,” Lee says of “Da 5 Bloods”. “And God gave him one more with ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ But now looking at that, he was playing it. Stormin’ Norman says, ‘If I have to go out, I’m going gangbusters.’ And that’s what he did.”

Quil Lemons/Variety
Quil Lemons/Variety