“People often like to call him insane,” Ethan Hawke said today about John Brown, the American abolitionist he plays in Showtime’s upcoming miniseries The Good Lord Bird.
But there certainly was something more in James McBride’s National Book Award-winning novel that spoke to the Oscar-nominated actor, especially in his journey to bring the book to a wider audience.
“The genius of the novel for me is how it deals with gender and race and how we deal with the blind spots that we see,” Hawke said.
Not to mention “it’s commercial and really entertaining. It ends in a giant battle,” the Training Day actor added.
The Good Lord Bird is told from the point of view of Onion, an enslaved teenager who becomes a member of Brown’s motley family during the time of Bleeding Kansas, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Army depot at Harpers Ferry. Brown’s raid failed to initiate the slave revolt he intended but was a key instigating event of the Civil War.
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Regarding Brown being misunderstood as a crazy person in history, Hawke said: “If you read his letters from prison before his was hung, he’s clearly not insane. He’s definitely sane. You might not like him or believe in his cause, but he was definitely sane. They were well-written letters, and they’re very persuasive.”
Why do some think Brown is crazy? “He murdered people,” Hawke said.
In prepping for the role as the loud Brown, Hawke drew from his Texan grandfather’s persona. “He grew up on a pecan farm in East Texas. When he talked at you, he shouted at you.”
“When you said something he didn’t like, if you were looking at him, it looked like he was eating his tongue in his mouth,” said Hawke about his preparation.
“John Brown gave his life and his two sons’ love to the cause of freedom of black people. And this man’s story was buried for a long time because no one could figure out how to tell it without losing money or losing their career or deep-six in some kind of way. We managed to do it and Blumhouse and Showtime should be applauded because this was a risky proposition,” said McBride who was also on stage today at TCA.
“We have to find ways to talk about race instead of yelling and shouting; this guy (Brown) showed us how to do it,” said McBride.
Hawke co-adapted the series and executive produced with Mark Richard. Emmy winner Anthony Hemingway (Underground) directed and also executive produced.
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