(CBS Local)– Ethan Hawke is one of the most talented actors in Hollywood and on Sunday, October 4 viewers will get to witness the range of his acting ability in the new Showtime limited series “The Good Lord Bird.” The seven-part series is based off the book with the same name by James McBride and tells the story of an abolitionist named John Brown, who traveled the country with a group of freedom fighters to end slavery.
Hawke stars in the show as Brown, Daveed Diggs from “Hamilton” plays Frederick Douglass and newcomer Joshua Caleb Johnson plays Onion, a former slave who is taken in by Brown and his crew. For both Hawke and Johnson, this project was an unbelievable experience for a number of reasons.
“It was a great honor to be honest with you. The story of the Harpers Ferry raid in America is one that has never really been dramatized,” said Hawke, in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “There’s no other movies. You’d think with how important an event it was… a couple dozen guys go and take over the United States armory and start a Civil War. People don’t want to talk about it because it is such a lightning rod. To really look at this story, you have to look at a lot of pain that this country was built on. It’s a scary story and what James McBride does is tell it with so much love and humor.”
“The most fascinating part of the show to me was bringing the character of Onion to life,” said Johnson. “He is such an interesting and complex character. I was really looking forward to breaking down the character and bringing him across the screen in the best way possible.”
Although Johnson is just getting going in the TV game, the actor had the major responsibility in this show of displaying what some slaves had to do to survive during this time period. Johnson’s character Onion pretends to be a girl in order to stick with Brown’s crew.
“It was very fun for me to play the character like that,” said Johnson. “Once I put my mind into that time period and forgot about modern Joshua and what he likes and what he wants to do and put my mind into Onion and his motivation is to purely survive. It doesn’t really matter what it takes to survive as long as he survives.”
While Hawke has played a lot of amazing characters over the years, he says that this one feels more important given the conversation that is occurring right now in this country about racial injustice.
“The foundation of this country was built on a crime,” said Hawke. “We all want to feel like we’ve looked at it and dealt with it, said sorry and moved on. But if we don’t really look at it, really talk about it and really heal it, we’re going to keep suffering from this crime and injustice of the way the country was built and the way it continues to hurt people. It hurts all of us. It was one of those experiences where you read a book and I couldn’t believe I didn’t know more about all of this. I found it so interesting and I knew other people would. I kept wanting to give the book to people. I think good art has a power to heal and give people a common language to have a conversation.”