*WGN America has renewed its hit series “Underground” for a 10-episode Season 2. The runaway slave thriller has resonated with fans across racial lines, and as TV Line reports, to date, the series is averaging a million weekly total viewers.
This is not the coma-inducing Massa vs. slave narrative that I expected when the series was initially announced. “Underground” is an exhilarating prison break-style drama-thriller that keeps the cast gasping just as much as the audience – as we learned during the Emmy Gospel Brunch in honor of the series. EUR/Electronic Urban Report chatted with the cast to find out their reactions to this breathtaking first season.
“You know, we were definitely just as surprised reading the script,” Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Rosalee) told us. “Every single script we would get was a page turner for us, and the whole cast had a group text message thread. We would text each other and be like, ‘Whaaat? Did you see what happened to Kato!’ It definitely for us was the same experience. Like, ‘Wow… I didn’t see that coming,,’ ” she explained. “But the thing is, when you’re telling the story of The Underground Railroad, you’re inherently telling a story we haven’t seen. This is the voice of the revolutionaries. The voice of those who rose up and fought back. And for that reason, I think we’re hungry for that story. We’re hungry to see our people in power, because it’s the truth. We come from survivors and warriors, and I think because of that, that’s why people are so excited about the show,” she added.
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Super-delicious Aldis Hodge (Noah) leads this stellar cast of “revolutionaries,” and the suspense of his scenes leaves the viewer feeling as if we’re running right alongside him.
“Some days are easier than others, but really, everybody is so loving (and) everybody understands what we’re doing,” Hodge said when asked to share his methods on winding down after filming highly intense moments. “It’s never about us individually. It’s always about the story when we’re on set. It’s always about what I can do for you to help you handle your business in the scene. When I go home, even if it may have been a tough day, I still feel happy and proud with the work I put down because I can’t wait for the audience to see it. There’s so much excitement that goes into that. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but the best job.”
The cast agree that this series has broadened their knowledge on racism, the socioeconomics of slavery, and African-American history.
“I’ve learned how much I didn’t know. Which was a little embarrassing, but then again, it’s not really taught in schools,” said Aldis. “It’s the history that’s kind of been sequestered away from regular curriculum. It’s not part of the normalcy of what people talk about in American history in regards to American history. It’s hidden away, so you have to force yourself to actively seek it out.”
Australian born Jessica De Gouw (Elizabeth) described how her country has a “very different set of” racial circumstances.
“Which are by no means perfect,” she said. “In Australia, it’s very hostile and there’s a lot to be said and a lot to be talked about. So if this show went to Australia, even though it’s a different historical narrative, I think that would have an impact. I think it’s a conversation that Australians need to have. Everyone on the outside thinks that Australia is this very peaceful place but there’s a lot to be done,” she explained.
P.J. Marshall (Bill) signed on to the series after reading the script for episode 3 (when his character has a tragic encounter with Rosalee).
“Are you kidding me?,” Marshall gushed about the writing of “Underground” creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski. “Seeing it put together with John’s (John Legend) music and the editing, I’m like, this isn’t a TV show. I don’t know what this is. I’m being lifted.”
The enlightenment P.J. has gained from working on the series has made him wonder: “Why hasn’t this story been told?, and he noted how the series has fully “opened my head up to start thinking” about “white privilege.”
“It’s like, Woah… Where have I been? Other people I start bringing it up to, and they react a certain way, and I’m like, ‘You’re not ready.’ So to have a show affect you like that… Come on, that doesn’t happen,” Marshall said.
Christopher Meloni (August) is perhaps the most surprising performance of all on the series. The beloved actor has gone from taking down sex predators on “Law & Order: SVU” – to serving my life as a vampire on “True Blood.” Now he’s catching runaway slaves on “Underground,” and fans of the actor are wondering what attracted him to the series.
“I was reading the first episode and I’m like, ‘Who is this guy?’, ” Meloni said of his character. “Who the hell is he?” And even when the tables were turned, I still didn’t believe that was the guy, and I still don’t believe this is the guy. Every time I went to set, I had people go, ‘Oh, you’re the bad guy.’ And I’d go, “I’m not trying to be coy, but I don’t believe that.’ And I think that’s part of what makes the whole series interesting. Every character, they’re not all good, and they’re not all bad. They are these three-dimensional characters and it’s a very complicated mess.”
Christopher explained how his character’s conflicts “calls to something that we’ve all seen and witnessed all the time, which is, a passivity in the face of financial obligations.”
Production on “Underground” Season 2 begins this summer with a slated 2017 premiere date. The Season 1 finale airs Wednesday, May 11 at 10/9c, preceded by an all-season marathon at 1 pm. Get caught up with the series here.