‘The Good Lord Bird’ finds the comedy in John Brown’s abolitionism

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In “The Good Lord Bird,” Ethan Hawke (right) plays abolitionist John Brown, who frees a young boy named Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson, left) from slavery. Photo by William Gray/SHOWTIME.

Ethan Hawke’s series “The Good Lord Bird,” based on the novel by James McBride, takes the story of abolitionist John Brown to Showtime. For Hawke and McBride, it’s the culmination of years of hard work and planning to make sure that John Brown’s story translated to the small screen.

A crew member recommended the novel to him on the set of another film, saying that Hawke might make a good Brown. Hawke says that as he kept reading, he became jealous. Hawke, an author of three novels, found himself wishing he could write like McBride. But he quickly convinced himself that he would be able to embody John Brown’s religious fervor and reckless, dangerous spirit.

Hawke then met with “The Good Lord Bird” author James McBride and developed a plan to turn the book into a limited series. Hawke told McBride he didn’t have the money to buy the rights, but McBride still gave Hawke a year to work on the adaptation. The two agreed on the deal with a handshake.

Hawke talks about how he wrote the script and shot the series, which he compares to making four or five indie movies back-to-back. He also shares the meeting he had with Chris Rock, where Rock compared talking about race in America to stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson.

Credits

Guests:
Ethan Hawke - actor, director, James McBride - author

Host:
Kim Masters

Producer:
Kaitlin Parker