‘The Good Lord Bird’ Preview: Ethan Hawke brings energy in important historical tale on slavery abolition
“My name is Captain John Brown! And I am here in the name of the great King of Kings! The Holy Redeemer, the Man of Trinity! Because He is on the side of Justice! And you are on the side of chains!” shouts Ethan Hawke in the trailer of Showtime’s seven-part semi-biographical limited series, ‘The Good Lord Bird’, displaying manic energy of outstanding proportions. That alone is enough to tell you what to expect from the series.
Based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride, Hawke (he is also the show’s executive producer) stars as the controversial abolitionist John Brown. Told from the point of view of Onion, a newly freed teenager who joins the abolitionist on a holy crusade to end slavery and finds himself part of the famous 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry, the show is an adventure and promises to be “equal parts absurd and tragic,” spotlighting the ever-changing racial, religious and gender roles that make up the American identity.
For those who don’t know, Brown was a leading figure in the abolitionist movement in pre-Civil War U.S. and unlike other anti-slavery activists of that era, he believed in aggression as the only means against slaveholders and the entire institution of slavery in general. He became involved in the abolitionist movement following the brutal murder of Presbyterian minister and anti-slavery activist Elijah P. Lovejoy in 1837. Brown was tried and executed for his literal war against slavery -- he did not see the institution end in his lifetime.
But it’s not just the history of Brown that one can look forward to -- even though it retells an absolutely essential part of American history. In fact, it is American history that is seldom discussed in popular culture and mainstream discourse. Which makes it all the more important.
The real selling point of the show is Hawke’s performance. The aforementioned manic energy that he displays in one scene seems to be more of a fixture than a bug. Hawke’s portrayal of Brown, who was historically known to be idealistic, aggressive, and religious, adds an x-factor to the man’s legacy and how it will be remembered.
A testament to how intense and insane Hawke’s performance in the show is two instances in the trailer: One, where Onion narrates, “Whatever he believed, he believed. Didn’t matter if it was true or not. The old man was nuttier than squirrel t*rd.” And another where the abolitionist activist Frederick Douglass pauses a speech midway and signals Brown to move away, calling him a “lunatic” under his breath.
Earlier in May, Hawke made an appearance on 'The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon' and spoke about the show. He revealed that he and his wife Ryan fell in love with the book that the show is based on. "So my wife was like, 'You have to play John Brown'. So we met the author of the book and for the last two years, I have been trying to put this show together. It's huge, it has seven parts, it's hysterically weird and funny and I have a feeling, I hope it means something to people."
The series also stars Daveed Diggs, Joshua Caleb Johnson, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Nick Eversman, Mo Brings Plenty, Jack Alcott, Ellar Coltrane, Beau Knapp, David Morse, Steve Zahn, Maya Hawke, Wyatt Russell, and Orlando Jones.
‘The Good Lord Bird’ will premiere on Sunday, October 4, at 9 pm ET/PT, only on Showtime.