Happy Scribe Logo

Transcript

Proofread by 0 readers
[00:00:00]

As you prepare to take to the skies again, travel looks a little different now at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, we've implemented new health and safety measures like sanitizing more often, encouraging social distancing, installing plastic barriers and requiring face coverings.

[00:00:16]

So while we may be standing farther apart, we're all working together to help keep you safe. Visit NWA Dotcom Slash Safety to see how we're helping you travel with confidence.

[00:00:30]

News with a new perspective, news with a black perspective, the black information network is the first all news oriented. Network core and by the black community can get the podcast and get the biggest news and business stories delivered to you every morning. Subscribe to the Black Information Network daily and wake up with the latest from the Black Information Network. Loaded and ready to go when you listen to the Black Information Network daily on the radio web, Apple podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:01:11]

Hey, everyone, John Heilemann here and welcome to Hell and High Water, my podcast from the Recount and I heart radio with big ups to the one and only rizza for our dope theme music. By this time of year, in a normal year, we would be far into the entertainment industry's awards season. But instead, with that industry still recovering from the crippling body blow of covered, everything has been pushed back. The Oscars, the Grammys, the independent spirits, not one of these ceremonies or any others taking place yet.

[00:01:39]

And God knows our collective lives as couch potatoes have been the poorer as a result. But this coming Sunday, the awards show drought will finally come to an end with the broadcast of the 78 Golden Globes, the first ever bicoastal version of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual shindig for the movie and TV business, hosted once again by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Thank God. On this episode of Hell and High Water, we are marking the occasion by going deep on one of the nominees, a TV miniseries that struck me when it aired as both superb in every way and especially relevant and resonant with regard to one aspect of the tumultuous moment we'd all been living through in twenty twenty.

[00:02:18]

That aspect being the racial reckoning in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police Minneapolis'. The miniseries in question is The Good Lord Bird from Showtime, which tells the story of the legendary and or legendarily lunatic white abolitionist militant John Brown, who led the doomed raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 that helped spark the Civil War. The series is based on the 2013 National Book Award winning novel of the same name by James McBride, who also served as an executive producer on the series and whom we are lucky to have as one of three guests on the podcast today.

[00:02:56]

Seeing the Good Lord on film was just great. It was very nice.

[00:03:04]

We are also fortunate to have two of the stars of the screen adaptation of McBride's book.

[00:03:09]

One of them is David Diggs, the actor, rapper, singer, songwriter, screenwriter and film producer, best known for his Grammy and Tony award winning performance as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway Uber phenomenon. Hamilton and Who in the Good Lord Bird plays the iconic black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Getting to play Frederick Douglass was one of the greatest experiences professionally of my life.

[00:03:37]

It meant the world to me because I got to learn a lot about our history and my history and at the same time stretch my capacity as an actor and an artist.

[00:03:49]

The other good lord birder we have on hand is Ethan Hawke, who not only stars in the series as John Brown and delivers an utterly electrifying turn for which he received the aforementioned Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actor in a miniseries or television film, but who is a co-editor of the book, a cocreator of the series and co screenwriter on two of its episodes.

[00:04:10]

When I was making the movie Every Morning at Dawn on the way to work, I'd drive down Monument Boulevard, Richmond, Virginia, and I'd stare at these giant statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. And I would think, my God, you know, nothing's ever going to change. And I drove past them today and they're covered with pictures of George Floyd and with cries for justice. And things do change and things can change. And I think we all made the show in some small way, at least to be a part of that conversation.

[00:04:41]

Both the book in the mini series, Incarnations of the Good Lord Bird, are incendiary, irreverent at times, hilarious, at times profoundly moving accounts of a pivotal piece of American history that is neither widely known nor well understood to the extent it is understood at all.

[00:05:00]

The story's narrator is a fictional creation of McBride's, a teenage slave called Henry Shackleford, played in the series Fantastic, lead by fledgling actor Joshua Caleb Johnson, who is mistaken for a girl nicknamed Onion and informally adopted by John Brown, the wild eyed, divinely inspired, morally righteous, unapologetically violent holy roller, nuttier than a squirrel turd, as one character describes him, who turns Onion into an only semi willing conscript in his ragtag abolitionist army. What unfolds from there is a rambling, shambling picaresque that critics have likened to everything from Huckleberry Finn to the Coen brothers take on True Grit, to Masterpiece Theater, to drunk history as Brown and Onion trek from Kansas to upstate New York, where they conspire with Frederick Douglass to Canada, where they cross paths with Harriet Tubman.

[00:05:50]

And finally to Harpers Ferry, where Brown's master plan to end the peculiar institution of slavery devolves into a tragic comic debacle, but ultimately sets in motion the great emancipation. Though I am not a fully disinterested party in that, Showtime is home to my series, The Circus. I would say the following about the Good Lord Bird if it had been on Netflix or Hulu judge simply as a dramatization of the prelude to the Civil War. The series is a cracking good yarn, beautifully written, gorgeously shot and studded with standout performances.

[00:06:20]

But the Good Lord Bird is more than merely a handsome costume drama in its treatment of racism, not as an individual moral failing, but a system of oppression. Its examination of white guilt, white allies, ship and white redemption, its illustration of the arguments between incrementalism and radicalism, and its forcing of the question of nonviolence versus, by all means, necessary ism. The series is, as Mazola sites put it in his review for vulture quod and historical epic of real vision that speaks to the present as well as the past, staging its scenes in a way that leads us to connect what happened back then with what's happening on America's streets right now.

[00:06:57]

All of which is why, as we come to the close of another Black History Month, it seemed to me that the good Lord Bird was worthy of a deeper dive.

[00:07:04]

And I am thrilled to have James McBride to be Diggs and Ethan Hawke here with us today as we all hold hands and take that leap together on hell and high water. The question is, did John Brown fail? He certainly did fail to get out of Harper's Ferry before being beaten down by United States soldiers and to lead a liberating army into the mountains of Virginia. So did John Brown draw his sword against slavery and thereby lose his life in vain? And to this, I answer 10000 times no.

[00:07:49]

No man fails or can ever fail, who so grandly gives himself and all he has to a righteous cause. If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harpers Ferry. John Brown, Cecille, in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine.

[00:08:30]

I could live for the slave. John Brown could die for him. The war being waged in this land is a war for and against slavery. And the brown army fired the first shot.

[00:08:44]

Guys, great to have all three of you here for this special Good Lord Bird episode of High Water. I'm hoping that everybody either has read this book, knows this history enough to not be bothered by a spoiler alert, which is what that is really that's kind of the top of the last episode of the series and sort of is both a summary of the story and also kind of helps you to think about what you've just seen. And I want to talk today about the book, about the series and about race in America.

[00:09:10]

And I let's start with the book. It's great to have all three guys here to do that. James, let me ask you just to start with the series based on your book, Much Heralded, a book that won the National Book Award. People did not expect it, including you, from what I've read. Just tell me how you came to the idea that this was a subject, a topic and a story that you wanted to tackle.

[00:09:28]

You know, I read many books about John Brown and he was portrayed in some of them as rather crazy. And I just didn't believe it after a while. And I happened upon Harper story while researching another book and came to believe that he was something of a prophet. And, you know, this guy threw his life away for a cause in which he really had no stake. A lot of that had to do with religion and love of his country.

[00:09:53]

And I just thought he was a wonderful person. Well, I mean, I see was a compelling American that people should know about. So I just dove into it.

[00:10:02]

Ethan, you had not read the book and someone on another project recommended it to you and said you would make a great John Brown. Then you went and looked at the book and off you guys were to the races. Tell me about like what you saw in the book that made you think, yeah, that guy was right, like I should play John Brown. This is a story that needs to be told.

[00:10:18]

When I was reading the book, I couldn't stop laughing or sitting in my house and I was just cackling just like in grade school. Idiot. I just kept giggling and my wife kept saying, what are you laughing about? And I said, I'm just reading this book. And she said, Isn't that about John Brown? And I said, Yeah. And I think that question is the essence of why it needed to be told, meaning we get this face on, this posture on and we're told we're going to talk about the hurts and sins of this nation, that actually this kind of sorrowful face.

[00:10:53]

And it makes us not want to have the conversation. It makes us step aside. It makes us think we've heard it before. It makes us fall into some knee jerk position, positive or negative, that we have a stance on. And McBride's telling of the story invites you in. It invites you to be a part of the story and to laugh at all the human ridiculousness of real people. And it doesn't seem to have an agenda with you.

[00:11:21]

And by doing that, by telling you onion story, you know, I mean to Vetinari here. But in a lot of ways, Joshua, Caleb Johnson is the lead of our movie and it's his story. And we are these good and bad angels sitting on his shoulders. Right. I felt when I finished the book that feeling that you very rarely have, that you just want to give everyone you love this book for Christmas. You want them to read it.

[00:11:43]

And one of the ways as an American actor that I can do that is say, hey, David, why don't we put these clothes on when we pretend to be these people? We'll tell the story.

[00:11:53]

Yeah. So, Joshua, Caleb Johnson, who plays Onion, right. He did such an amazing job with that role. David, you get asked to play the part of Frederick Douglass. It is a much, I would say, different picture of Douglass than other people have put on film and a different picture than I think a lot of people have in their heads about Frederick Douglass to the extent that they have a picture in their heads at all, the portrayals rendered in a very particular way in James's book.

[00:12:21]

So I'm curious to hear you talk a little bit about the Douglass that you read in the book and what it was about the character that appealed to you and made you want to take the part. You know, was Frederick Douglass a hero of yours before you read the book? Yeah.

[00:12:33]

I mean, Frederick Douglass became a hero of mine after working on this, but honestly was not before I knew about as much about Frederick Douglass as I think a lot of Americans do, which is to say, like not not nearly enough. And I hadn't read the book.

[00:12:46]

Ethan gave me a copy of the Good Lord Bird after he asked if I'd be interested in doing it, said, read the book, though, because read it and then tell me what you think.

[00:12:55]

Is he just trying to make sure I was going to be OK with this particular portrayal of Douglass and had the same experience that he described? I laughed. I'm normally a very slow reader. I devoured that book. I read it in like a day and a half. I couldn't stop and I couldn't stop laughing. And I wanted everybody I knew to have read it. And I had really the same feeling. And I had been asked to play Frederick Douglass on a few different occasions and always turned it down.

[00:13:21]

And this one, there was no way I was. To turn it down, it was the first time I had been asked to play a version of him that wasn't interested in setting him up as infallible. All you can do as an actor is be in service of the story as a whole. Right. And the way that Frederick Douglass as a character just remove all the history from the way that Douglass is situated in this story to be part of Onion's journey felt so pivotal and so important and also so fun and getting to explore that relationship between him and John Brown, which after reading that book, I would go and do much more research than I had ever done on Douglass.

[00:14:02]

And learning about that particular relationship was so fascinating.

[00:14:06]

There was so much in there to play with and to get to do it in a way where it didn't have to hold up the weight of the concerns of a race, of an entire race, of people about whether or not we look good on television.

[00:14:24]

Right. Like that's the thing I hate. And the reason I had turned it down before was because I'm not I'm not interested in that. I'm not interested in making somebody a hero because we can't survive anybody being complicated who is a notable person. Yeah, right. And so this one, he felt real to me. He felt like a real person that I could play that was flawed and also brilliant. It didn't take away anything from Halle Berry. And he was didn't take away anything from how important he was.

[00:14:53]

And his actions in the scenes that he's in makes sense as someone else who is also like grappling with what it means to be famous. And with an incident like this, they they add up to all the things that I felt like I understood very well.

[00:15:06]

So allow me to approach the character from a place of understanding and not a place of like why this doesn't feel like a human being, because I don't know that that would be useful for the story.

[00:15:16]

So, James, you know, I think there's no one who's read the book who doesn't have that reaction. To say something about what Ethan just said was that everybody laughs. Red thinks it's funny. It's a hilarious book. Right. And that in and of itself is a little bit subversive. Right. Because it's a book about slavery, a book about the build up to the Civil War, a catastrophic event in American history. And, you know, it was treated with due seriousness by most people in most settings.

[00:15:38]

And here you are, a black writer, writing about America's original sin in a very irreverent way. And I saw a quote of Ethan somewhere where he said that when he read the book, the irreverence of it and the humor in it attracted him, but also that it was, quote, a very dangerous, very dangerous in the current atmosphere. And I wonder whether when you wrote the book, it felt dangerous to you to be writing about it in that tone, often compared to to Twain.

[00:16:02]

Right. There's a lot of comparisons of the book to Huckleberry Finn. Did it feel dangerous to you? Did you feel like you were doing something subversive by writing about this topic with such a humorous approach?

[00:16:12]

Honestly, not at all. I just thought it was funny. I mean, race is funny. The things we do around the subject of race are just really stupid and they're really funny. So you I mean, if you just look at, you know, like if a Martian landed here and saw us, you know, treating each other the way you don't see giraffes, like getting pissed off because lions don't have stripes and long necks. I mean, we're the only.

[00:16:39]

So I didn't see it as dangerous at all. Yes. I if I was a reporter for a long time and then I was a jazz musician for a long time. And so the blend of like irreverence and fact is folded into my life over the previous, you know, 20 years before I became a writer. So I'm looking for peace and something that makes me laugh. Look, if you approach a book like that, thinking something is dangerous, you did out the gate.

[00:17:05]

So I just thought it would be funny. Either I want to ask you about the dangerous thing in a second, because it was your quote that I quoted about it. But James, just stick with that on the humor thing. I mean, I mentioned Twain, right, reading the reviews of the book when it first came out and subsequently when the series came out. A lot of people make this point that the book feels, whether it's, you know, the Canterbury Tales or candied or whatever kind those picaresque kind of road books.

[00:17:28]

Right. There's a little bit of that in it. But the Twain analogy, the notion of like if Huck Finn was a cross-dressing black boy. Right. I mean, that is a thing that people pick up on. Does that ring true to you or are you thinking about Twain as you wrote it? Was that an inspiration?

[00:17:42]

Tonally, it'll now look, I wish I mean, when someone compares my work to Mark Twain, I just it's like comparing Kenny G to Sonny Rollins. I mean, you just really shouldn't do that.

[00:17:52]

So, I mean, I appreciate the comparison, but there is no comparison. I mean, Twain Twain was made and so above everyone. I mean, I appreciate it, but it's not it's not really correct. Look, it's sort of like when someone listen some some really great music, they come up with all the superlatives, just, oh, it's great. You know, I just bad. But ultimately the song just it just lives in your soul and it makes you want to do good.

[00:18:19]

And these characters in this man and his story made me want to do good and doing good for people in this country, especially now, is to try to help them see the history a little bit that they're not interested and try to make them laugh because we can laugh together. A lot of good things can happen. So that's what it was. Yeah. So, Ethan, I throw it back to you because you were the one who said that that kind of irreverence, a black writer writing about slavery in that tone is again, the quote was very dangerous in the current atmosphere.

[00:18:47]

What did you mean? If you really want to talk about humor, right, and wit and making people laugh, I mean, I couldn't agree with James more. I think as a creative person, you can't be thinking, oh, I want to do something dangerous. It's like saying you want to do something important. I mean, somebody says to you they're going to do something important. I mean, you just it's a big bore. You want to do something truthful from your heart.

[00:19:07]

Right. But how it intersects with the public is a different thing. And I think personally that I learn more about race from Richard Pryor and Red Fox and Chris Rock. When somebody makes you laugh and they just tell the truth and your body just laughs, I'm never going to see get out. And that was at a packed movie theater, you know, very mixed race audience. You know, black folks, white folks watching me and everybody. There was a tension in the room like, is it OK to laugh at that?

[00:19:36]

Or one part of the crowd laughed at something more than the other. And by the time we all left, we were friends. Like, it was like that great thing that art can do, which is we were scared together. We all jumped at the same time. We laughed at the same jokes. And there's something healing that happens about it and it's dangerous to do. What I mean is movie studios, people putting money behind things. They're all scared, everybody scared to talk about this and talk about each other and they're scared to say the wrong thing.

[00:20:07]

And an onion. Our character is not scared. He's going to say the wrong thing. Right. You know, people to ask me, how would you feel about playing John Brown? The truth is, I'm not playing quote unquote, John Brown, some liberal version of it. I'm playing the John Brown that Onion is seeing. David is playing the Frederick Douglass that Onion is seeing. It's art. It's a tale. It's a yarn being spun by this kid, and he's going to make it as interesting and fabulous as possible.

[00:20:35]

And so I love what David said earlier about you have to live inside the metaphor of the thing you're doing and you have to play in that key. I mean, there were lots of people when we first started doing this. You know, when you start acting, you feel people by the monitors. Right. And I could hear the whispers. Is he really going to be that ridiculous? I mean, he this the whole show, right? You just have to tune those things out and just go, yeah, I am going to keep doing this.

[00:21:02]

I'm going to keep doing and it's going to work, but it's not going to be normal. I agree that the book is dangerous and I agree what James just said that it's not. I agree with both those statements. So, David, you've made a point, though, a second to go, right? That was you were thinking about Frederick Douglass, that you knew a little bit about him, but not probably as much as most people know, which isn't really all that much.

[00:21:21]

And then you learn a lot more. I mean, I think if you watch this, clearly, this is not meant to be a documentary, you know, but his piece of art. Right. But there's obviously historical fact in the middle of it and important in that respect. I feel like I knew a decent amount about this story before I read the book and before I watched the series. But, you know, I think even just the presentation, the fact that John Brown's life intersected with Douglass's in the way that the fact that it intersected with Harriet Tubman's life in the way that it did, the factual basis on which the book was built, those pieces of history are largely unknown in the country.

[00:21:52]

Right. And I think there's a part of what makes this thing, you know, the timing of it, the way it's been received, the power of it has a lot to do with what's going on. We'll talk about what's going on in the country a little later. But it's also that it kind of opens people's eyes to a story that, you know, it's not even like a lot of this history which has been mythologized and glossed up and presented in a pretty way.

[00:22:14]

A lot of these facts are just not known in any way to most people. And I think that's part of why it derives a certain kind of power. You like really this should have happened?

[00:22:22]

Yeah, I mean, that was definitely part of it for me. And then it begs the question, why did we not know this before? Right. Because that feels intentional. That was one of my big takeaways from the research that I started to do was like, why would I not be taught this?

[00:22:38]

Like, who is served by not teaching you about a successful overthrow of a major part of the U.S. government would say, like that's a major moment in American history. There's no civil war without it. And I didn't know anything about it.

[00:22:55]

And I grew up in a bay like we'd get Malcolm X's birthday off of school.

[00:22:59]

I know I knew so little about John Brown and I certainly didn't know about Frederick Douglass, his intersection with John Brown. I knew nothing about any of this stuff. And so that became really interesting to me.

[00:23:09]

So, James, we had that thing. We played that sound right. It starts off the seventh episode out of seven in the series. And it's this declaration of Frederick Douglass saying this is why John Brown matters. This is his role in history. He essentially is in a very direct way, telling the audience what to think about what they're about to see, what Harpers Ferry meant, why it was important, etc.. That's like from your point of view, we know that it's Douglass speaking it, but is that your assessment?

[00:23:34]

Like when you think about trying to historically contextualize John Brown, you know, is that you speaking in some sense about why this story matters in history and what Brown's place should be in our understanding of these events that unfolded in the lead up to. The Civil War, that's why this guy really does matter. I suspect the actual words will probably put together by Mark Bouchard, who was the one that is the Frederick Douglass speech that Mark and I were dreaming about how to orient it.

[00:24:04]

And so we came across in our research that speech and thought how beautiful it was to know that this is what Frederick Douglass thought. I guess we should say, Mark Richard, who adapted the book for Screen with Ethan and worked on a lot of the individual episodes scripts, is an episode of cocreator, et cetera, et cetera. You're talking about Marc Richard. They're right. You're right.

[00:24:27]

But my view of this piece of the stories that Frederick Douglass was saying, these words after John Brown was dead. And one of the most interesting and compelling pieces of theater I've ever seen that I've ever personally seen is when David and Ethan played this moment with John Brown. John Brown begs Frederick Douglas to come with him and Frederick Douglass says he can't. But you can see that Frederick Douglass is speaking as a man who's just simply afraid to do it. He just doesn't have the guts to go and get himself killed.

[00:24:59]

Well, he doesn't have the desire, whatever it is. But you can see a lot of him work that well. But my point is that, yes, I believe that until the end of his life, Frederick Douglass had some regret that he didn't have the will to die fighting slavery the way John Brown did. And that really is is one of the many, many compelling pieces of humanity that this story encompasses. You know, you talk about Twain and Huck Finn.

[00:25:31]

You know, Jim was trying to get away from slavery. He wasn't trying to be a hero. He was just trying to run from it. John Brown was running at slavery and Frederick Douglass was yelling at it, but John Brown was running towards it to fight it. And that was the difference between them so easily.

[00:25:48]

You know, there's a moment in the series where some characters are discussing, you know, what Brown's up to here. And it's thrown into very stark relief, this notion that Brown is trying to free the slaves, but he's really not trying to save black people. He's really trying to save white people who he regards as, you know, living in sin in some sense in perpetuating the system of slavery.

[00:26:08]

Just talk a little bit about that. It's part of what saves this narrative from what some people would critique. Oh, it's another white savior story here. We got another white guy. Why are we not focusing on blacks who are trying to free the slaves? Why are we focusing on the white guy? Why is it always Hollywood making the white guy the hero? In some sense, Brown is really about trying to save white people's souls in this piece, right?

[00:26:28]

I think very much so. I think to understand my character, you know, as I walk in the shadow of this great man, as he's pretending to stand in these shoes, it becomes very obvious that John Brown is a Christian. And when James said earlier that he didn't have a dog in the fight, that's literally true. But I think his faith made him realize that he does have a dog in the fight, that. That if we all are made by the same maker and we all are brothers and sisters, it is my job, it is my job to go down swinging and to wake up white Christian America and to stop seeing, you know, the warm smile of yes, I know we're all God's children, but I'm not going to do anything about it is not good enough.

[00:27:17]

He saw himself as a coconspirator, you know, as I am with you in word and deed. And I'm going to try to make this nation live up to its dream of what it claims to be. But I found so interesting, you know, when you play a character finding out that his grandfather rode with George Washington and split with George Washington over the issue of slavery, I mean, this is a man that when he was a boy, grew up in a household with abolitionists.

[00:27:44]

This was not new. What was new is the call to action because of the Dred Scott Act and a few other things that happened in John Brown's life that made it impossible for him to do God's work without violence. It made it impossible for him to help escaped slaves, the Dred Scott Act. And so he felt forced into this issue. I found it just hugely compelling in my brain. Still goes back to the scene that James was just talking about, that I loved so much.

[00:28:07]

It's a fascinating scene. They meet John Brown does beg Frederick Douglass to come, but it's such an act of friendship that Frederick Douglass risks his life to tell John Brown, I'm not going to be there. Frederick Douglass at this time is an escaped slave going south to meet him and save face to face. I'm not coming, which is a very brave act. And it's a strange thing because people did hold his manhood cheap. Some people that, oh, you should have done it, you should have died.

[00:28:36]

And his answer was, you can die for justice any time you want. I want to live for it, you know, set yourself on fire if you want to. I admire it. Yes. Am I going to do it? No. And so the the conversation is so ripe with where we are now.

[00:28:50]

That is an excellent place to take a break. We'll sell some soap flakes and then we'll come back for the second part of this podcast with James McBride and Ethan Hawke and to takes on Helen Highwater.

[00:29:03]

What's super nutritious, super delicious and a little nutty American becomes the original super nut packed with all the good for you nutrition you need and the flavor that keeps the family coming back for food, recipes and more, visit American bacon dotcom every day can bring changes, challenges and opportunities that can also change your personal or business financial goals and priorities as a true partner.

[00:29:27]

Sandy Spring Bank can make it all a bit easier for someone who really listens, understands and then creates solutions in hard times and good times. We'll always strive to be your advocate today and every day.

[00:29:40]

That's real banking for real life and real business. Visit Sandy Spring Bank Dotcom slash real member FDIC.

[00:29:52]

This is by. I'm sorry, you're going to get so sorry. I wish I could stop. I deserve to have not for inciting a slave insurrection for. So in the engine house, why not take the bridge, so stop for that, I should hang. You did the best you could. We'll see if Congress. You still have your good lord, professor. See, God, good Lord, Bird doesn't fly a flock, you know what?

[00:30:41]

Voice of spirit is. Sometimes you have to fly alone, yeah. We're back here with McBryde Hawk digs on hell and high water, talking about the Good Lord Bird, the Showtime series, which I haven't really said on this thing, how awesome. I think I've just truly fantastic the series was. And that scene comes in the last episode. John Brown in prison, he's about to hang. He's meeting with Onion and we now learn they are in that scene.

[00:31:09]

What the meaning of the title of the book in the series is as they talk about the good Lord bird and what it's metaphorical meaning is. James, you wrote this book. You got all the attention that you got. You won awards, got a lot of praise, justifiably so. Did you think after you wrote it and it was as successful as it was, do you think, oh, this is obviously headed for the screen? Or did you think this book is unadaptable?

[00:31:31]

Because I know an awful lot of novelists who the first thing they do when they write a great novel is like, say this, this will never make it to the screen. What was your view about its adaptability?

[00:31:40]

I've had so many books that never made it that I just forgot all about it, know about my business. I didn't even bother thinking about that. That just, you know, Ethan came out the blue, so I wasn't thinking about that. If you think about that when you're writing the book again. But once I met after I met once you'd written the book.

[00:32:01]

And it's not like once it was done, you know, when I was done, I was sorry that I couldn't spend any more time with these people. Yeah. Because they gave me so much peace in such a relief. But, you know, when a book is out, then you go and you talk about it so much, you just hate it and that's it. And then it goes away. You move on. So, you know, I was sorry to leave and then I was glad to leave them.

[00:32:23]

And then they came back as different people, you know, with different colors and shades and styles.

[00:32:28]

So it was quite a journey. Ethan, you have made a lot of movies, like a lot like, you know, 80 some. Right. And you've done theater. You've done television, you've done all kinds of stuff. And you've adapted things and done things that are original and you've written stuff and directed stuff you like. You've done it. All right. Did this book present particular did you look at it and think, man, that's going to be hard to get this on screen?

[00:32:47]

Or did you look at it and think, I mean, it's always hard, right, to make the series and get it done and get it made to make it good. But did this thing present particular challenges, as you thought about trying to move it from novel to the form that eventually took? In my experience, this might sound like a little mystic and dumb, but the universe has a way of sometimes you care a lot about something and every door is closed.

[00:33:12]

I don't know why you just come up short at every turn. And this is one of those projects that for some strange reason I felt it was supposed to happen. I met James with my wife at a cafe. We talked about it. We got along really well and it was really easy, really easy conversation. And my wife and I left and thought, well, whether this happens or not, man, I want to spend as much time in a room with that dude as possible.

[00:33:39]

I mean, if you live a life as an artist and you meet a lot of clowns and every now and then you meet somebody that goes like, oh, man, if the world could be like this, this would be worth doing. If you put one step in front of the other, I go see a play, beautiful play at the public theater. I'm staring at David. I'm like, man, I bet he would get this. You know, I love this actor.

[00:34:01]

And you go meet him and he gets it, you know, and you go to Showtime and you're like, oh, in this culture where to be scared? And they go, Yeah, let's make it. We just doors open, you know, most of the time they don't. Most of the time you're Don Quixote, right? Most of the time you're like, let's do it. And nothing happens, you know, but we got to just keep Chargin and keep charging and keep charging.

[00:34:25]

That's my theory. And it's ultimately not really up to you. The power of movies is this collective imagination. If we did not have the right Frederick Douglass, this show would not have worked. It's not up to me whether he does it or not. I can have some certain brains and approach him, but things have to come together. And I mean, look, we're all I used to say to Joshua all the time, I hope you didn't think it was too much pressure.

[00:34:47]

But I'd say, listen, we're going to go as far as you take us cos, you know, I mean, this is your movie. And and he took us all the way. But that's not up to me either. I remember texting James when Joshua came in to audition. I was like, oh, here we go. We found him. It's on. Yeah, we made him audition a bunch of times. But I knew the second he started reading, he was funny and smart and curious and confident, but also humble and, you know, so I don't know if I answered your question, but I always know it's going to be hard.

[00:35:18]

But yeah, but this one felt blessed, like when you just feel in your gut like that and it's strangely the doors that are usually closed, they open up with Odie's, you know, you push on like, wow, it's turned out to be easier than I thought. We played that scene. Give you an onion, right. You've said that that's one of the favorite scenes you've ever played. Why? There's an eternity behind us, an eternity ahead of us, you know, and it's very, very beautiful piece of writing.

[00:35:45]

I got an email from Paul Schrader, who I admire a lot, the filmmaker and writer. He sent me this email when he got to that episode and he said, you know, I've watched this whole thing. And I thought, yeah, it's great. But they're never going to land the ship. They're never going to land and it can't land. And then that scene comes on. And I remember when I read the book, there's a grace to that scene.

[00:36:08]

When the book starts, when the story starts, you know, I'm just an old crazy white guy to Onion and he's just a tool that I can use to propel my cause. Right. We have labels attached to the labels. So wrong for me. I put him in a dress. I don't know. I just care about the color of his skin. I don't care about who he is. I don't even know that he's a he. Right.

[00:36:29]

And McBride gets it something very deep there. Whether you talk about race or gender or North or South or Democrat or Republican, you know, there's missing a humanity. The humanness that the book gets that and by the end, these two, they love each other and that love is palpable. And there's something I find very moving about. One person at the end of his life, his last few minutes, and one person with his whole future ahead of him and this intersection and time, eternity ahead and eternity behind.

[00:37:03]

But they have this moment to be alive. I felt it was very powerful and it was powerful in the way that it was actable. You know, sometimes you read a book and yeah, it's beautiful. You know, there's some killer stuff and, you know, crime and punishment stuff. But it's not actable. This was actable. These were characters. And this was a set piece scene. You know, even there's a great scene with the has with Joshua in the drawing room.

[00:37:26]

But it's a scene. It's actually actable. And I think, you know, I know James this year right now, but I think that's one of the things that could make DeKing King Kong. His new book, a great film, too, is that he writes scenes characters that pop. So I don't know why I loved it, but that's my best answer, James.

[00:37:45]

When you saw the series, you know, I know enough enough people who've written books and seen them adapted for screen that when they have seen the outcome and they've been disappointed or they feel like their their work has been damaged in some way or maltreated or people have not been true to it, I've read enough to know that. I know you don't think that about this piece, but were there things in watching the series where it opened up new things for you about the story where you looked at it and thought those guys went someplace that wasn't really in my book either in terms of character development or in terms of visualizing something or thematically where you thought in the conversion to the screen they have added something that is valuable that you just never really thought you saw in your own book, but that they found.

[00:38:26]

Yeah, several places. One, John blackies production design at the town of Pikesville was just extraordinary. It was just really, really far beyond what I imagined, although it seemed that he took what he read in the book and then he created what I imagine. But then he created a bigger world, more colorful. I mentioned the scene between David and Ethan when Frederick Douglass goes to Chambersburg to meet John Brown. That was far beyond what I had imagined and it was far beyond the characters in the book.

[00:38:58]

Look, when you write a book and it becomes, you know, become something else. Duke Ellington. The reason why Duke Ellington's band was so great was there were two great bands in jazz, Basie and Ellington based. His band was one big pow boom pow. They just swung really bup bup bup bup. That was bass. But Duke had a band of gunslingers and he would just set them loose. And every time they stepped to the microphone, Duke would just get out the way and let the guy be king.

[00:39:29]

And so when Ethan and Mark was shot and David in these guys and the people from Blumhouse got involved, I could see these people were skilled, they were talented. And so you have to decide they're going to play the song, Let Them Be King. And so they created a kingdom that was far beyond far greater in riches than the one, I imagine quite different. You know, they might want with Bitcoin. I might be a gold man, you know, mutual funds versus whatever.

[00:39:55]

We still, you know, got paid. So it's OK. I mean, that's a question. I got it. Yeah.

[00:40:04]

So, I mean, you really bring Douglas to life. You have brought to every character. You've touched the life and kind of incredible ways. And this is no exception. He is a super complicated character. You know, that's a broad range in the series. He has these kind of comic affectations. He's like a cognac sipping playboy, kind of a dandy in certain respects. But he's also this sort of commanding orator with this enormous moral gravitas. And, you know, it's unusual to see historical figures rendered with.

[00:40:34]

That level of complexity, they're usually either put up on a pedestal without humanity or they're kind of made fun of if it's a force in some way, Douglas, both in some ways in this piece. And so I'd love for you to talk a little bit about the wide ranging this of the part, the moral complexity of the high comedy all rolled into one. There's a high degree of difficulty, I would imagine, for an actor to pull off this kind of a part that scare you or did you look at that and say, let's go?

[00:41:00]

Yeah, I mean, it's what you always hope for. It's the reason you do. The thing is because that's true to life. You know, I'm in quarantine in Vancouver right now. I'm like living in a Brecht play, you know, like we go through all of these different iterations of things.

[00:41:17]

And one of my favorite, this is a tribute to Darnell's direction. Also of that episode with the drawing room comedy is that and this is, I think, true to what the novel does. The scene gets to be what it is. We don't have to force it into a box that it doesn't belong.

[00:41:34]

And if this moment, because of how Douglas has set up his life in this castle that he lives in with these two women is is forced into being a drawing room comedy, then that's what it is. And it doesn't matter if that is out of step with the rest of the story, because like the rest of the story is, all of life is everything we've ever lived before. So all of these things exist. What is like the most joyous thing as an actor is to get to do all of that at once.

[00:42:02]

Making things is hard work, but that's like the it's the good part of the work. That's what you want, is to get an opportunity to really lean into something that has a style and that has somebody who's not just thinking one thing and doing that thing or saying the thing that they're about to do and then doing it or reflecting on the entire history of their life as exposition. Right.

[00:42:23]

You just want you want people to be living in a moment and get to be that. And this was many of those opportunities stacked on top of each other.

[00:42:32]

So there's a total connection to this thing, Ethan, that I saw you tell this story as you were getting ready to play the part of John Brown going up to his grave in Lake Placid. And in that there's a New Yorker profile that came out of you last fall where you were talking about making that pilgrimage and you said you want every project to have deep meaning to you, but they don't. This one was magical to me. It's somehow connected to the spine of my life.

[00:42:58]

I mean, obviously, that's a pretty, pretty heavy thing to say about about any piece of work. That's more than saying this a great part to play that it's kind of was personally meaningful to you in a particular way. And I'm curious what you meant by that. Well, her. I think I meant that I love my craft, and when you can use your craft to be a manifestation of. What you believe in, there is something about this book, these characters, this world, I'm an American, right?

[00:43:38]

You know, I'm born in Texas. I've lived in this country my whole life. My first acting class at the Paul Robeson Center for the Performing Arts. And I was always very clear to me whenever success happened that I never had to deal with it. Anything that Paul Robeson had to deal with this man, you know, he was everything. An actor dreams of being a great world class performer, but he didn't do just one thing. He acted and he sang and he was an activist in order and a sportsman.

[00:44:07]

I mean, he was a hero, an old fashioned hero and. I guess when I say the spine of my life is you want your work to be in service of something besides yourself. Right, and you want to feel like you're. Part of, you know, it's oral history, right, that's what art is, our performance, you know, we're telling stories and we're sharing our experiences. And this one to me felt valuable. And I couldn't believe that these doors were opening and it was happening and it felt like a great responsibility.

[00:44:41]

And, you know, that puts pressure on the woman it says felt like an incredible opportunity. You know, if you're a baseball player, this is the at bat you dream of. And here it was. And I'm 50 years old and I felt ready for it. You know, I felt ready for this character. It asked of me everything that I learned. It was going to push me to the wall of my talent. I was only going to fail.

[00:45:03]

I could never be as good as John Brown deserves, you know, and not just him, Opie Anderson, Dangerfield, NewBay, you know, this story like as David said, how do I grow up not knowing that black people are white people work together to overtake the country's largest armory and started the civil war. How is it somebody deemed that not worth. They taught me about the Alamo like nine thousand times.

[00:45:27]

I missed you about the Alamo, the wrong version, the story of everything else. You know, it's good old fashioned. Landgrab, they said was called for freedom.

[00:45:35]

But, you know, so it's a wake up call to me as a person and it let me use my art to be in service to something. I mean, I think that's what I meant.

[00:45:44]

Yeah, that's a long way of saying, I think my momma be proud of me now when I was a beacon of freedom and George Washington with those fucking wooden teeth. All right. The other thing that's true about this thing is you guys got in a weird way, as horrible as the last year has been. And we talk about in this podcast about how terrible things are because it sort of was born out of this notion of everyone feeling like everything was apocalyptic.

[00:46:06]

There's a weird way in which the apocalyptic nature of things that happened between our politics and the pandemic and then this thing getting delayed and then and then dropping when it dropped is like just sheer luck. But I think it actually was luck for you guys. The timing of this dropping in an election year, dropping after, you know, as horrible as everything that with the fall out from George Floyd, was this a moment that you guys caught with this?

[00:46:29]

And I think part of why it affected people pretty deeply was the timing of it. And I want to talk about that in a little more detail on how this thing speaks to our present day. When we come back, we'll take a quick break and come back for the last part of the special good warbird edition of Hell and High Water.

[00:46:47]

For the ones who know safety isn't a catchphrase, it's a culture and the ones who help make sure everyone makes it home safe for the safety minded who watch everyone's backs, Granger offers supplies and solutions for every industry, as well as safety assessments and training to keep your facility safe and your people safer. Call Granger Dotcom or just by Granger for the ones who get it done. Hey, I'm Gabrielle Collins, period, drama nerd, and you're Behind the scenes guide to Bridgton on Bridgton, the official podcast, we're learning how this fantasy world dipped in history came to life.

[00:47:32]

Daphne. Her costume design really is about the elegance of simplicity. It's just color and shape.

[00:47:40]

We went old school and we got to scenic artists who painted the backings for us by hand.

[00:47:46]

These dukes are all like in their late 20s, early 30s. Almost all of them are unmarried, really good looking, and none of them have syphilis. Can you imagine when he looks into your eyes? I mean, he didn't see you.

[00:48:01]

We just had this sort of ripping sound. Yeah, I think there's just been a wardrobe malfunction.

[00:48:07]

Listen to Bridgton, the official podcast on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or anywhere you get your favorite shows.

[00:48:19]

Have you lost faith in me? No, no, it is not about faith, John. It's a it's a question of method. If what you are proposing causes the nation to explode in bloody revolution, it will take even longer to reach true equality.

[00:48:36]

You are by far the craziest person to ever sit at this table. You tell you, please. John, QEP. I've been called crazy before. Before. But I know there will be no friendship with the slaveholding man until he is soundly beaten, holds himself accountable and asks for forgiveness, then. We can discuss French, yes, but that friendship is nearly five generations away. So that I'm a full. But I'm a fool for God. So welcome back to the last part of this episode of Hell and High Water on the Good Lord Bird, that was from the third episode of the series.

[00:49:47]

That episode revolves all around Onion and John Brown getting to upstate New York. They have dinner at Douglass's house with Douglas and his black wife and his white German mistress. And all of them sit around this very kind of fancy, ornate table. And they have this moment where they're debating a matter of great consequence, kind of how to proceed along the path towards abolition, this goal that Douglass and John Brown share, that has made them friends, but about which they disagree tactically in terms of what the right way to proceed is, what's the best way to get there?

[00:50:22]

And, you know, you hear Brown say this thing about accountability and about how, you know, you happen to be friends with slavery, but only after they've held themselves accountable and ask for forgiveness. And, you know, as we think about the present day, if you take out slavery and just put in the country, America, at least white people in America, you could sort of say the same thing in order to really go forward. And a truly just and equitable way, the white America needs to hold itself accountable and ask for forgiveness.

[00:50:50]

That's a point of view for sure. And you hear Douglass say, John, if you wait for that, it's going to be five generations before we get there. And I'm sitting there watching that thinking, you know, it's a lot more than five generations and it's not clear we're fully there today. So I guess that's a question for all you guys. Are we there yet? Has America, at least white America, taken full accountability and asked for forgiveness in a way that allows for us to move forward?

[00:51:16]

Really, the way that we'd all like to move forward, which is hand in hand, seems like a pretty important question for where we are in terms of race in the country right now.

[00:51:24]

Well, this is like trying to turn an ocean liner around on a dime. It's not easy, but I think we've made a lot of progress. And I don't want to sound like, you know, Mr. Shukry put on tap the shucking and dancing and, you know, things are better. I mean, when I think of Clarence Thomas, I just feel bad. I just feel like all these grandmothers who got their teeth kicked out and these kids who got their heads knocked in sort of the ding dong like that could be a Supreme Court justice, makes me feel bad.

[00:51:50]

But on the other hand, I think what happened with Judge Floyd and with that, we happened to land where we did and the pandemic came. It was really part of God's plan. You know, you have to remember, I grew up in New York. Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani were heroes in this city most of my adult life. And now we find that everyone gets to see what black people have always seen. America's got a chance to live black for a while in America.

[00:52:17]

Most Americans just don't like it. And so the change we're seeing, I think, is real. And I'm so proud of these young people for pushing ahead because you can negotiate with people who don't want to change. You just have to say we're going to change and you can change with us. And if you don't, that's OK. But we're still going to change. So, yeah, I think this is an inspiring time to be alive. I'm so glad to be alive to see this.

[00:52:40]

I feel privileged to be alive to see this. And I'm so you know, when Ethan was talking about doors opening and I can remember when David walked onto the set and I can remember seeing him in the dressing room and he was laughing before I even put his costume, before I even got him started, like he understood the irony. It was just as a man, you know, I'm not knocking you over the head with religion, but I think this is God's plan.

[00:53:03]

This guy was supposed to be so great. He was so powerful. He controlled everything. Well, how about trying to control what people breathe you so bad with the orange head? I'll put it in your breath. So I think I think change is coming and I think it's good.

[00:53:17]

And I'm so proud to be a part of it, to be kind of the same question to you. I mean, if you just modify those words that Brown says in that speech a little bit and change it from the slaveholder to the country, when say that until the country holds itself accountable and ask for forgiveness, you know, real friendships, impossible. How close are we to that? Are we there? Is that still a very distant fantasy? I don't know.

[00:53:39]

It requires defining terms, I think a little more clearly. Right. When you say country, what I think is great about that scene is that it is a real conversation being had between people. Right? Actual human beings with a difference of opinion speaking about it. And that happens all the time in our lives with those conversations happen all the time and interracial friendships and within their conversations, I have with black friends right there conversations that I have in homogenous groups.

[00:54:08]

Also, they happen all the time where people disagree and they spend time arguing at a point and come out of that argument with a different understanding than they had when they go in on a grand scale. The country at the politic, the electorate like that, these things are a lot harder. We don't see them that way. It's the reason art is so important, right? It's the reason personalising it's the reason, like watching two people have that argument is important because you don't ever see that what you see is a map divided into red and.

[00:54:39]

Blue states which don't account for any sort of nuance and leads you to believe that everybody who believes one thing believes all of everything, you know, that is represented by that side and you get to your emotions so caught up in it that sometimes it's hard to see.

[00:54:57]

We once again had a large amount of the population of the country vote for Donald Trump. All of those people were voting for white supremacy. That's what they were voting for. But I'm sure a lot of people would disagree. I believe that I'm sure a lot of folks who voted that way would disagree with me on that. And if we could have a conversation about it, I might learn something interesting or they might learn something interesting or we might both come out of that in a different place than we were before.

[00:55:20]

But I don't see those people I see like a bunch of numbers and a red state. You know, Ethan, I think I remember in studying up for this podcast, some version, some part of the story that we haven't discussed about how you came to do this project involves you being on the side of the Magnificent Seven and around the time that the Confederate flag was taken down in South Carolina. And that being part of your intellectual journey, that led to the adaptation of the Good Lord Bird.

[00:55:49]

You know, if I remember the story correctly, it's that you kind of looking at that piece of news of the Confederate flag coming down, it being controversial in South Carolina and saying, you know, the civil war is still not over here. Everything you said is true.

[00:56:00]

I did say that it was a powerful experience for me. I was playing a former Confederate soldier. I was doing a scene with Denzel where my character is having PTSD and he doesn't want to fight. And Denzil's character saying to me, the war is over. And I shout back at him, the war's not over. And while I'm learning these lines, I'm listening to talk radio about whether people have the right to fly the Confederate flag. It was like I was caught in some time blender.

[00:56:25]

You know, I couldn't believe that so little time had gone by. We had a beautiful woman who runs the Civil War Museum in Virginia come speak to a few cast members about, you know, trying to help us understand the period in her hit on the statues was so interesting because, you know, she thought about Monument Boulevard and she was saying, you know, they're paid for by the daughters of the Confederacy. And she was talking about the pride that the White South felt at the time of the civil war.

[00:56:52]

And just after a great blow to their ego that they felt and she saw the statues as a symbol of a community stuck in the first stages of grief, which is denial. You know, it's just a symbol. It's just it's this did not happen. This we are not bad. And that the dialogue about really understanding our collective history was not happening, that we were frozen. And I don't know, my dogs are barking, distracting me. But it's a big conversation, DVDs and a lot of the dialogue doesn't happen.

[00:57:23]

You know, I remember my brother who was really upset at me about being for the statues coming down. He's very, very upset with me about it. And he's a soldier. He's a 30 year veteran. And I said to him, you know, Rambo doesn't get a statue in Berlin. He lost that war. You know, you don't walk through Berlin and see that doesn't matter how great a soldier they were. They were on the wrong side of history.

[00:57:45]

And that really got to him. He started to be like, why are we not taught what these guys we're fighting for? Yeah, and it's a long, long, serious conversation and one that doesn't have, like, simple cut out answers because things mean things with DVDs getting it that it's true. Things mean things to certain people. There's a great woman. She was part of the French Resistance, Simone Veil. She wrote a great essay called Why I Don't Belong to a Political Party.

[00:58:11]

And it has to do with the second I say I'm a part of this party or I you think I'm against you before we've even spoken about one idea. And if we just tackled each idea on its own, we would find a meeting ground. Look, ultimately, what we're going through in America is what the good Lord bird really represents. And that's the business of identity. You know, I'm half Irish. I'm hip hop on this. I'm that I mean, really.

[00:58:37]

And does it really matter? And so our sense of identity is rooted in this whole business of where, you know, the land of the free and the brave and so forth, yet the Russians and come in here and exploit our race problem with the slickness of a used car salesman and send us at each other's throats, because ultimately we're really the funniest, most humorous, kindest people you'd ever want to meet. All Americans really are. Most of us.

[00:59:05]

I mean, ninety nine. There's a few knuckleheads, but generally Americans are really fun people. And so this problem, we're learning to address it and it's painful, but we're the only nation that's doing it right. Look at Brazil, look at Germany. We're really doing it right. We're doing it the hard way. You know, we really get in shape the right with not dieting. We're doing the elliptical machine, whatever bullshit. That's what we're doing.

[00:59:32]

And so it's painful, but. Every one of these people on this podcast, the three of us. We have the same mind with completely different men. Yeah, ironically, we're all men, but that's another conversation. But, you know, we we want the same thing and we're willing to bend the long way to do it. We're willing to go to great lengths to make it happen.

[00:59:54]

So, David, when Ethan was talking about you guys made this thing, got it under the wire, got it made before the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic sets in and we all are going through our separate, isolated weirdnesses of being for a period of time, was unable to work inside our own heads. And Ethan said somewhere that he couldn't get John Brown out of his head when the George Floyd murder happened. And then the fallout from that in the country was in the state that it was in very acute way at late last spring, early summer, just having a constant conversation with John Brown about what he's seeing unfold here in America in last summer in the racial justice moment.

[01:00:29]

I'm curious whether you were having that same conversation with Frederick Douglass, the president, stick with you as you saw this stuff unfolding in the streets in America, as you saw the wake of George Floyd and the renewed, very vigorous, very passionate, very, in some cases, a very angry debate over white supremacy over the state of our race relations in the country where you're hearing the echoes of Douglass in your mind.

[01:00:49]

Yeah, I was very happy to have had this experience working on this show. I was in conversation with the Good Lord Bird, I think, through that whole time.

[01:00:57]

And I was happy to have had that because there were moments in that where I was so angry to the point I stopped checking my social media and I was sitting in my little home studio recording all of these really, really angry songs.

[01:01:13]

I'll never release them, I don't think, because ultimately I would sit there, record them, and I'd sit with them and be like, what does this do? What does this do? If I put this out right now, you know that this is part of a larger conversation. I'm in with myself all the time about how many eyes are on things that I do now. It's different than it used to be. You know, that's a whole other thing.

[01:01:31]

But in reflecting on having made a piece of art or been part of a piece of art that I think was unafraid to present the reality of a situation and also unafraid to do it where every character is loved. This is the thing about reading McBride's work, too. When you read these books, every single person in that book is treated with so much love. And there was an awful lot of hate that I was doing and the stuff that I was recording.

[01:01:59]

And I think that's ultimately why I'm probably not going to print it out, because I wasn't really loving the characters enough in that stuff.

[01:02:06]

I didn't care enough about them. Having that in my mind definitely helped me get through that moment. There's another element of this that I want to try to talk about, you kind of talked about a little bit toward the top of the podcast, the nervousness of Hollywood. Let's not specify showtime, but this kind of material and the nervousness around it, per the way I want to talk about it is this. There was a story that came out in The New York Times, James, when your book came out that talked about the comedy in it and its irreverence and a group together, Good Lord Bird with Django Unchained and some Key and Peele sketch and made the declaration talked about this is all about the irreverence of these pieces.

[01:02:48]

And it said that there's a new way of talking about race in America today. It's now officially OK to be boldly irreverent about not just the sacrosanct but the catastrophic. So, you know, you think about these raw pieces that it touched on slavery in some way. They were all irreverent in their tone and there was a lot of comedy in them. Right. And, you know, striking to read that. I think about that 2013 was when that piece came out.

[01:03:13]

Right. So now it's seven years later. And I guess I just want to ask you guys whether you think that's still true or whether there's much more delicacy about these topics now and people are more afraid to take these topics on and that there's all of the things that have happened in our culture around this stuff. And whether that's good or bad, I'm not even going to rule on it. But it feels like we're in a different place in twenty, twenty one.

[01:03:35]

Would you think the has improved around this or do you think it's gotten worse? What do you guys think about the evolution of the discussion on these topics over the last decade or so?

[01:03:45]

Well, first of all, when I was working in newspapers, I worked in newspapers about nine hours as a reporter for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and so forth. And then I became a musician for nine years. I learned more about America as a musician than I ever learned as a journalist because I had to go and play weddings and gigs and travel and bands to Jackson, Mississippi, and come back with five dollars. And I talk to people.

[01:04:09]

So I'm in you know, I do not think the good Lord bird is anything like Django Reinhardt, whatever that Django, whatever Django Django Unchained.

[01:04:16]

I forgot what I loved Django Reinhardt, but it's Django Unchained is Django Unchained. I mean, that's just that's just fantasy. I mean, the black cat walking around, shooting people up. I just didn't like that movie. I mean, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guy who wrote it. I think he's brilliant. But that's just a fantasy. You know, my reality is at two o'clock in the morning when I get stopped by the cops, I can't say my mother's Jewish.

[01:04:37]

It's OK, really no problem. So I'm not going to waste time. And, you know, and David has the same issue. I'm not going to waste time with that. So I don't need someone, you know, like a reporter who writes that. I mean, I understand the intent. You know, you grew up in us all together saying, good Lord is like Django, whatever and get out. It's just completely different. Good Lord, Bird reaches deep.

[01:05:00]

We're talking about a guy who really gave his life and suffered it, lost his whole family and should have been as famous as his famous black friend, Frederick Douglass and was not because he had the balls to say, I'm not going to take it. I'll give my life and the life of my son to this. So you can't compare the two. And when you compare the two, it says more about the writer than the business of what he's talking about.

[01:05:24]

The bottom line is that identity and who you are in this world has always been draped around this business of what some people call white supremacy. But what I call the business of I, I am a free person. And we learn this from the English because, you know, when we came here, the ones who came in with just the dregs of they were the top of the food chain. So we came in. We kick these people out.

[01:05:48]

We ate the food, we invite them to dinner, we call it Thanksgiving. And then, you know, that's it. That's the end of them. So I think the whole business of identity needs to be just looked at differently so we can be clean about what we're dealing with. It helps us see things better. So that's my take on it. And I hope somebody understands that. I don't want to sound like a rant.

[01:06:09]

Did well, you know, didn't sound like Iran, but I totally get. You don't think there's a comparison, just to be clear, not me that made it, but there's a comparison between Django Unchained and Good Lord Bird. I do come back to the question that I meant to try to get out, which really more the question of like what's happened in the sensitivities around topics related to race primarily. Do you guys think that the environment is more hospitable to making even what you call dangerous art?

[01:06:36]

Art that makes people uncomfortable? That's subversive in some way, that's transgressive. Is the environment more hospitable to that or more hostile to that now is good Lord Bird getting it made? Is that a miracle or is that a leading indicator of the fact that making this kind of work is becoming easier in the world, that we now live in the entertainment complex we now live and I'm just trying to figure that particular question out.

[01:06:57]

I think it's hard to answer because we're in flow. We're changing every second. Every second. You know, when that person wrote that article, Obama's president I remember during the election, I'm on the board of this organization, Dream Yard, which I do like acting lessons to kids in. Bronx, I know Tim Ward, he's a great man. Yeah, he's great, they're a great organization. But one of these teach I'm doing this like little acting classes, Latin guys driving me home.

[01:07:21]

And he's a teacher and we're talking. And I was saying Trump's never going to get elected. And he's like, oh, Trump's definitely get elected. And, you know, I'm your classic white guy in the scenario where I just didn't see that coming. I thought things are moving forward. And he's like, no, I've since a heating up of racism in the entire Obama presidency. And I, I just thought he was wrong. I thought the sailboat's going this way.

[01:07:43]

And, you know, I don't everything's moving all the time in the zeitgeist is mysterious about when things are OK, when they're not OK. I kind of fall back onto what James originally said, which is that you can't even think like that. You just got to tell the truth. You got to play your song. Everybody's got to play their song. I remember sometimes getting notes from people about these scripts or the show or things like that that got you just thinking too much.

[01:08:10]

You guys, you're thinking too much. You're not thinking about onion. You can't think about what everybody's going to you know, I mean, even like if we weren't on the show, I might want to talk to David about that music that he recorded. I don't know, maybe this too much hate. I mean, sometimes I wonder, did John Lennon regret singing? How do you sleep or all that hate music he recorded against McCartney? I don't know.

[01:08:31]

But I know it was important to him that he did it, you know, and and we got to sing our songs and we got to tell the truth with each other and hear each other. And one of the things that I'm so grateful for to James is he provided us not only did he write a story that was about America working together, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Onion, Harriet Tubman, you know, the Brown boys, all these characters come to you.

[01:08:56]

He invited David and I to play inside his imagination and that let us work together.

[01:09:00]

Oh, wow. Black people, white people working together. Guess what? It's not that hard. It's fucking fun. We had a great time. We made meaningful, substantive art that speaks to us. And James provided that opportunity through his imagination because he wasn't too worried about whether it was considered dangerous. Right. People working together, telling the truth. That's the answer lies in that people thinking too much about what the outside world's going to think. If I do that on Wednesday, maybe I should wait till Friday.

[01:09:29]

I don't know.

[01:09:30]

How is that? That makes sense. It definitely made sense that both these guys made sense. Both of you guys made sense in your different ways. David, you've done a lot of very politically freighted work in music in particular. And so I guess I'm curious about your thought about this in the climate that exists for, again, making stuff that's bold and radical and hard to find audience hard to get back is hard to get promoted, hard to get marketed, et cetera, et cetera.

[01:09:52]

Are we getting in a better place or are we getting in a more constricted space for that kind of work?

[01:09:57]

I think the biggest advantage that the entertainment complex the industry has going for it is that at this moment there is such a desire for content.

[01:10:10]

It's a lot less likely, even though I still think it should be made for the good Lord bird to get made, if that's the only book written by a black author that's going to be adapted in a TV show in the next 10 years. Right. That's a different climate than the one that it entered into or that's not the case. Which is all basically just to say that we can have this fantasy of a Django Unchained and the Good Lord Bird, those things can both exist and we can look at them and we can talk about how they are different.

[01:10:41]

We can talk about the differences in the spirit in which and the creators who made those things and all of those things. Those are and we can look at get out.

[01:10:49]

They're going to be a lot of art created around issues of race in the future, as there already have been in the past. But there's going to be more and more that continue to be created. The reason we're going to be able to get a lot of them, I think, is because the industry is hungry for anything. It's a good time to be creating stuff right now.

[01:11:05]

And I think by virtue of just that fact that need to like feed this beast that is recklessly trying to figure out how to make money, that's what is happening here.

[01:11:15]

Storytellers can really take advantage of that moment and figure out a way to get their particular story told and be in conversation with all of these stories of the moment. And I think we're lucky in that sense. I think having a lot of content come out at a time 20 years from now when we get to look back at everything that came out in between 2000 and nineteen at the end of twenty twenty one, we can look at those things and we can write think pieces about that.

[01:11:39]

We can talk about that. We can teach that in college and we could study what that means, the way we study the Harlem Renaissance of the way we have sort of arbitrarily group these things, these pieces of art into what they meant in their time, which we won't know until we're out of the time, you know, but I like that there's a lot of it. I think we'll have a better understanding later by virtue of a large sample size.

[01:12:00]

I appreciate you guys taking the time for everybody out there who has not yet seen the good lord bird. You got to see it because it's really fabulous from start to finish, top to bottom. I had very high expectations and it surpassed them. So, you guys, thank you for taking the time. And Ethan, good luck at the jobs.

[01:12:16]

Take that hardware home, please. Thank you, guys. Hell and high water as a podcast from the recount and I heart radio. Thanks again to David Diggs, James McBride and Ethan Hawke for being here. If you like this episode of Hell and High Water, please, please subscribe to the podcast and leave a nice rating for us on the Apple podcast app to help people find out about what we were doing over here. I am your host and the executive editor of the recount, John Heilemann.

[01:12:40]

Bruce Weinstein is a co creator of Hell and High Water. Olivia Jackson and David Wilson engineered the podcast just in turmoil, and Diatta Rowden handled the research. Stephanie Stender is our post producer. Sorry, Sopher is our producer and Christian Fidel Castro. Russell is our executive producer. Simplify your federal agencies, technology procurement with connection, public sector solutions, connections, dedicated account managers, commitment to exceptional customer service and extensive catalog of federal contracts make it purchases quick, easy and affordable.

[01:13:20]

Turn your challenges and opportunities and get rid of your technology. Pain points with connection. Today, learn more about what's possible with connection. Public Sector Solutions at connection dotcom fed contracts.

[01:13:33]

Here's today's STEM tip. Don't throw out that old plastic bottle. Repurpose it by turning it into an awesome terrarium. Just fill it with sand, pebbles, soil and your favorite plant. It'll grow sealed right in its own ecosystem. Learn more at. She can send a message from the Ad Council.