“We do so much research, and our problem is we find so many great things,” Underground co-creator Joe Pokaski said last night, discussing the second season of the WGN America series. “As we read about Harriet [Tubman] and started to understand her, we all know she’s a superhero; it’s about understanding her as a person, and realizing that we all have [it] within us to become Harriet.”
A period drama created by Pokaski and Misha Green, Underground sets the stage in its first season, with the United States on the brink of Civil War, depicting the harrowing, life-or-death journey of slaves and American abolitionist heroes on a dangerous and difficult march to freedom, and the hardships and casualties they see along the way.
Focusing on Antebellum Georgia’s famed Underground Railroad—which gives the series its title—the series’ second season incorporates Aisha Hinds into the fold, in the essential and powerful role of American abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman. The abolitionist herself escaped slavery, but was not one to leave her fellow survivors behind, undergoing thirteen discreet missions to rescue over 70 slaves—a hero of the proportions of Andrew Garfield’s pacifist Army Medic Desmond T. Doss in Mel Gibson’s Best Picture nominee, Hacksaw Ridge, also derived from an unbelievable, true American story.
Last night at Landmark Theatres, the cast and creatives behind Underground appeared for a panel with Deadline’s Dominic Patten, including stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Amirah Vann and Aisha Hinds, series creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, and executive producer Anthony Hemingway, who discussed the integration of Harriet Tubman into the Season 2 narrative.
“We started collecting all this information, and Misha found out that she did these speeches, that they talked her into talking, and of course—like Harriet, like Aisha—she excelled at it,” Pokaski shared. “We just researched speeches and said, ‘What would Harriet say to America right now?’”
Per Green, we get an integral part of Harriet’s character in the second season’s first episode, as we see Tubman’s scarred back, recognizing that even the superheroes of the abolitionist movement did not emerge unscathed. “This strong icon we have, it just never occurred to me that those two images went together, that she is us,” she said. “She was a person who was enslaved, who rose above it, who rose above it, who rose above it. I think that that image was the start of it.”
While you’d think that Aisha Hinds would be the primary focus of the evening—given her powerhouse performance as Tubman—the actress really had more to say about her female co-stars, and the ways in which they inspired her. The actress mentioned seeing Jurnee Smollett-Bell, seven months pregnant and covered in mud, as but one example.
“One of the most beautiful pieces of cinematography that I watched this season was Amirah jumping into that water. I was like, ‘You can’t make suicide look beautiful. That’s what you can’t do,'” the actress joked. “Here [were] Misha and Joe, writing these storylines that pushed us as human beings, to the edge of ourselves. It forced us to encounter some of the things that we could possibly be most afraid of.”
To watch Deadline’s conversation with the stars and creatives behind WGN America’s Image Award-nominated series, click above.