Based on the National Book Award-winning novel of the same name by James McBride, Johnson-Lionel will step into the lead role of Onion (aka Henry Shackleford), a mixed-race slave working in a tavern in the Kansas Territory when his father is killed during a confrontation between his slave master and the fervent abolitionist John Brown (Hawke). Mistaking him for a girl, Brown sweeps Onion into his army of Free Staters composed mostly of his many sons, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Army depot at Harpers Ferry. Brown’s raid failed to initiate the slave revolt he intended, but was the instigating event that started the Civil War.
Hawke is co-writing and executive producing The Good Lord Bird with award-winning author and producer Mark Richard. Filmmaker Albert Hughes also will serve as executive producer and will make his television directorial debut helming multiple episodes.
Johnson-Lionel’s credits include recurring roles black-ish on ABC and Animal Kingdom on TNT. He also starred in the indie It’s Just a Gun and co-starred in Ray Meets Helen opposite Keith David, Keith Carradine and Sandra Locke. In addition, he was the face of Madden NFL 18, playing the young Devin Wade opposite J.R. Lemon and Mahershala Ali. He also starred opposite Pharrell Williams in I Am Other, a project that helps underprivileged youth believe that they can overcome all obstacles in life, as long as you “believe in yourself.”
Johnson-Lionel is repped by Innovative and Luber Roklin Entertainment.