MSTARS NEWS – WGN America is just a day away from airing the highly anticipated pilot of their upcoming show, Underground. In an exclusive interview with MStars News, co-creator/executive producer Joe Pokaski, cast members Marc Blucas, and Jessica De Gouw talk about what audiences should expect from the premiere.
As we previously mentioned, the period drama takes place in the antebellum South as a band of plantation slaves attempt to make a perilous escape. During this time period, the slaves at the plantation risk everything for a chance at freedom. They all want to head on over to the North and escape to the Underground Railroad. Underground will also examine the lives of slaveholders, slave hunters, and abolitionists.
Before the premiere on WGN America on March 9 at 10pm, the cast and crew of Underground discuss their roles on the show, filming on location, and how the music becomes part of the scene.
MStars News: Tell me what interested you about the project.
Marc Blucas: The script!
Jessica De Gouw: Yeah these suckers wrote a good script! [Laughs] I’ve read a mountain of pilots, first episodes, different things at times. And then I read this script. I didn’t want to read anything else. I begged to get in a room for two weeks before they were ready for us! It’s a genuinely phenomenal script!
Marc Blucas: It was such a good script. I saw it with one of my really good actor friends, Matthew Lillard, at the audition. I was in there saying, “How ridiculous these guys for not to hire him so that I would have a shot!” That’s how good the pilot is! [Laughs] I was at his wedding and sabotaging him! “He never comes out of his trailer! He never remembers his line!” All lies! [Laughs] But hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog town. When the material is there, you do what you gotta do! [Laughs]
MS: Tell me about the the roles you play.
JG: We play John and Elizabeth Hawks.
MC: I’m a northern abolitionist lawyer, who goes and speaks it, but is challenged to put his mind where his mouth is. You talk against it. He’s frustrated in the slowness of the law and the writing of the law. He’s challenging what he really believes in, what he stands behind. He’s having challenges with his marriage, starting a family, things that they want. I get a verbial knock at the door. This is what you believe in. You’re only doing it with your mouth.
MS: Tell me about the theme of the show.
Joe Pokaski: When you break down what this story is about. Imagine you are a slave, and you’re being told someone owns you and you’re not a real person. And you get it in your head, despite what society tells you, “I’m free and I’m destined to be free. And all I have to do is run 600 miles in inhospitable terrain, against people who are being paid to bring you back. And if I make it across the finish line, I’m a free man.” I can’t think of a more amazing story to be told. And this actually happened. This actually happened in our history. We haven’t told that story. That’s what attracted me to it.
MS: Was it a challenge to recreate the worst aspects of American History?
JP: There is a whipping scene in the first episode. It’s just about a girl who stepped in for her little brother. I don’t think I’ve seen a more provocative scene on television put together. A lot of it, we were just trying to be real as possible. Emotionally, the idea that your family, the idea of risking your home, to do what you feel is right despite what society is telling you, you’re driven.
MS: Tell me about shooting on location in Louisiana.
MB: The humidity!
JG: One of the plantation houses we were in, had a heavy heat to it. That’s the heat. That’s the space. That’s Louisiana but there’s something like, what these trees have seen.
MB: Tell him about LSU. It was the first time we were allowed to shoot there.
JP: Through scouting locations, we were very fortunate that we went to Burden Museum. They were owned by LSU. Probably like 50 to 60 structures, they were actual slave shacks, actual whipping scenes. It was really interesting being in the slave shacks with the cast. There’s this outlet of reality that I can’t get my head around. I think people really felt it and the actors used it.
MB: I never worked on a location where I went four times. Obviously the way they lit it, what was there and the energy you felt, it was literally if these walls could talk. It’s what these guys had created. It actually doesn’t get better than shooting in locations like that.
MS: Tell me about the music.
MB: The shark isn’t scary without the music in Jaws. With John Legend, you listen to his lyrics, he is a storyteller. These guys have written a great story and I hope we captured that on film. We all know the emotional pull music has to heighten moments.
JP: It’s a great tool to remind everybody where they are right now. We put in modern music. In episode 3, these guys are going to have a fantastic scene, where you’re in a ball and it’s playing modern music.