The hourlong series ushered in new cast members like Bokeem Woodbine and Aisha Hinds — who arrived in a custom gown to pay homage to her character, Harriet Tubman — and also introduced twists and turns for the more established characters like Noah, played by Aldis Hodge; Rosalee, who is brought to life by Jurnee Smollett-Bell; Elizabeth, portrayed by Jessica De Gouw; John Hawkes played by Marc Blucas; and Amirah Vann‘s Ernestine.
“I have so much respect for her,” Vann said of her character. “You can’t walk in her shoes for this many months and not feel a little taller, own your truth more, be courageous as a woman, as a black woman. I’m better for her.”
Smollett-Bell also recalled an acting growth spurt saying, “I think it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. Being pregnant the entire season, we were racing against the clock to finish. I wasn’t able to have the normal comfort zone. I had to let go of my crutches. It really made me grow as an artist.”
Hodge also said the show proves the power of slave narratives.
“When it comes to this, people are possibly tired of the idea because it’s been presented to them in the same way for so long,” he said. “Our strength is that we present it in a very different way.”
“You tell a story about Abe Lincoln, everybody is all gung-ho, but you tell this story of American heroes and patriots [and] no one wants to see it because there’s still so much pain associated with it,” he added. “We need to rip off the Band-Aid. It’s our job as artists to expose people to the other side of what this journey is.”
The actor also stressed a need for the show. “I think enslavement has evolved to what may seem appropriate to this day’s generation. Modern enslavement is imprisonment. We’re still talking about women’s rights. We can’t be the greatest country in the world. I think once we lose that illusionary veil of thinking that we are, we can face the problems and really try to fix them.”
Once cast members, including Alano Miller and Christopher Meloni, were seated inside the theater, Jason McGee and The Choir flooded the aisles to sing a spirited gospel as Season 1 recapped silently on screen.
And the music didn’t end there. The tradition of featuring songs from popular artists, as seen in Season 1, continued with a first listen to exec producer John Legend’s new song “In America.” Legend, who arrived with wife Chrissy Teigen, will also join the series as Frederick Douglass.
Beyond the bells and whistles of enticing melodies, the drama, directed by Anthony Hemingway and co-created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, left the audience audibly gasping for air throughout the night.
“I have no words right now because I was not expecting that final scene,” “Insecure” star Yvonne Orji said before heading to Baltaire for the after-party. “I’m all types of hurt. What? I don’t know what episode two is going to be like. It’s crazy.”