William Gray/SHOWTIMEOrlando Jones says he was given the rare opportunity to cultivate his character of The Rail Man in the Ethan Hawke-led Showtime series The Good Lord Bird.
“Ethan was like, ‘Listen, anything you want to take from the book to curve into the show, just let me know,'” Jones tells ABC Audio. “So they were open about how I was going to render the character. And suddenly I was on set one day and here we were doing it.”
Based on James McBride’s novel of the same, the series follows Hawke as abolitionist and radical John Brown and centers on his various encounters with other historical figures. Jones, whose character is a literal conductor of the underground railroad, says he enjoyed playing The Rail Man because he didn’t conform to the stereotypical characters of that period.
“[He was] a fun character to do… because you don’t think of Black men as running the most sophisticated technology in the world during that period of time,” he says. “You don’t think of them as fathers that are free, that have relationships with the mayor… You [don’t] think of our contribution.”
“Those are the things that often get overlooked,” he continues. “Or rather, we are purely seen during this period of time, [for] our only contribution to human history — in the form of indentured servitude.”
Jones says it was for those exact reasons why he was “excited” about his role where he didn’t have to play a “victimized” figure in history.
“And you can tell they’re based on some real figures, but just to see our history in that particular way where we’re not purely victims… is always exciting to me,” he adds.
The Good Lord Bird airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.