'American Crime' Creator John Ridley Talks Tackling Immigration Issues in the Trump Era

"This story would have been told irrespective of who's in the Oval Office," the Oscar winner says about the upcoming season of the anthology drama.
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John Ridley

Immigration is one of several issues that John Ridley and his team will tackle on the upcoming season of ABC's acclaimed anthology drama American Crime. However, the Oscar winner insists it has nothing to do with the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump.

"I'll just say for me, personally, the urgency that I approach storytelling, the issues that are out there, they've been out there. They're always there," he told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. "This story would have been told irrespective of who's in the Oval Office."

Ridley also emphasized his hope for the series to reach beyond just what issues are dominating the national dialogue and also expand to a more global conversation. "It's not about tweaking or changing or trying to be oh-so-current that we miss the bigger picture or the longer game. Immigration, that issue is not new, it's not relegated to the United States of America," he said. "Even though it's called American Crime, it plays across the world."

Like the other two seasons before it, the third season of American Crime also looks at multiple issues and how they intersect and affect others in surprising ways. Set in North Carolina, season three explores labor issues, economic divides, individual rights and modern servitude. 

Ridley said the issues he and the writers decided to tackle this season were topics "that we felt we didn’t address in the previous season. There are so many voices out there that are normally not given any kind of a platform," he said. "How do we find new territory?"

In addition to new territory, there are also several new faces joining Ridley's ever-expanding returning ensemble, including Sandra Oh, Dallas Roberts, Cherry Jones and Tim DeKay. Now that the series has two seasons, and several awards, under its belt, executive producer Michael J. McDonald said it's been easier to lure new individuals.

"We get people who come through our doors that maybe wouldn't come through network doors," he said.

Returning faces for the new season include Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton and Regina King, who has won two Emmys for her two very different roles. Huffman praised the range between her roles on all three seasons of the series, as well as the partnership she has now established with Ridley.

"I would never be cast in the role that I was in the third season," she said of her part, in which she plays a woman whose family farm must cut back on labor costs in order to remain competitive. "It's been my favorite job and I think it's been my favorite role, because I think it's so foreign to me. She's not in my lexicon. She's not in my family. I don't know women like this. It was a joy, and I'm really grateful that I got that shot, because this is the only guy [Ridley] that would give me that shot."

Fellow returning actor Richard Cabral, however, also pointed out the similarities between seasons. "The outer layer, the landscape, what we look like, that is different," he said, "but the inner is that soul, is that spirit and that is ... what always keeps me focused and keeps me striving for excellence."

Ridley says his ultimate goal for this season of American Crime hasn't altered since season one, despite the changing cast, locations and central stories. The takeaway "is that we are connected," he said. "That there is a cascade effect. That we need to stop thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals."

American Crime's third season is set to launch Sunday, March 12, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.