Ethan Hawke to Star in, Produce Slavery Limited Series at Showtime

The actor, who will also co-write 'Good Lord Bird,' is set to play abolitionist John Brown.
Sam Jones; Wes Klain; Chia Messina
From left: Ethan Hawke, Anthony Hemingway, James McBride

Ethan Hawke will star in and executive produce a Showtime limited series about a slave and an abolitionist in pre-Civil War America.

Good Lord Bird, based on James McBride's 2013 National Book Award-winning novel, centers on the relationship between a young slave nicknamed Onion and abolitionist John Brown (Hawke). Told from Onion's point of view, it tells the story of how he became part of Brown's motley family and eventually takes part in the raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia, that helped precipitate the Civil War.

Hawke will also co-write the eight-episode series with Mark Richard (Hell on Wheels, Fear the Walking Dead). Anthony Hemingway (The People v. O.J. Simpson, Underground) will direct and executive produce; Blumhouse Television is producing. 

"Good Lord Bird is one of my favorite books, told with wit, grace and wisdom by the great James McBride," said Hawke. "Bringing this story to the screen has been a passion project of mine and I am incredibly fortunate to have partners who are equally enthusiastic and are making it a reality — my wife and producing partner Ryan Hawke, and my longtime friends at Blumhouse. I'm looking forward to working for the first time with the talented folks at Showtime and Anthony Hemingway — both of whom have made some of the best television in the last couple years."

Said McBride: "This is just the right time for The Good Lord Bird. I wrote it to show we Americans are family — dysfunctional, screwy, funny, even dangerous to one another at times, but still family nonetheless. Old John Brown always had a knack for landing into the right place at the right time. I'm delighted he's landed in the lap of one of America's most gifted and literate actors. Ethan Hawke is special, and I'm thankful that Showtime and Blumhouse have shown faith and trust in one of America's oddest, most profound and greatest heroes."

Added Hemingway: "I've been blessed to tell great stories that make deliberate social impact by tackling topical issues facing the world, especially communities of color. With all that is going on culturally, socially and politically, the climate is ripe for material that is culturally relevant and provocative. Literature is truly transcendent and McBride blew our minds with The Good Lord Bird. Saying yes was apparent for me and my producing partner, Lyah LeFlore-Ituen. We're both excited to continue building relationships with Showtime, Blumhouse and our creative partners, including the masterful James McBride. Directorially, this will be filmmaking at its most artistic and I get to fulfill a bucket list experience — working with the incredible Ethan Hawke."

The order for Good Lord Bird comes two days after Showtime canceled the comedy series SMILF amid an investigation into alleged on-set misconduct by creator and star Frankie Shaw. The limited series joins recent series pickups Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, a sequel to The L Word, a comedy anthology from Lena Waithe and Your Honor, starring Bryan Cranston. A limited series about Fox News founder Roger Ailes is also forthcoming.  

Hawke, Richard, Hemingway, McBride, Jason Blum, Brian Taylor, Ryan Hawke, David Schiff, Jeremy Gold and Marci Wiseman are executive producing Good Lord Bird.

The series is the latest project from Blumhouse TV, which has been making a serious push into series production. The company also produced HBO's Sharp Objects and is behind USA's The Purge (based on the Blumhouse movie franchise) and Hulu's Into the Dark anthology. Blumhouse TV has signed a deal with Amazon to produce a series of thematically linked horror movies for the latter's Prime Video service.

Hawke, who is coming off the feature First Reformed (for which he won a Spirit Award), has a relationship with Blumhouse dating to the first Purge movie. He also stars in and produces Blumhouse's Adopt a Highway, which recently premiered at SXSW.