'Underground' Premiere: Cast and Creators on the "Bravest Story Never Told in American History"

Getty Images
Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and John Legend

"The gravity of this story is so heavy. It took a lot of trust just to realize that you were safe and could let go," executive producer Anthony Hemingway told THR at the premiere of WGN America's latest drama.

To tell a story that simultaneously entertains and educates is a feat not many can accomplish, but Underground takes an impressive shot at doing just that. 

The latest series from WGN America and Sony Pictures Television, which premiered at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on March 2, follows a group of slaves as they attempt to escape a Georgia plantation and trek the 600-mile journey of the Underground Railroad. 

The cast consists of Jurnee Smollett Bell, Aldis Hodge, Christopher Meloni, Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Marc Blucas, Theodus Crane and Andrew Frankle, and is executive produced by musician John Legend, Akiva Goldsman (Fringe), Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold, Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius, among others.

Creators and executive producers Misha Green and Joe Pokaski were inspired to shine a light on the Underground Railroad, a piece of the past they often found to be overlooked. “It’s the bravest story never told in American History," Pokaski told THR at Wednesday night's premiere event.

But the history of slavery and the Underground Railroad was a tough subject matter for everyone involved. In order to relay the story, the entire cast had to come together in order to create a compelling show.

"We had an honest connection. We had an honest relationship going on," Hodge said. "The fact that we kind of melded naturally helped a lot, especially dealing with this heavy content."

Hodge plays the lead character, Noah, a slave who wants to lead the movement to escape the plantation. In the first episode’s opening sequence, Noah is introduced to the audience in an adrenaline-filled chase scene that sets the high-stakes tone of the series. Scenes that follow emphasize the life-or-death situations that slaves were in placed in, whether they wanted to escape or survive the plantation.

Executive producer and director of the first four episodes, Anthony Hemingway (Shameless, American Crime Story), shared that he wanted to create a comfortable and caring environment for the actors given the series' grave message.

"The gravity of this story is so heavy. It took a lot of trust just to realize that you were safe and could let go," said Hemingway.

The stars and producers also discussed the struggles of filming in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the summertime. Inclement weather plagued the entire production, Tunnell told THR.

"It was truly a testament about how passionate people were about this project that people came together and really made it happen," she said.

Given the current social climate, the impact that Underground could have on television and society today was something on the minds of everyone involved.

"I think when you have material that’s as challenging as this, the most important thing you’re doing is holding a mirror to society today," said Harold. "As much as things change, things stay the same. It’s important to ask the people of this country to take a hard, long look at this past so we can all benefit in the future."

Underground premieres on Wednesday, March 9 on WGN America.