‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ explores the rise of one man from slavery to Deputy Marshall

Joel Searls
Apr 3, 2024 7:12 AM PDT
Reviewed byTessa Robinson
6 minute read
Lawmen: Bass Reeves. Photo courtesy Paramount.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves. Photo courtesy Paramount.


Director and Showrunner from Lawmen: Bass Reeves sat down with WATM to talk about the show, the challenges of filming in Texas, and why this story needs to be told.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves, a great Western based on a true story, premiered on Paramount last fall. The series chronicles Reeves (portrayed by David Oyelowo) and his rise from enslavement to law enforcement as one of the first Black U.S. Deputy Marshals west of the Mississippi. Outside of the excellent Oyelowo, the show stars Lauren E. Banks, Demi Singleton, Forrest Goodluck, Barry Pepper, Dennis Quaid and Donald Sutherland, some of which are familiar faces in westerns. The show was created, written and produced by Chad Feehan with Taylor Sheridan, of Yellowstone fame, serving as an executive producer.

Further members of the executive producing team include David Oyelowo, David C. Glasser, Jessica Oyelowo, David Permut, Christina Alexandra Voros, Ron Burkle, Bob Yari and David Hutkin. Feehan and series director Damian Marcano sat down with We Are The Mighty to share their experiences and goals with the epic series.

Damian and David are on set. Photo courtesy of paramount.com

Can you share your creative vision and what drew you to this project?

Damian: Whatever comes from it comes from it. Going into it and the thing that excited me about it was reading the script; loved the script. Met Chad; loved Chad. Met David; loved David. Met Taylor; loved Taylor. Taylor was like pouring gasoline on my fire. I said to him, 'It sounds like we're going to make Buffalo Soldier Dreadlock Rasta version of the Lone Ranger.' He said, 'That's it.' Because he asked me to pivot because my three episodes take place 12 years after episode one so I could really sort of have a freedom in there. All of those things became catnip of sorts. Me as a person trying to find purpose in my work so it's not just work. All of the ingredients of the soup made sense. We had to start off on such a high because we got to Texas and Texas in the first five and half months of the year every bit of everything you could ever ask for; hail, snow, sleet, you name it we had it. Texas would say, 'You can't do this today, or I'm not allowing you to do this today.' You would be pushed into the corner creatively and then take your paces out to figure out what can we do creatively today. The reason why I answered the question in that format was to show you the foundation was strong. From the time we got started, there were people that before I ever stepped foot in Texas that I saw that I could trust.

Demi Singleton, Lauren E. Banks and Damian Marcano are on set. Photo courtesy of paramount.com

There was something about Chad. I had never worked with him before, but I just hadn't been wrong about people -- I knew we would get along. With David I would just let time tell, he turned out to be a beautiful human being. Taylor; supportive. Well, it's his universe you want that person to be welcoming and to light your fire. I love that. We joke about how we do the same thing. He makes stuff with the people he grew up around. If you take a deep look into my work as it spawned over my career, even my current work, when I go back to the islands that is exactly what I do. I make shows about people I grew up with and around and I want to tell these amazing stories with them. Creatively we saw eye to eye. His process was not to say, 'In my shows, I do this.' He was like, 'Pivot man, you got this. You've done this before.' I'm a firm believer that whenever you are a producer, or showrunner or anyone above the line, have that spirit. It does trickle down. I can do only but so much as a Rasta man coming to set, I breathe positivity. I'm like, 'We're gonna get the day done and we're gonna get the day done on time.'

Guys like Taylor, Chad, David Oyelowo, and Christina Voros. I felt like I was the fifth member of the kids on the playground. One day, Chad was like, "I have not seen any tree like this for an entire season." You have to know Chad Feehan, he talks like a cowboy. I don't know if he is angry or what, we go see the tree and you get it. You understand why he wants the tree. He didn't have to make a fuss about it and didn't have to yell. He treated you like one of the five. You remember when we were all in our elementary school days when we used to all tell each other, 'You're good enough, you can do this.' That is the four people I ended up around on this project. Every day they let me know, 'You are this good and just pull your boots up, go out and do it.' If they ever needed it back in return I did the same thing. I think that is how we were able to get through this time while making something so magnificent.

Chad and David are on set. Photo courtesy of paramount.com

What has been your driving passion and your goal?

We wanted to first and foremost honor the legacy of Bass Reeves who lived a remarkable life. Overcame unimaginable circumstances both before and after he became a lawman. He went on to become, arguably, the greatest lawman in American history. First and foremost we want to honor that legacy. In addition to that it is important for us to show a story about the triumph of the American spirit, which we believe Bass embodies. The universality of the human condition. As human beings we all have the same breadth of emotion. If I can point to a line that Bass says in the second episode, 'Black, white or red, we're all just men.' There are some real and some perceived divisions among us as a society. If we can put a small chip in the perceived divisions that would be a dream come true.

Donald Sutherland, Christina Alexandra Voros and David Oyelowo are on set. Photo courtesy of Paramount.com

What has been your most challenging aspect in developing this series and bringing it to life?

The production was challenging considering we were in North Texas from January through the end of May. I love my home state as much as any other Texan loves Texas. The terrain can be beautiful but brutal. The weather can be brutal but also beautiful. Going to places that had no modernity to them made it a very challenging production. Sometimes we would have to drive three hours to a location on top of a marathon shoot day. There were times because we got shut down for a week and a half because of an ice storm. I remember vividly in Glen Rose and being outside and it was 18 degrees and it was a sheet of ice. The production was the most challenging element. The collaboration I had with David Oyelowo, the writers on the show, the crew, was the most rewarding experience of my career. David Oyelowo is the most dedicated craftsman I've ever been around. His talent is transcendent, but what overshadows both of those things is who is as a person. He is the most graceful human being I've been around. He's compassionate. He's patient. I feel incredibly fortunate to have David Oyelowo in my life. I've experienced that (talented and trained British stage actor) a few times in my career, obviously with David, I worked with Eddie Marsan on Ray Donovan for a long time and a few others. That dedication of the craft, somehow it's bred in the water over there, or something I don't know. It's truly remarkable to see.

What Westerns did you draw upon for certain themes or character development aspects of Bass Reeves?

I loved Westerns as a child. Unforgiven stands out prominently in my mind. For this, Bass Reeves, the two things I leaned into were the Revenant. The Revenant, so often the American West is glorified, where in the Revenant showed the brutality of it in a very effective way. I feel we did both. No Country for Old Men, although a modern Western, really wrestles with the meaning of justice and how nebulous justice can be, so both of those two things were rolling around in my brain quite a bit as me and the other writers were crafting the story.

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Watch Lawmen: Bass Reeves on Paramount+.


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