Making of ’61st Street’: Roundtable panel with Courtney B. Vance and more
“We worked so well together. To me, that’s the model of how projects should work,” says “61st Street” actor and executive producer Courtney B. Vance. “If we’re not trying to work together and we don’t have each other’s back, I’m out and it’s not worth it. It’s too hard.” It was easy to see that sense of unity during our lively special “Making of” roundtable discussion with Vance, actor Andrene Ward-Hammond, executive producer Alana Mayo and executive producer and writer J. David Shanks. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
The AMC drama series “61st Street” tells the tense story of Moses (Tosin Cole), a young Chicago man bound for college who finds himself caught up in a drug bust and then accused of murdering a police officer. Vance plays Franklin, a beleaguered public defender who decides to defend Moses despite also having to fight newly diagnosed cancer. Ward-Hammond plays Norma, Moses’s mother; “It was not far removed from my experiences as a mom in the South,” she reveals about her connection to the character. “My daughter has had experiences with officers here in Georgia. I’ve had my experiences with it.”
Speaking of personal experiences, Shanks brought to the project not only his own history as a Chicagoan, but as a member of the Chicago Police Department. “Authenticity” was the “benchmark for us,” he explains. “And in order to do that, everyone had to be all in. We had to do our homework.” That included taking the writing team to Chicago to experience the locations first-hand.
Mayo remembers, “The writers room was on 61st Street in the neighborhood, spent time inside of the courthouse, spent time inviting people that just were Chicagoans into the writers room to contribute.” Shanks adds, “We would spend hours in the courtroom watching ‘justice’ — put that in quotes — be dispensed.” For Mayo, “the heart and the spirit and the why of why everybody showed up here was to tackle big questions … And I think it’s an incredible feat of everybody here to both deliver a show that is, it’s a weird word to use, but entertaining because of the level of performance and the heart that all of these people brought to it, and also manages to invoke and provoke that conversation.”