Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins knew from the moment he read Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Underground Railroad that he had to turn it into a series. And to do it right, he brought on board some of his longtime (and multi-award-winning) collaborators — among them composer Nicholas Britell and Joi McMillon — and assembled a cast of new and veteran actors to breathe life into the story, including breakout star Thuso Mbedu, who plays escaped slave Cora in the series. Ahead of the series’ launch on Amazon Prime Video, Jenkins spoke with Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley about the challenges of moving from the world of film to television and of telling a story that blends magical-realism — the “underground railroad” here is an actual train system under the earth — with heartbreakingly real and violent scenes wrenched directly from the darkest pages of American history. Coley also speaks with Mbedu and costars Aaron Pierre, Sheila Atim, Joel Edgerton, and William Jackson Harper about the casting process, working with Jenkins, and the sensitivity and care taken to ensure everyone felt comfortable and safe on set, despite the often traumatic material.
The Underground Railroad premieres Friday, May 14, on Amazon Prime Video.