Author James McBride On Showtime’s ‘The Good Lord Bird’: ‘People Forgot About John Brown 50 Years After He Died’

(CBS Local)– In 2013, author James McBride won the National Book Award for his fiction novel “The Good Lord Bird.” Seven years later, the book has been transformed into a mini-series on Showtime starring Ethan Hawke as John Brown and Daveed Diggs as Frederick Douglass.

The series, which premieres Sunday, October 4 on Showtime, tells the story of abolitionist John Brown and a group of freedom fighters who are on a mission to end slavery. McBride was blown away with how Hawke and Showtime took his book and turned it into a fascinating TV show that feels very timely right now with the conversations about racial injustice in this country.

EAST HAMPTON, NY – AUGUST 09: James McBride attends East Hampton Library’s Authors Night 2014 on August 9, 2014 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Janette Pellegrini/Getty Images for Hamptons Magazine)

“It’s like hitting the lottery. I thought Ethan [Hawke] and Joshua [Caleb Johnson] did wonderful work,” said McBride, in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. They bonded during the course of filming and that really shows in the final product as well. It was a proud moment for me to see it. John Brown is someone who society shunned after his death. People forgot him 50 years after he died. His work lingered on for years and years. He was a mythic figure. When I began to unearth all these stories about him, I just said I have to figure out a way to write about him that would be funny and make people hear his story and still feel some joy.”

Humor is a key ingredient in McBride’s work and he also said he wanted to make his book funny so he could keep readers and his sister hooked. One of the key themes that is addressed in McBride’s book and the show is religion and its role in the conversation about slavery.

“I had to be careful because I come from a very religious family too,” said McBride. “I thought John Brown was interesting enough and kind enough as a person that you could go into his religiosity and not insult his memory. People in church are really funny and the people in my church are really funny. They’re funny not in a caricature way, they’re just funny people. I knew that because you’re dealing with religion, you don’t want to do stereotypical dumb things. On the other hand, church when it is done right with the right minister and right congregation is an awful lot of fun. I just knew that he [John Brown] had to communicate that he took the Bible literally. But, in taking it literally, did he take it too far? In some cases he certainly did.”

The Good Lord Bird” will be a seven-part limited series on Showtime and in addition to Hawke and Diggs, the show features actors like Wyatt Russell, Steve Zahn, Orlando Jones and Hubert Point-Du Jour. McBride hopes viewers can use the past to inform their views about the past.

“It’s important because we have revealed a cancer that has been eating away at us for 400 years,” said McBride. “Finally it is out in full and all of us are trying to figure out ways to fix it. That’s something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. I think that’s one of the reasons why we should celebrate John Brown and I think we should be pleased that we’re trying very hard to figure out ways to talk to each other without making each other angry and doing stupid things to each other.”