Aisha Hinds conjured up an Audre Lorde quote to explain how it feels play abolitionist and Civil War spy Harriet Tubman on the new season of Underground. “Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing,” the regal actress said during a Winter Television Critics Association event.
According to Hinds, the words of the writer and activist perfectly explained her desire to speak the injustices of the day by portraying Tubman, the famed American hero who lived over a century ago.
Despite her eagerness to take on the role, it didn’t take long for Hinds to realize playing Tubman would be a challenge. As she sat on the TCA stage perfectly put together—hair faded to perfection, red lips complimenting her velvety brown skin—the True Blood star admitted she struggled to keep her composure when it was time to play Tubman.
“I broke down during the first camera test. I was holding her in such reverence that I felt inadequate and that I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I walked in feeling inadequate, and it reminded me that I’m supposed to feel inadequate. That I’m supposed to be less of me and more of her.”
Though she’s a veteran actress, Hinds said the narrative Underground creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski wrote for Tubman seemed almost impossible to pull off. Just recounting the story brought Hinds to tears.
“I reached out to my acting teachers and was like ‘is this possible for me to do?’ And they were like ‘no it’s not possible.’ It went around the production office, [they were] saying what you have crafted for her to do is impossible,” Hinds recounted through her tears, which spoke not to weakness but her insurmountable strength.
To help her wrap her head around playing Tubman, Hinds spoke with Green and explained her dilemma. But the Underground co-creator had faith in the actress and offered some reassurance about Hinds’ ability to play the part.
“I learned so much about myself encountering this thing that felt impossible to me, this thing that felt bigger than me, this thing that felt way more powerful, way more in reverence than I could ever bring to it,” Hinds explained as she steadied her quivering voice, streams of tears still present on her cheeks.
— Underground (@UndergroundWGN) March 4, 2017
“This content, this experience elevated me,” she explained. “People talk about actors coming in and elevating the material–this experience elevated me as a person because it showed me that I’m able to accomplish the impossible. That is the spirit of Harriett. She consumes.”
During Underground’s exciting season 1 finale, Rosalee—played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell—decided to embark on the 600-mile journey back into slave territory to rescue her loved ones. Viewers got a glimpse of “Black Moses” in the last frame of the show when Rosalee enlisted Tubman’s help to guide her along the Underground Railroad.
In season 2 of the hit WGN America series, Rosalee is insistent upon going back to save her family, including her love, Noah (Aldis Hodge), who was captured by slave catchers. According to Hinds, viewers will watch as Harriet and Rosalee clash over who to go back to save. Harriet argues that you go back for family only, while Rosalee insists that Noah is family.
The first season of Underground was a hit with both audiences and critics, who tuned in by the millions to see the journey unfold each week. This time around the stakes will be even higher as the show’s characters are forced to answer one question: are you a citizen or a soldier?
Underground season 2 premieres Wednesday, March 8, at 10 p.m. on WGN America.