Showrunner: 'Bass Reeves' remarkable true story about triumph of human spirit

Starring David Oyelowo as the titular deputy U.S. marshal, the western premieres Sunday on Paramount+

David Oyelowo's "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" premieres Sunday. Photo courtesy of Paramount+
1 of 5 | David Oyelowo's "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" premieres Sunday. Photo courtesy of Paramount+

NEW YORK, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Ray Donovan and Rectify scribe Chad Feehan says his new period drama, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, celebrates a historical figure about whom many Americans don't know much.

Premiering Sunday and produced by Yellowstone and 1883 creator Taylor Sheridan, the Old West series is set largely in Texas and Arkansas after the American Civil War of the mid-19th century.


The show stars David Oyelowo as the titular deputy U.S. Marshal, one of the first African Americans to hold the job. The cast also includes Lauren E. Banks, Demi Singleton, Forrest Goodluck, Barry Pepper, Donald Sutherland, Dennis Quaid, Shea Whigham and Garrett Hedlund.

"Bass Reeves led a remarkable life -- to go from enslavement to becoming the first Black marshal west of the Mississippi, trying to install justice in what is often referred to as a lawless land, and having over 3,000 arrests in his career," Feehan told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"It's a truly remarkable story in a unique time of American history," he said.

Crediting the "grandiose," yet relatable themes prevalent in western films and TV shows for the recent revival of the genre, Freehan said he worked hard to balance the potential, beauty and brutality of life on the American frontier in his own work.

"It was a challenge, it was a struggle and it wasn't easy to go to some of those dark places, but I'm grateful that we did because it really let the light in," he said.

Bass Reeves was a passion project for Oyelowo, who is best known for his roles in Lincoln, Selma and Star Wars: Rebels.

In addition to starring in the new western, Oyelowo also served as a producer on it.

"He's not only the most dedicated craftsman I've ever been around, but his spirit embodies the theme most important to me, which was the triumph of the human spirit," Feehan said. "I'm eternally grateful that he invited me on this journey."

Joining the Taylor Sheridan universe, which includes the hit shows 1923 and The Mayor of Kingstown, meant Feehan had the infrastructure -- horses, costumes, locations and dialect coaches -- he needed to mount a high-quality production.


"When you write a show this big, you never know how you're going to pull it off," Feehan said.

"Luckily, the Taylor Sheridan universe has been doing it with enormous success for many, many years," he added.

"To be able to tap into those craftsmen, who have achieved so many times in the past, I couldn't be more grateful for that, as well. Everybody from our wranglers to our location people were dialed in."

Filming shortly after the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and before the Hollywood writer and actor strikes posed challenges for Feehan and his team, who also found themselves dealing with unpredictable weather and animals.

"We had to deal with the weather in Texas. We had to shut down for a week because of ice storms," Feehan said.

"Some of our locations were a three-hour drive. Working with the horses and the firearms were a challenge in and of themselves," he added.

"David and I made a promise very early on to each other -- and to ourselves -- that nothing was going to get in our way. Nothing was going to stop us from honoring the legacy of Bass Reeves."

The writer said he thinks movie studios, TV networks and streamers are finally realizing that telling stories focused on Black and Indigenous characters isn't just the right thing to do in the 21st century, but also makes for fresh, compelling entertainment.


"The other theme [in Bass Reeves] that was really important to me was the universality of the human condition and seeing that we all experience the same emotions," he said.

"Those stories have been underserved for a very long time, and I am grateful that this one has gotten finished, I hope that there are more on its heels."

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