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Bass Reeves’ Star David Oyelowo On Finding Success

Star and executive producer David Oyelowo and Lawmen: Bass Reeves creator, showrunner and executive producer Chad Feehan said Reeves’ family values were what made him stand out. Oyelowo plays Reeves, a U.S. Marshal after the abolition of slavery.

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“The way in for a global audience should be not just appealing to the sensibility of people who love westerns but the family,” Oyelowo said at Contenders TV. “Essentially a Black family which is also something you never see in this time period. As we discussed this, we felt the universal element was going to be the work-life balance as something that everyone can relate to.”

Oyelowo said that Reeves was always trying to get back to his family after his arrests. Reeves’ family values also influenced one of the show’s most memorable antagonists, Esau Pierce (Barry Pepper). Feehan said Pierce represents the antithesis of Reeves.

“The idea was for me was what happens if Bass Reeves walks into Col Kurtz’s lair,” Feehan said. “I felt that was the best opposition for Bass who’s a deeply religious character and a deeply righteous man to go against somebody who has no moral code.”

Oyelowo pitched the show twice before in 2015 and 2017. He had been preparing to play Reeves the whole time.

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“The horse riding, the dialect work, working on every aspect alongside Chad who just did the most extraordinary job of bringing this character to life because he had a 32 year career as a lawman,” Oyelowo said. “No matter how brutal what we were doing was, it was always a joy.”

The final iteration of Lawmen: Bass Reeves boasts Taylor Sheridan as an executive producer. Oyelowo credited Sheridan with removing some of the barriers he faced the first two times.

“Taylor, in such an impressive way, corralled an audience with Yellowstone and that has spun out into amazing shows like 1883 and 1923, [showed] there is an indisputable audience for this,” Oyelowo said. And he was proven right. “The thing I’m most proud of with this show is the Lawmen: Bass Reeves was the most watched show globally on Paramount+ last year.”

Reeves may have now opened the door for other unheralded historical figures. Should the show be renewed for a second season, Feehan confirmed plans to pass the torch.

“If there is another season of Lawmen, it will focus on a new lawman or law woman,” Feehan said. “There are several figures in history much like Bass who deserve their day in the sun. As much as it pains me that this marriage is taking a hiatus, that is the reality.”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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