Damian Marcano and David Oyelowo on the set of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves"
Damian Marcano and David Oyelowo on the set of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves." (Paramount+)

Taylor Sheridan's Response to 'Lawmen: Bass Reeves' Director Damian Marcano's Gutsy Pitch [Interview]

'Lawmen: Bass Reeves' premieres Nov. 5 on Paramount+.

"Taylor Sheridan poured gasoline on my fire," says Damian Marcano, the award-winning director behind episodes 4-6 of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves," premiering Sunday, Nov. 5 on Paramount+. The 8-episode series is the untold story of frontier icon Bass Reeves, who escaped slavery to become the first Black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi. For the Trinidad-born Marcano, a mind-meld with "Yellowstone" creator Taylor Sheridan, who serves as an executive producer on the series, was all the convincing he needed to board "Bass Reeves."

"After we met, I said, 'I want to make a 'Buffalo Soldier, dreadlock Rasta' version of the Lone Ranger,'" Marcano recalls, citing his love for reggae music and its spirit of social and political reform. "And [Taylor Sheridan] said, 'Yep, that's it. That's what we're about to do.'"

Despite his legendary status, a Bass Reeves biopic is a long time coming. There have been a few bit-part portrayals—most recently, Delroy Lindo's in the 2021 Western "The Harder They Fall"—but "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" marks the first cinematic anything to center the man himself. Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo, best known for playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in "Selma" (2014), stars as the titular hero in addition to his role as an executive producer on the series.

Wide Open Country sat down with Damian Marcano, who's directed acclaimed episodes of "Winning Time" and "American Gigolo," along with "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" writer-creator Chad Feehan, who also serves as showrunner on this long overdue epic about the man behind the myth. Feehan's previous writer-producer credits include "Ray Donovan" and "Banshee." Despite steering the ship on "Bass Reeves," he refers to the series as "David Oyelowo's journey to honor the man's legacy."

The show is Oyelowo's baby more than anyone else's. The British actor tried for seven years to get it made, finally bringing it to the Western whisperer himself Taylor Sheridan. As Oyelowo put it to Vanity Fair in August, Sheridan "was the only person I'd spoken to who knew at least as much, if not more, as I did [about Bass Reeves]."

Chad Feehan and David Oyelowo on the set of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves"

Chad Feehan and David Oyelowo on the set of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves." (Paramount+)

And there's a lot to know, starting with the man's stats. He's said to have arrested upwards of 3,000 of the most hardened outlaws during the course of his Marshal career without having ever been seriously wounded himself. Chad Feehan marvels at the main beats—some of which remain hazy—of what we think we know about the real Bass Reeves:

"To be forced to ride into the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy to then escape enslavement over a card game dispute. To then go hide amongst the American Indians in Indian Territory and learn their languages and customs. To then becoming the first Black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi."

The eight-episode series will cover all of it, with a special focus on the unsung heroes of Reeves' life: His wife of 30 years, Jennie (played by the excellent Lauren E. Banks, "City on a Hill"), and their 11 children. Donald Sutherland drops in as the real-life "Hanging Judge" Parker who anoints Reeves as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. The vibrant supporting cast also includes Dennis Quaid as the fictional Sherrill Lynn, a fellow Marshal.

The series is a biopic, sure. But Feehan—who was obsessed with the Bass Reeves mythology growing up in Houston, Texas—and the rest of the creative team weren't afraid to fill in the blanks and expand upon what we know about Reeves. And don't call it historical fiction, either; It zeroes in on Reeves' unwavering commitment to justice (like fair trials for even the most dangerous criminals) and the toll his career took on his wife and kids in a more character-driven sense. Very few Black men carried a badge and a gun in the 19th-century West. For Marcano, it was impossible not to be moved by the weight of that.

"As a sepia-toned photograph, it's really easy to digest history. When you make that come full color, as a human being, there's just not a way to actually be a part of it and not feel it. At the end of [some] scenes, we were emotional. We all had wet eyes," the director says.

"His endurance, his faith, his commitment to his family, his ability to achieve his goal when he was up against all odds, in a time when he should not have been doing this — you know, that sounds a lot like the reggae music I listen to," he adds. "And for me, Bass became something that I felt. Just like some of my favorite reggae songs, this story will probably play forever."

David Oyelowo and Dennis Quaid on the set of "Lawman: Bass Reeves"

David Oyelowo and Dennis Quaid on the set of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves." (Paramount+)

"Lawmen: Bass Reeves" is the first installment in what Paramount+ describes as a "Lawmen" anthology series. Future seasons will feature all-new casts and focus on other legendary Western figures. The fact that the show will be the first, only and therefore definitive portrait of one of the giants of the American West is not lost on the creators. According to Marcano, the magic of this series is that it's both monumental and intimately small.

"Yeah, you can look up the major points of Bass Reeves' life. You can figure out a story to tell. But the story that we told, I think, is a special story about a man who will just not waver from his belief that there's something good out there in this world... or else why are we all doing it?"

The first two episodes of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" premiere Sunday, Nov. 5 only on Paramount+.

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