Before Lawmen: Bass Reeves moves us further into the legendary deputy U.S. marshal’s life this Sunday, we’d like to take a moment to dive into a moment of great weight and importance from last week’s hour: the scene in which David Oyelowo’s character is sworn in as an officer of the law.
“We knew it was, of course, one of the seminal scenes in the show,” Oyelowo, who also is an executive producer on the series, tells TVLine. “We always knew that was going to be a big moment.”
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Those who watched Part III of the drama will remember that Bass visited Judge Parker (played by Donald Sutherland) at the courthouse in the hour’s opening scene. When it came time to make Bass an official U.S. marshal, director Christina Alexandra Voros made sure the camera stayed tight on Oyelowo for about 30 seconds, allowing all of the character’s emotions to play out on his face as Bass took the oath. (Read a full episode recap here.)
“He has so many things coursing through his veins and his mind at that moment,” Oyelowo says. “‘Do I want to be doing this? What does this actually mean? This is completely bizarre. I’m looking at a white man in a position of power who is empowering me, when very much within living memory, my only frame of reference for a white man in power was being deeply unfairly treated. People who I love and know are being raped and whipped and broken and abused and exploited. Is this a form of that?'”
At the same time, he adds, Bass was “feeling honored by the moment as a Black man who knows that this is not the norm, by any means, in terms of the agency he’s being afforded.”
Series creator and showrunner Chad Feehan was not able to be on set for the scene because it was shot during the Writers Guild of America strike. Before he left, though, he and Voros discussed how he’d like the camera to linger on Oyelowo’s face. When the strike was over and Feehan was back in the editing bay, “I asked for that to be in [the episode], to stay on his face, because it is such a remarkable moment,” he says. “It’s such an empowering moment that I really wanted the audience, and the character, to absorb it as much as possible.”
Oyelowo adds that the moment of Bass’ deputization can stand as a microcosm for the season. “It was a myriad of things, and that goes on to continue through the course of the show,” he says. Bass is “one of the most complex characters I’ve had the opportunity to play because of all of those things being at play, all the time.”
New Lawmen: Bass Reeves episode stream Sundays on Paramount+.
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