Aisha Hinds finds Tubman a spiritual calling in 'Underground'

Kam Williams | 2/16/2017, 6 a.m.
Actor Aisha Hinds talks about playing American icon Harriet Tubman on “Underground,” a docudrama about the Underground railroad and her ...
Aisha Hinds stars as Harriet Tubman in “Underground.” Courtesy WSG

Aisha Hinds is a Brooklyn, NY native who initially entered showbiz in modern dance. She parlayed her success in that field into an acting career, which has encompassed a vast array of projects ranging from feature films such as “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” “If I Stay” and “Beyond the Lights” to such hit TV shows as “True Blood,” “Prison Break,” “Under the Dome” and “Weeds.”

Here, Hinds talks about playing American icon Harriet Tubman on “Underground,” a docudrama about the Underground Railroad. The second season of “Underground” is set to premiere on the WGN network on March 8. She also reflects upon her role as Pastor Janae James on “Shots Fired,” a timely TV series debuting on the Fox network on March 22.

What interested you about “Underground”?

Aisha Hinds: I became an instant fan of the show seconds into the opening frames of the pilot. When that drone shot carried us through the main house with Rosalie, played so unflinchingly brilliantly by Jurnee Smollett Bell, I signed on for the ride. I saw that this show was about to elucidate this age-old narrative in a way that was both edgy and engaging. The artistry on the show is apparent in each episode. From the riveting writing to the purposeful and precise direction, the masterful work of the DP [Director of Photography] Kevin McKnight and his crew, and the layers and depths each actor goes to to ensure we the audience feel a human connection to these characters — that all led me to sign my name on the dotted line. The cherry on top was the pulsating and powerful use of music to punctuate the story.

What does Harriet Tubman mean to you and how did you prepared to play her?

AH: She is a legend, an icon, a soldier on the side of justice, a spiritual warrior and a servant of God, as well as the one of the baddest women to literally ever walk the land. I surrendered to her spirit. She lived such a full, complex and irrefutably dynamic life that all the craft in the world would be insufficient in honoring her legacy. I did my homework, of course, by inhaling as much literature as was available to find, so that when it was time to shoot I could hopefully exhale her. However, the real truth is that her spirit is so POWERFUL that it consumes you. I was literally reduced to basic breath and blinks while she inhabited my vessel and told her story through me.

Will any episodes will be shot on location in Canada and will the series explore the historical connections between the Underground Railroad and Canada?

AH: Thank God for Canada! In the context of this narrative and beyond, Canada was certainly an additional option for the many traveling the treacherous terrain of the Underground Railroad in pursuit of what was perceived as “freedom.” Once the Fugitive Slave Act took effect, the Northern states were no longer safe for those who managed to escape from being enslaved. The second season of “Underground” does explore Canada’s role in providing a welcoming place for the thousands who were in danger of being captured and returned to their owners, and those who escaped by way of rerouting beyond the American borders. Though this part of history is included in the season, we did not shoot on location in Canada.