Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s role on ‘Underground’ is physically tough — and humbling


For Jurnee Smollett-Bell, the demands of her role as Rosalee on WGN America’s “Underground” got very physical.

As an actor, channeling the physical and emotional pangs in telling the story of a group of slaves who risk everything to trek 600 miles to escape captivity brings with it a quick reality check: this wasn’t a TV drama for those who actually braved the perilous journey.

In WGN America’s “Underground,” the slavery era-set drama centered around the Underground Railroad, Jurnee Smollett-Bell stars as Rosalee, one of the well-mannered house slaves plotting to escape.

She did many stunts herself and says the role easily takes the title as her most physically challenging yet.

“We were thrown in the bayous and you crawl out and there are spiders crawling on you,” Smollett-Bell said when she stopped by the Los Angeles Times studio this week.


“The one scene,” she added,"where we first were in the bayou, [co-creator] Misha [Green] was so frustrated because she was, like, ‘Her hair looks like a Pantene commercial! Throw more dirt on it!”

Smollett-Bell raced through fields and waded through the bayou in Baton Rouge, La., which served as the series’ antebellum Georgia setting. And in those grueling moments, reality would set in.

“We couldn’t really complain about [the physicality] because there were men and women who actually did this,” Smollett-Bell said. “And they didn’t do it for a mile. They did it for 600 miles; they did it for 700 miles … and so to embody that and endure those conditions was an opportunity to get just a little bit closer to the truth.”

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“It was humbling,” she added. “It was, like, ‘Whoa! How did they do this?!’ They didn’t have craft service; they didn’t have someone who could bring them a water bottle. They didn’t have a shower that they could go to afterwards. How did they do this? I mean, the testament to human will — it’s just mind-blowing.”

For more on what Smollett-Bell had to say about working on “Underground” – including her most challenging scene and working alongside Aldis Hodge – as well as her thoughts on whether she would have considered reprising her “Full House” character for Netflix, check out the video below.


Jurnee Smollett-Bell of WGN America’s “Underground” talks about the physical and emotional demands of her role as Rosalee and the preparation that went into it.



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