The cast and creator of the CW’s All American were feeling the love for their show, each other, and Crenshaw at SCAD’s aTV Fest in Atlanta on Friday.
Executive producer Nkechi Okoro Carroll and cast members Michael Evans Behling, Bre-Z, Daniel Ezra, Karimah Westbrook, and Taye Diggs joined EW’s Chancellor Agard on stage after a screening of an upcoming episode of the CW hit drama to talk all things American and…British?
Things kicked off with the cast sharing their reasoning for wanting to be part of the series. “I’d never seen or been part of a project that ticked so many boxes: There was the soap element, the athletic element, the youth element and then all of the social issues that are so relevant today,” said Taye Diggs who plays Coach Billy Baker on the show. “I really commend our writers and the CW and the WB for tackling and digging in at a time when people are running scared. I’ve never been as proud to be part of a project as I am on this one. It was a role that called me. When I finished the pilot episode it was something that I knew I had to be a part of.”
Carroll had both personal and societal reasons for wanting to bring the show to audiences. “I think it’s just the reality of what our teens are going through today,” she said. “We felt it was important that all the stories we tell on the show are grounded in truth and authenticity of not just our black teens, but what all our teens are going through today. As a parent of two young black boys, I saw the potential for a show that I could have the conversations that I know that I have to have as a parent and I could kind of do it through the show while I was entertaining them — sneak it in. If we’re helping a few other parents too then we’re doing our job.”
Daniel Ezra who plays Spencer James on the series shared a similar sentiment to Diggs: “I just loved how the show leans into so many social issues and relevant topics today and as the series goes on we continue to lean into those things and I’m proud of the conversations that we’re being a part of,” he shared. Still, that’s not to say there wasn’t pressure for Ezra, especially considering his British nationality. “Being an outsider, being not from the States, made me want to do better; spend more time in the gym, spend more time with the accent and different things.”
But first on the list was figuring out what American football even was, since he had zero knowledge of the sport beforehand. “Just to give you some back story, this kid comes from Britain, had never played American football and not only did he have the accent he stayed in the accent the entire time in America,” shared Diggs.
“I grew up playing basketball so the idea of being an athlete in school wasn’t foreign to me but American football was a whole other world,” added Ezra. “I came out early to start football training and also just to spend time in Crenshaw. It’s such a distinct place and such an incredible environment and culture, I wanted to feel comfortable…I needed to know that place intimately and also to practice the accent so I needed to really go to Crenshaw, really go to restaurants and movie theaters and just to talk to people to test out the accent and just try to catch the vibe of the place.”
Filming in Crenshaw turned out to be a much more rewarding experience than anyone on the show had anticipated. Bre-Z who plays Coup on the CW drama, recalls fans yelling “Freda” (her character on Fox hit Empire) at her while shooting, while executive producer Carroll remembers a very moving instance. “The beauty of shooting in the actual neighborhood and having community so support us, is that one of the most poignant scenes which was Shawn’s memorial, all the extras we had in that scene were from the area and they were so moved by the scene, because for so many of them there were like, ‘we have seen this a hundred times in our own lives for someone in our family’,” she explained. “During the take, the director couldn’t get them to stop crying because they were so moved by what was happening because it was their real lives. We were like, ‘okay we’ll just roll with it; it’s a real reaction to the situation.’ You can’t make that stuff up and that comes from shooting in the neighborhood, shooting with real people from the neighborhood and telling real stories.”
All American airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.