‘When We Rise’: The Cast on the Challenges of Playing Real-Life LGBT Activists (VIDEO)

Mary-Louise Parker and Rachel Griffiths in 'When We Rise'
ABC/Eike Schroter
Mary-Louise Parker and Rachel Griffiths in "When We Rise."

The new ABC miniseries When We Rise showed the history of the LGBT movement last night in its first two hours. Beginning in 1972, the series, created by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black, follows the early days of real life activists Cleve Jones (Austin P. McKenzie), Roma Guy (Emily Skeggs) and Ken Jones (Jonathan Majors), who joined together to help change the world’s view of the LGBT community.

As the series continues (Parts II-IV air Wednesday through Friday) and the story moves forward to a new decade, Guy Pearce takes over the role of Cleve, Mary-Louise Parker plays Roma and Michael Kenneth Williams plays Ken. Rachel Griffiths also plays the role of Roma’s wife, Diane Jones.

Because Cleve, Ken, Roma and Diane are all still alive and active in the LGBT community, TV Insider asked the actors in the miniseries what it was like playing these real-life change-makers—who were often on set during filming. “It makes you nervous when they’re on set,” says Pearce. “You can’t help but be conscious of their presence, but at the same time you’re connecting with them and you’re feeling, hoping that you’re delivering what they want delivered as far as telling a truthful story.”

One of the milestones portrayed in the film is how the AIDS crisis affected the LGBT community. “We experience the kind of joy of the revolution, a kind of a moment of equality and freedom that feels so exciting on screen and then bang,” explains Griffiths. “Just as the flower is opened, there’s an eclipse and traumatically to have characters that you fall in love with just die.”

Here’s our chat with Pearce, Williams, Griffiths and Parker:

When We Rise, Parts II – IV, Wednesday – Friday, 9/8c, ABC

When We Rise making-of documentary, March 2,  8/7c, ABC