‘Godfather of Harlem’s Giancarlo Esposito Previews Powell’s Politics in Season 2
In Season 2’s upcoming episode, “It’s a Small World After All,” the World’s Fair comes to New York along with plenty of political figures, including none other than President Lyndon Johnson. But in order to make the kind of waves Powell wishes to with the Civil Rights movement, he’ll have to do the president a favor.
Below, Esposito teases what’s in store for his character, what the assignment could mean for Powell’s future, and more.
The World’s Fair is coming to Queens in the latest episode. What’s in store?
Giancarlo Esposito: Well, the World’s Fair was a great expedition that went on in the ’60s and certainly was an exciting place that many nations could come to. So the representation of it in our show is an important one in regard to what’s going on politically in Washington with Johnson, as well as what’s going on in New York with Adam Clayton Powell, and the movement of Malcolm X, and Bumpy’s movement within trying to recapture his power over Harlem. It certainly represents a tumultuous time, but one that’s really looked at closely through many lenses in this episode.
President Johnson is assigning Congressman Powell a very specific mission. What can you tease about the political move?
Johnson’s concerned about who he’s involved with, and always tells Adam… “Bring me the votes but protect me as well.” Adam Clayton Powell in his relationship with Johnson knows that there’s also more that he needs from [the President]. He needs support in regards to the civil rights vote. That’s the most important thing. So I don’t know if I can tease any more than that. I know that’s both of their hope, but the wild card [is] Bumpy Johnson and the New York mafia.
Powell walks a fine line and it’s a tricky line… And I liked that fine moral line. Although, I happen to know historically that Adam Clayton Powell was the moral guy. He didn’t take bribes. He didn’t do things that other white politicians were doing.
Would you say he’s pushed to his limits?
Yes. He is pushed to his limits. He has to do something he doesn’t really want to do, but it is justified in his mind because the direction is coming from the president in connection to what he needs to do… I think you really feel a bit of his dilemma. He always wants to do what’s right. And deliver it in that way. But politics is dirty and you have to see it through that lens as well.
Powell gets Bumpy’s wife Mayme (Ilfenesh Hadera) involved in the drama. Does she agree to take part over concerns she’ll be turned away from the civil rights organizing?
Mayme wants to do something of importance and she has a platform because of who her husband is. Although, she doesn’t agree with everything he does. Her [role] as a character is to be pulled back and forth between the humanitarian part of her that wants to help people given her position and the disdain for what her husband does to enable her to be in that position. So for me, she’s the conscience. She does have a problem with wanting to feel safe and wanting her daughter to feel safe and wanting to feel like she can still do something to change things in opposition to how Bumpy does it.
Godfather of Harlem, Sundays, 9/8c, Epix