In Paramount+'s newest Western, legendary lawman Bass Reeves is finally front and center.
The true story of the formerly enslaved man who became the first Black deputy U.S. marshal comes to life on Lawmen: Bass Reeves, an eight-episode series starring David Oyelowo as the storied gunslinger who arrested some 3,000 desperados without ever suffering a single wound. Long considered the inspiration behind the Lone Ranger, Reeves has made a handful of notable appearances across TV and film within the last several years. "This is the first series or movie that has been solely dedicated to Bass Reeves of this scale, which is very exciting," creator and showrunner Chad Feehan tells EW.
It was over a four-hour dinner with Oyelowo — also also serves as an executive producer alongside Feehan and Yellowstone architect Taylor Sheridan — that solidified Feehan's kinship with the Selma star and emboldened him "to be a part of helping him honor Bass Reeves," he says. "He and I really bonded over the idea that for this man to go from escaping enslavement, to becoming arguably the greatest lawman in the history of this country, is just a remarkable triumph of the human spirit." And Reeves' story is remarkable, indeed.
Emerson Miller/Paramount+ David Oyelowo on 'Lawmen: Bass Reeves'
Born into slavery in Arkansas in July 1838, Bass Reeves was forced to serve the household of William Steele Reeves. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he had to join the Confederate Army alongside his slave master's son, Colonel George Reeves. Following an altercation with George Reeves, Bass Reeves fled and escaped to Indian Territory (today, Oklahoma), where he lived among the Cherokee, Creeks, and Seminoles and became skilled in firearms. Following the passage of the 13th Amendment, he returned to Arkansas a free man with his family, where he was commissioned to become a deputy U.S. marshal. He patrolled the western district of Arkansas, which also included Indian Territory, and served as an honorable lawman for 32 years.
Adapted from Follow the Angels, Follow the Doves, the first of Sidney Thompson's Reeves book trilogy, Lawmen traces Reeves' story as a man who, while devoted to his badge, wrestles with its moral and spiritual cost. (Though Sheridan is attached, it's important to distinguish that Lawmen is not a spin-off of 1883 given the timeline of events.) In the first few episodes, Reeves is at odds with fellow deputy marshal Sherrill Lynn (played by Dennis Quaid), who employs more of a "shoot first" mentality.
Lauren Smith/Paramount+ David Oyelowo and Dennis Quaid on 'Lawmen: Bass Reeves'
Feehan, a Western enthusiast whose favorites include Ethan and Joel Coen's No Country for Old Men and John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, mined from such classics to help bring the story to screen. "No Country for Old Men, although it couldn't be further different in terms of content, is something that follows me wherever I go," he says. "The idea of justice and what justice means is certainly very present in that movie and in our series."
The Western also stars Lauren E. Banks as Reeves' wife Jennie and Donald Sutherland as the federal judge who commissions Reeves as a deputy marshal, Issac Parker. Feehan notes of the cast, "What I was taken by was the shared responsibility of telling this story to the best of our abilities. We would laugh and joke at times around the set, but my observation of the predominant feeling was, 'This is important. This is difficult. We need to get it right.'"
Emerson Miller/Paramount+ David Oyelowo and Lauren E. Banks on 'Lawmen: Bass Reeves'
A potential season 2 of the anthology series remains up in the air, but Feehan would be game to return should Paramount+ invite him back. "There's a wide array of lawmen and women outlaws from different races and creeds that we haven't seen dramatized often in this space, stories that deserve to be told," Feehan offers. "So we'll see what happens."
Lawmen: Bass Reeves premieres today on Paramount+ with new episodes every Sunday.
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