In Godfather of Harlem, the new EPIX original series, Bumpy Johnson returns him after a decade in prison, only to find his beloved community of Harlem taken over by the Italian mafia. As he considers his options regarding taking back his home turf, he is influenced by the two most important women in his life; his wife, Mayme, played by Ilfahesh Hadera, and his troubled daughter, Elise, played by Antoinette Crowe-Legacy.
While promoting Godfather of Harlem, Hadera and Crowe-Legacy sat down with Screen Rant to discuss their work on the show, from their characters' varied relationships with the legendary gangster patriarch, to a brief discussion on their thoughts regarding 1960s fashion and political sensibilities.
You play arguably the two most important women in Bumpy Johnson's life. Can you talk a bit about the responsibility of being women around this big powerful patriarchal figure, and how maybe the setting plays into that?
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy: I think, for me, it's less about his importance and more about all the ways that he has, in relationship to me, failed. I think, for me, you get to see the flip side. In a lot of the series, you can see how great he is, and all the things he's done for the community, and how strong a figure he paints. For me, I think what you get in our relationship is, sort of, the ways he's trying to make up for his failings, few as they may be.
Ilfahesh Hadera: I think it's less about being strong to stand up to him, and more about being strong because they've chosen each other. They have this partnership that wouldn't work if Mayme weren't as strong as she is. It's more about them being equals to one another, and for one another.
Was there a way of approaching that, considering that 1960s New York City, a very testosterone-driven setting, that made that tricky or difficult or compelling to play?
Ilfanesh Hadera: Did the time period make it more difficult to play a strong woman?
Yeah, like, this is the Civil Rights era, but before the rise of feminism in the later 60s and 70s?
Ilfanesh Hadera: I think we haven't explored that quite yet in the time period, but the characters were written to be these really fierce, strong women, so Chris and Paul (the writers) gave us the chance not to shy away from being that. 1963, 2019, I think these women were going to be the women that they were.
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy: I think it's very intentional, because then you can't miss the parallels with right now. The women who, you know, the Michelle Obamas, the people who are there creating their own paths, forging their own things. Yes, they're next to these strong, powerful men, but they're also these great, wonderful, complex human beings.
There are societal pressures, but it doesn't change --
Ilfanesh Hadera: --Who we are, exactly. And I think, you know, Bumpy was not a man who wanted the little woman at home, cooking his Sunday roast. I mean, obviously, Mayme was a homemaker and did do those things, but it was not what he was interested in, either. He was a businessman, and he went into his personal relationships looking for people who were as strong and savvy as he was.
Finally, just like, in terms of fashion and style and the cultural sensibilities of the time, was there something that you really appreciated, like, "Oh, we don't have this anymore," or something that you missed from the present day?
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy: So much. I mean, so like, the sort of undergarments of it all, don't miss those!
Ilfanesh Hadera: Get rid of 'em!
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy: They cut a cute shape, but it's too much. But the lines of the dresses, some of Mayme's dresses in the series are just absolutely gorgeous. And our costume designer, Joshua Marsh, did a beautiful job of creating the whole time period and really showing the class that Bumpy and Mayme have throughout the series. It's so beautiful.
Ilfanesh Hadera: In 2019, I walk around in my gym pants everywhere, and everyday. But the idea of really getting dressed intentionally is so sweet and so cool. I look at photos of my grandmother from the 40s, 50s, 60s; in every photo, it's an occasion, and she's dressed. Mayme is the same way, and I imagine Elise will be the same way, moving forward... I don't want to spoil anything, but, you know.
Godfather of Harlem airs Sundays on EPIX.