The story of John Brown is finally getting its Hollywood treatment, with the premiere of The Good Lord Bird on Showtime this Sunday, October 4th. Today, in advance of its pemiere, we will look at the The Good Lord Bird filming locations. The limited series stars Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke, based on the book of the same name by James McBride. Hawke, who also is the executive producer, plays the role of the abolitionist John Brown, who most famously led a failed raid on Harper’s Ferry intended spur a revolt against slavery in America.
The Good Lord Bird mixes fact and fiction, following the story of a fictional enslaved boy named Onion, played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) who joins Brown’s abolitionist “army” when he and his sons were fighting to make Kansas a free state — an event known as Bleeding Kansas. Daveed Diggs, from the original cast of Hamilton, plays Frederick Douglass who once wrote, “From this night spent with John Brown in Springfield, Mass. 1847 while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.” Harriett Tubman also appears in the story, played by Zainah Jah. Indeed, Brown would encounter many of the people connected with the fight for and against slavery in his life.
Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird as Frederick Douglass
Brown’s life-long dedication to the abolitionist cause took him from his birthplace in Connecticut to places all around the country, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, and finally in North Elba, New York in Lake Placid where settled his family. He left for long stretches of time to fight in Kansas, the setting for the The Good Lord Bird.
The Good Lord Bird Filming Locations
Eagle eye television watchers may notice something familiar about the set of The Good Lord Bird — it is the same set as TURN on AMC, about the first spy ring in America formed during the American Revolution! Though the story of TURN takes place in Setauket, Long Island, the show was filmed in Powhatan, Virginia, about 40 minutes west of Richmond. In The Good Lord Bird you will notice taken right from TURN, the white clapboard church, used as the Setauket Presbyterian Church in TURN, the farmhouses that were part of Abraham Woodhull’s cabbage farm, and the tavern run by Anna Strong.
Ethan Hawke as John Brown, in front of the church seen in the show TURN
A new set was built, like the sort in old Westerns with. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported had a ” two-story hotel, a saloon, offices, cabins and dusty streets.” The newspaper also reports that filming was supposed to take place in Canada, and when that fell through, North Carolina. Someone from the Virginia Film Office happened to run into Hawke at SXSW and suggested Virginia.
Tavern scene in The Good Lord Bird
The same set, a 3,000 acre backlot built at a closed prison, was also used in the movies Lincoln and Harriett. The set gets modified more and more for each production. Other filming locations for The Good Lord Bird in Virginia include Belle Isle, Three Lakes Park, and Church Hill, which stands in for Rochester, New York. Other scenes were shot at the Bolling Haxall House in Richmond, in Downtown Petersburg, at Three Lakes Park and Nature Center, at the Tuckahoe Plantation in Goochland.
Hawke told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in an interview that he appreciated the history present in the Richmond area, ” It was enlightening to drive by all the Civil War monuments [on Monument Avenue, now mostly removed] on the way to set. You could feel the history on every street of Richmond. I appreciated and learned from the many wonderful local museums, many of which explore the history of slavery.”
This interior was also used in TURN
Other guest stars on The Good Lord Bird includes David Morse (Escape at Dannemora), Steve Zahn (War of the Planet of the Apes), Maya Hawke (Stranger Things, Little Women), and more. Stay tuned here as we elaborate on more The Good Lord Bird filming locations as the show premieres this Sunday!
Next, check out the farm and final burial place of John Brown in New York.