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The star-studded production is based on the 2015 book by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Susan Kelechi Watson is between two worlds.
She’s currently pulling double-duty starring as Beth Pearson on NBC’s “This Is Us” (Tuesdays at 9 p.m.) and she’s producing and starring in HBO’s “Between the World and Me,” based on the 2015 book by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Premiering Nov. 21 (8 p.m.), “Between the World and Me” is a special that combines readings from Coates’ bestselling nonfiction book — which is about the African American experience and addressed to his teenage son — with its 2018 stage rendition at the Apollo Theater.
“The main thing was, how do we re-imagine it as something that would be streamed rather than on a stage?” Watson, 38, tells The Post.
“And to use this time that we’re in of being distanced from one another … to create story. A lot of our filming selected the intimacy of what it would be just to talk to someone that you love, and speak these words from this book as though you’re speaking to another family member, in the same way that Ta-Nehisi did in his book.”
The special mixes animation, archival footage of Coates’ home life and history, and a star-studded cast speaking directly into the camera, including Oprah Winfrey, Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Angela Davis, Wendell Pierce and more.
“We were over the moon every time somebody said yes, and quite frankly they were not difficult ‘Yeses,’” says Watson. “People were excited to lend their voice to this and be part of this. Thankfully we could shoot people’s parts out in a day. So it wasn’t a huge time commitment and it was really fun and a joy for us.”
Watson herself appears onscreen narrating a part about Howard University and its significance in African American culture — which is her alma mater as well as Coates’ (though the two did not overlap as students).
“Ta-Nehisi felt strongly about my doing that role because it was authentic for me, so I had a ball doing that.”
“Between the World and Me” also includes events that happened after the book’s publication, such as the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer.
“Once [the killings of] Ahmaud Arbery happened and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and we’re in the midst of a pandemic, we were looking for a way to express our grief and what we were going through,” says Watson. “We wanted to continue this intense conversation on race — and not only continue it but make change. Ta-Nehisi’s book so eloquently talks about what it is to be black in America. [The special] felt like the best way for us to express it.”
Meanwhile, on “This Is Us,” Beth’s story is heating up, thanks to the bombshell revelation that her husband Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) birth mother wasn’t as deceased as everyone thought.
“We’re trying to get to a place in our household where there are no more surprises and we can chill out for a while and Randall can regulate his anxiety… and so the surprise that we see that his mom woke up where he thought her story had ended is sort of big,” says Watson.
“We’ll see how it unfolds, but I guarantee that it’s interesting. Regardless, [Beth] always has his back. So whatever they go through, they do it together and are as supportive of each other as they can be — which is what we love so much about their relationship.”