Kerry Washington: ‘Unprisoned’ comedy feels important


Delroy Lindo and Kerry Washington star in "Unprisoned." Photo courtesy of Hulu

Delroy Lindo and Kerry Washington star in “Unprisoned.” Photo courtesy of Hulu

NEW YORK, March 8 (UPI) — Scandal actress Kerry Washington and The Good Fight actor Delroy Lindo say they hope their new Hulu comedy series, Unprisoned, gets people thinking about and opening their hearts toward the formerly incarcerated.

Set to premiere Friday and based on the life experiences of Mad Men writer Tracy McMillan, the show casts Washington as Paige, a family therapist and single mom whose life is turned upside-down when her father, Edwin (Lindo), drops back into her life after 17 years behind bars for dealing drugs.

Jordyn McIntosh plays Paige’s inner child and Faly Rakotohavana plays her teen son, Finn.

“There is so much about this story that feels important,” Washington told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

“I wanted to be part of this project because I am a huge Tracy McMillan fan,” Washington said. “I love her story — the idea of being able to excavate and create a show about a formerly incarcerated person and their journey when they are a returning citizen — and what it is like to love a returning citizen.”

Washington noted there’s no shortage of TV shows that look at how people end up in prison and what life is like for them there.

“But to really examine and flesh out and illuminate what it’s like to try to step back into life and right the wrongs and heal the pains and navigate the abandonment issues and just love and be together and try and be this loving family in the face of these systems, that is such an exciting opportunity and a privilege,” the actress said.

Lindo said he doesn’t think society is set up to give ex-cons, many of whom are people of color, the chance to resume their lives and support themselves.

“Part of what attracted me to this was the opportunity to crack open those systems, those paradigms, and maybe say something different,” the actor said, explaining that he pursued a career in the theater because he believed art could change the world.

“I’ve had to modify that over the years,” he acknowledged. “If I can do work that even minimally changes someone’s perception — they walk into the theater or they turn their television on or they go into a movie theater thinking one thing and they are exposed to the work and as they are walking out, they are thinking something a little differently — If I can do that, then that’s why I went to acting school. That’s why I became an actor.”

Based on the reactions Lindo said he hears from viewers, Unprisoned is resonating, and Washington believes the tension and affection between Edwin and Paige are part of what makes the show so relatable.

“Parents know how to push your buttons because they installed them,” the actress quoted the well-worn axiom with a laugh.

“That’s a universal idea. We all grapple with where we came from as children,” she added.

Washington said people want to do better for the next generation, and it’s reflected in the show.

“You see Paige try to do that with her son, and you see Edwin try to do that with his daughter and his grandson,” she said. “It’s really loving relationships between people who care about each other very deeply, but are trying to heal some traumas and some pain and some abandonment and some mistrust. They are human.”

McMillan said she wanted to tell her story as a half-hour comedy series because she grew up loving The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bob Newhart.

“They were shows that had a lot of heart. They were comedies, but they also dealt with current issues in the 1970s,” she said.

“That’s my favorite tone — heartwarming characters who are really earnest. I wanted to make a hero, not an anti-hero, someone to whom I related and someone who is trying in her life to do better and wants to create a relationship with her dad, even though it’s not easy.”

She said it was surreal to see moments from her life played out on screen.

“I think I’m going to look back on this and probably make more sense than I’m making of it right now,” McMillan said.

She said she is dedicated to bringing this story to the world because she feels like the country needs it.

“America needs a healing in the area of criminal justice and mass incarceration,” she said.

“I’m not necessarily an activist, I’m a storyteller. I’m just here to light up my little corner of the world and share my experience, and maybe it helps other people.”

Cast member Kerry Washington attends the premiere of “Bad Company” in New York City on June 4, 2002. Earlier that year, she was nominated for Best Female Lead for her role in “Lift” at the Independent Spirit Awards. Photo by Ezio Petersen/UPI | License Photo

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