The actors and everyone on set filming the recently released Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, had access to crisis counseling to help with the heavy, based-on-real-life material portrayed on screen.
Ava DuVernay’s four-part series, released Friday, goes into the 1989 story of five boys who were wrongly accused, arrested, convicted, imprisoned, and eventually exonerated in the “Central Park Five” case. The teens spent between five and 13 years in prison for a sexual assault they were falsely blamed of committing.
Actor Niecy Nash, who played the mother of one of the boys, spoke about the filming process, noting this was the first set she’d been on that provided crisis counseling at the end of the day. In Elle, she said, “Because the material is so weighty, and it’s so heavy, and you feel the effect of it, whether you are filming it or acting in it, or being background in it or whatever it is. I love that [DuVernay] has that level of care for her actors.”
In an interview before the release, the actors playing the five kids — Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Raymond Santana, who were 14 through 16 when they were accused — said the production crew created a supportive space.
Actors Jharrel Jerome (who played Korey Wise), Asante Blackk (Kevin Richardson), Caleel Harris (Anton McCray), Ethan Herisse (Yusef Salaam) and Marquis Rodriguez (Raymond Santana) spoke to Collider about the counseling available on set. Jerome said, “to know that it was there was very relieving, and it was definitely so helpful.” He said his true counselor, however, was the man he was portraying, Korey Wise himself: “He was my therapist, throughout the whole entire process.”
Blackk gave DuVernay credit for helping the actors get through tough scenes, like the court verdict. “She was always there for a shoulder to lean on,” he said. His co-star Harris agreed that DuVernay didn’t just provide access to counseling but gave it out herself. “I felt like [DuVernay] was really just that blanket and comforter on set,” he said.
When They See Us is now streaming on Netflix.