Interview: Andrene Ward-Hammond and Bentley Green talk playing mom and son in drama series 61st Street [SXSW 2022]

production still from 61st Street
Bentley Green plays Joshua Johnson in 61st Street. Pic credit: AMC Networks

Created by Peter Moffat, AMC’s forthcoming legal drama 61st Street follows Moses Johnson, a young Black high school athlete targeted by the Chicago Police Department under suspicions of being a gang member. 

The tension is high as Moses struggles through the investigation as well as feelings of guilt and betrayal toward his community. Meanwhile, the police force is mourning the death of their fellow officer and turning a blind eye to the systemic issues within their policing as they act in vengeance.

Andrene Ward-Hammond and Bentley Green join the cast as Moses’ mom and brother. Monsters and Critics had the opportunity to chat with the two actors following the series premiere of 61st Street at the 2022 South by Southwest festival. 

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Ward-Hammond opened up about tapping into her inner mama bear. She said, “Norma Johnson is the mama to two young Black men. You see her carry on day-to-day ensuring their safety and making sure they’re coming back in one piece. She needs to make sure they’re going to be everything that she’s instilled in them.”

The actor uses her close relationship with the show’s material to get into character. She is both a mother and a Chicago native. “I grew up in that neighborhood: 61st Street. The South Side of Chicago. You have so many cards stacked against you- you’re not living, you’re surviving.”

Monsters & Critics: How would you tease Joshua’s journey throughout the series?

Bentley Green: Joshua is just trying to figure out his place. He has a big brother who’s an overachiever and does everything right by the book. He’s not just a big brother, he’s also a father figure. Joshua has all the tools and traits he needs to be a leader, he is just going through that kid phase, and he’s being rambunctious and rebellious. The events that happen [force] him to grow up extremely fast and figure out how he can be a part of resetting the foundation while his brother is dealing with traumatizing events. He’s going to go through a lot of changes in life that’s going to force him to open his eyes and figure out who he is. It’s going to be exciting to watch him grow into a young man.

production still from 61st Street
Pic credit: AMC Networks

M&C: How did you get into character?

Andrene Ward-Hammond: I’m a mom. I literally feel all of the anxieties that Norma feels, outside of being in that specific neighborhood. I don’t [think] that not living in that neighborhood doesn’t generate those kinds of emotions but you have you always worry about them when they leave. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory. You do what you have to make sure that your kids are good, your family is good, and your finances are good.

M&C: Was it hard to leave your character on the screen and go back to your life? How was your work-life balance?

Andrene Ward-Hammond: It was really hard because we were still in the middle of COVID. I was away from my family and in Chicago which is a beautiful city. It’s hard to step in and out of that those emotions and not have some residual effects when you get home. I’m still working on how to cut that off. But the more empathetic I am, the better my work is. And I’ll tell you, therapy is a beautiful thing.

M&C: What are the highlights of Chicago?

Bentley Green: The people, the people are just so passionate about their city. They love people who love their city. They love good people.

Andrene Ward-Hammond: I am a diehard for this city and the culture – the growth, the history, the art, all of it.

M&C: What are you most excited for fans to see in the show?

Bentley Green: I’m excited for people to see the transition of all the characters. Everybody’s going through their own thing while they’re also trying to figure out how to solve the traumatizing problem that’s in front of us. The audience will see how to community is dealing with this kid being convicted of murdering a police officer. They see the inside of what happens when they go home and deal with their families [and] deal with the people outside of the courtrooms. I want them to see the truth and how it affects people.

Andrene Ward-Hammond: I want to see how whose side they’re on when they go through it. I love seeing a change in characters that you generally root for and then you’re like “How did we get here?”

Check out our 61st Street interviews with Courtney B. Vance and Peter Moffat, and Tosin Cole and Alana Mayo.

61st Street debuts Sunday, April 10 on AMC+ and ALLBLK.

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