Shooting on “Bass Reeves” won’t start for a few months, but David Oyelowo is already prepping to play the legendary U.S. marshal whose exploits are said to have been the inspiration for the Lone Ranger.
We caught a glimpse of the western hero in HBO’s “Watchmen” (as played by Jamal Akakpo), but Oyelowo and “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan are giving us a whole limited series about the Black lawman whose story is long overdue. Oyelowo is producing through his Yoruba Saxon production company, along with Sheridan and 101 Studios, as part of his overall deal with ViacomCBS – just one of the many deals and projects on the busy “Selma” star’s plate.
“Some of my dream projects are coming to fruition, so it’s a very, very nice moment,” the actor told TheWrap during a recent interview.
Oyelowo, who currently stars in HBO Max’s “The Girl Before,” updated us on the status of the “Bass Reeves” series. “We’re in the writer’s rooms as we speak, it’s going to be a six-episode series. The writers are beavering away and they’re doing a phenomenal job. So we’re a couple of months away from being on a set in Arkansas and [me] being the man himself.”
First, however, Sheridan needs to finish “1883,” the hit prequel to “Yellowstone.” To get a feel for the time period and the setting, Oyelowo and his wife Jess, who is a co-producer, recently visited the Texas set. “Our show happens in the same kind of time period. Jess and I were out in Texas recently with those guys as they were shooting ‘1883’ and that’s very much the world our show plays out in,” he said.
He hasn’t begun his cowboy training yet, but can’t wait to dive in. “Being in the world of Taylor Sheridan, you have the best in the business to teach you all of that. I am about to get deep into the world of horse-riding. I do ride, but this guy was at a completely other level. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The guns, the horses… I’m gonna be a kid in a candy store.”
However, don’t expect to see Reeves in time-honored western scenes like swaggering through swinging saloon doors or getting into bar brawls. “We’re going to try to avoid the cliches and tropes as much as we can, but inevitably there’ll be the odd thing that everyone recognizes as a classic western moment.”
While the series seems likely to be a ratings monster alongside Paramount+’s other Sheridan hit shows, it’s taken several years to make “Bass Reeves” happen. “That’s been a long-gestating project,” said Oyelowo. “I remember going out with it five or six years ago and every network cabler said, ‘No one’s making westerns, we’re not doing that.’ And then we went out with it another two years later and they said, “Oh, everyone’s making westerns. We’re not doing that.” So it’s nice to finally have that project land somewhere great. And I’m a huge fan of Taylor Sheridan, so getting to work with him is pretty great as well.”
Oyelowo is also ramping up for “Return of the Rocketeer” at Disney+, which is part of his and his wife’s two-year first-look deal with Disney. The project is still in the script stage and no director has been hired yet, but Oyelowo assures fans of 1991’s “The Rocketeer” that the sequel is in good hands.
“I was a big fan of the first one. Actually had the poster up in my bedroom as a teenager. It’s a beloved property over [at Disney], so to be trusted with it is a real privilege. We’re going to take care of the fans of the original and hopefully bring in a whole new fanbase. In our film, he’s going to be an ex-Tuskegee airman, so it’s still in that 1940s milieu. We know we have to adhere to the things that people loved about the first one. But that was 30 years ago, so we want to make a film that’s going to resonate for the next 30 years and especially for the now. That’s the needle we have to thread and we’re working hard to do so.”
He’s eager to get behind the camera again after making his directorial debut with “The Water Man,” but admits that producing is a whole different game.
“It’s just a lot of hard work. Sleep is not your friend when you are the person driving the momentum of a project. You’ve got to do something to move the needle every single day. That’s the only way these projects stay alive,” he said.
“But with the overall deal for Yoruba Saxon at ViacomCBS and the first-look deal at Disney, that helps, because you have distribution partners supporting the endeavors. At my company, we now have a staff of six, so there’s a lot more support here than there was when I first started out in the producing game about seven or eight years ago. We’re active, we’re actually making stuff, not just talking about making stuff. The development at the company is also pretty robust. And it’s all stuff that I’m very proud of. We’re making the world we want to see. That’s something that I’m really, really enjoying getting to do.”
“The Girl Before” premieres on HBO Max on Feb. 10.