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7 Apr 2023

Jason Alan Carvel brilliantly brings Malcolm X to life in season 3 of ‘Godfather of Harlem’

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April 7, 2023 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Jason Alan Carvel (right) as Malcolm X in a scene from “Godfather of Harlem.”  (Photo credit Scott McDermott)

By Kharisma McIlwaine

Duality is the theme of the third season of “Godfather of Harlem.”  We see each of the characters grapple with the “yin and yang” in their lives and in the lives of those closest to them. They do this dance to find some semblance of balance amid chaos. 

In season three, Jason Alan Carvel takes on the mantle of the Muslim human rights activist Malcolm X. He does so brilliantly as even Malcolm struggles to maintain his moral compass while attempting to stay safe from those that have painted a target on his back. Carvel spoke with the SUN about the weight of playing such an important historical figure and his approach to embodying the iconic activist and leader.

Malcolm X is such a vital figure in American history and the progression of the Civil Rights Movement. Carvel shared his perspective on taking on the role of the iconic leader.

“I come from a theater background, so you often play famous people from history,” Carvel said. “It’s a little bit different in the theater. You’ve got your company, and everybody sort of doing a thing. So, it’s daunting — but for me, it’s an opportunity to continue the legacy of somebody. It’s almost like everybody who plays these characters kind of lifts them up, and then you take your turn holding them up. Then somebody else comes along and lifts them up. So, I feel like for me, it’s my time to let Malcolm’s voice sing a little bit.”

Playing a character that is so well known comes with its own set of challenges. Carvel shared his approach to preparing for the role of Malcolm X. 

“I did something a little bit different than I usually do,” he said. “I went to the tapes. I went to the historical documents — the visual documents of Malcolm, in addition to all the reading research. For me, one of the turning points culturally for us in this country was the way that Malcolm held himself — the way that he spoke. I love Dr. King. I love Jesse and Ralph Abernathy. I love everybody, but there was something different about the way that Malcolm put his shoulders and set his feet.”

“One of the things that was a little bit daunting about it was you can almost slide into a lot of other historical figures — do a few little things, and it’s, like, ‘Oh, that’s them.’ But with Malcolm, I felt like every little detail had to be faithful,” Carvel said. “We’re not the same human being, obviously, so it’s not going to be identical, but faithful to that spirit that came out in every step, in every syllable, in every look and turn of the head. So, it was that kind of close research that took up a lot of time, but it was a joy as well.”

This season, audiences see the duality of all the characters playing out in real-time — especially with Malcolm. We see Malcolm struggle with wanting the best for the Black community while receiving protection from Bumpy, a larger-than-life figure filtering poison into the community. 

“That’s what an actor wants to play,” Carvel said. “You don’t want to walk into something, and it’s, ‘We just want this one thing.’ You’re a good guy, or you’re the bad guy, or you’re the funny guy. I feel like the fact that there’s a kaleidoscope of Malcolm’s personality and the world around him — that’s the opportunity to bring a more complex, hopefully, more subtle aspect to every single thing that he thinks and does. His relationship with Betty, his relationship with Elise, and certainly his relationship with Bumpy change pretty significantly. That’s nice for an actor, because then you get to stop, look and [ask], ‘What’s going on here?’ Trying to figure something out is the best and most interesting thing for an artist to try to do.”

Audiences will also see more of Malcolm’s backstory this season. That transparency answers questions about why he deeply distrusts white people and what makes him change his mind.

“The writing of that episode when I first got it, I thought, This is quick. How are we going to get all of that?’ Then it just it happened,” Carvel said. “It’s about the other actors. It’s about the words on the page and how we try to bring them to life. It’s also visually about how that story is told. The joy of playing on this show in particular is that you can trust that the story gets told. All I had to do was sit, look at who I was working with, listen to what they’re saying, and say the words.”

 “When I saw that journey, from the closeness of that cell to feeling that claustrophobia — anybody who’s been in a cell, you get right back to it,” Carvel added. “You feel, like, ‘I’m never coming out of here, even if it’s on a TV set.’ So that’s real! But then to watch and listen as Malcolm comes through that realization and hears the words coming from somebody that he’s not sure of yet and then to make that switch, it felt more natural than I thought it would. Malcolm doesn’t stop and say, ‘I know what it is. I understand everything.’ He’ll stop and say, ‘I know there’s something missing’ and try to look for the truth all around him. Then he finds it in the people he’s meeting.”

“Godfather of Harlem” season 3 will absolutely keep viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Carvel shared what he hopes audiences will take away from this season. 

“I think, ultimately, what I want for other people watching it is the same thing that I want for myself,” he said. “I want to be able to sit and learn something and feel connected to things that we often feel are lost as we get older. The joy for me of the arts is that it gives people an opportunity to not have to reach so far and not have to be desperate to touch something. We bring it here into that space and into the air they breathe. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

To keep up with Jason Alan Carvel, be sure to follow him on IG @jasonalancarvel and visit his website at: New episodes of “Godfather of Harlem” season 3 are available on MGM Plus and Hulu every Sunday.

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