ABOVE PHOTO: John Ridley (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)
By Patty Gopez
You may know John Ridley best for his work on 12 Years a Slave, which won the Oscar last year for Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay. However, being an Oscar winner is just icing on the cake for the accomplished writer. Ridley also wrote the screenplays for 2002’s Undercover Brother, 1997’s Cold Around the Heart and 1999’s Three Kings, which was nominated for a WGA award.
Aside from writing screenplays, Ridley is the author of seven published novels; the most recent, “What Fire Cannot Burn” from Warner Books and “The Drift” from Knopf. His first novel, “Stray Dogs,” was made into the 1997 feature film U Turn, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, and Nick Nolte.
Most recently, the Oscar-winning screenwriter has been hard at work with his latest project, “American Crime,” a groundbreaking new drama premiering Thursday, Mar. 5 10|9c on ABC.
At this winter’s Television Critics Association (TCAs) event, Ridley revealed some interesting facts about working on the upcoming project. Ridley noted that his work on Jimi Hendrix biopic, Jimi: All Is by My Side, had helped persuade ABC to go ahead with “American Crime,” recalling, “They told me to be bold.”
While Ridley is very hands-on with the highly anticipated gritty show, “American Crime” wasn’t initially his idea: ABC producer Michael McDonald approached him in Aug. 2013 about the idea of making a show about, “Us: where we are as a nation and look at it through the lenses of crime.”
“I thought it was interesting, but I would love to try and examine the concept not from the lenses of police and prosecutors, but rather from the families,” Ridley said. “Those individuals go through a system that doesn’t resolve itself for weeks or months — sometimes it takes even years.”
Oscar award-winning actor Timothy Hutton, who stars as Russ Skokie in “American Crime,” was especially taken by Ridley’s script.
“There’s something amazing about playing a character who has been impacted by tragedy. When you read further in the script, you understand the layers and years of the person’s past. To be able to play those two dynamics is a pretty rare experience.”
“It was clear that this wasn’t going to be about the outcome of an investigation. But rather focus on the details of these everyday people who all intersect due to this tragedy. We follow not only what they do, but what they do in a daily basis and how they move on and thorough their lives.”
Ridley reveals, “When we originally started working on the show, there were times where we thought maybe we were not relevant anymore. Maybe we’ve moved past certain things. Then as the show was moving along, very sadly we realized that we were actually pre-dating some things. The reality is that unfortunately these events remain cyclical in this country.”
“When all else falls away. Sometimes faith is all that’s left.”
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