By Maria Estevez, MWN
The story seems written by a crime novel author during a night of creative hyperactivity, but it is 100-percent real. In the 1990s, James Keene, the son of a high-ranking Chicago police officer, put aside a possible career as a professional football player to dedicate himself to drug trafficking. Arrested, tried and sentenced to ten years in prison, shortly after the confinement began, the prosecutor who carried out his case approached with an offer as strange as it was dangerous—transfer to a maximum-security prison for inmates with psychological problems in Springfield, Missouri. There he needed to try to get first-hand information on Larry Hall, an alleged serial killer of teenagers and young women, imprisoned within those walls and awaiting confirmation of his sentence. In exchange for an unlikely confession – the precise location where the bodies of two victims were buried – Keene’s punishment would be commuted to freedom.
The result of that extreme experience was sublimated in the form of a book published in 2011 called “Locked up with the Devil” by James Keene himself with the collaboration of the journalist Hillel Levin. The book details – over almost 300 pages – the complex relationship between the two men.
With these very real events as inspiration, ‘Black Bird’ – whose first two chapters debuted on Apple TV + Friday, July 8 — puts on the screen a dark story, with the most attractive condiments of a true crime.
Taron Egerton comes back to the screen with the miniseries, the last TV show from the late Ray Liotta. Egerton plays Jimmy, while Liotta plays his father, a decorated cop who was a little shady. ‘Black Bird’ marks the final television role for Liotta, who died unexpectedly in late May while filming a movie in the Dominican Republic. Egerton said working with the actor was an incredible experience and that the series is an incredible testament to the actor’s talent.
How was your relationship with Ray Liotta?
Ray was one of my acting heroes. I felt I grew as an actor working with him. He was a gentleman and a brilliant actor. He and I had a really, really amazing time together. It was one of the more profound experiences of my acting career. We just connected immediately, and it was an odd thing, and it was dictated by him. It was dictated by the way he handled himself and the way that he conducted himself as an actor on set. Even though he didn’t speak to me when he spotted me, he did walk up to me, and he just embraced me. And I said, sort of, you know, quietly to him: I’m really glad we’re doing this together. And he said: me too. And those were the only words we shared other than the scenes we did that day. It’s a great shame that he won’t be here to celebrate the release of the show. But it’s an incredible testament to his talent. And, of course, you know, given what happens to his character takes on an extra poignancy, I think, in the wake of his passing. So, it’s sad, but my overwhelming feeling is of pride.
Why did you chose this project as an actor but also as a producer?
When I read the script, the thing that drew me to the role was the father-son relationship. That part was the beating heart of the show. A lot of what motivates my character is to be reunited with his father. I don’t want to talk about the real Jimmy Keene’s relationship with his father, but there’s that famous thing that we’re all messed up by our parents, and that certainly applies a little bit in this case, but it’s a beautiful, beautiful written relationship. Dennis Lehane, who created ‘Black Bird’, did an incredible job of writing particularly these two parts. That is why I chose this script to play it after ‘Rocketman’ and to produce. I loved the script
How would you describe your experience in the show?
It was incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really great and heavyweight actors in my few years working in the industry and Ray was a particularly special one for me. I was very, very invested in that relationship feeling very real and with a tangible sense of history. There’s a lot of darkness in the show and there are a lot of difficult characteristics that the character possesses. But I think the tenderness of the relationship between father and son is the engine for why Jimmy takes this massive risk.
Why do you think Jimmy Keene decided to take the risk of being in a maximum security jail?
When serving time, you’ll do anything for a chance at freedom. Even if that means facing a suspected killer.
Can you describe the moment that you are living right now as an actor?
When I did ‘Rocketman’ I was offered a really grown-up, complex role, and I think I’d been craving something like that, something that was meaty and that I could really get stuck in. It’s difficult when you’ve done something like that because not everything you get offered is as good or as interesting or as complex or as challenging for an actor, and it took a year. This is, for me, the perfect character to keep growing in my career.
‘Black Bird‘ is now streaming on Apple TV+.