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‘Godfather Of Harlem’ EPs Reveal Why Malcolm X Was Recast & Tease Bumpy’s ‘New Reality’ (Exclusive)


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Image Credit: MGM+

Godfather of Harlem is shaking things up in season 3. The MGM+ series is back for season 3 on January 15 with Michael Raymond-James coming into the fold as infamous mobster Joe Colombo. HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with executive producers Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein about season 3, including the casting of Joe Colombo.

“There were two actors who really, really stood out as being potential Colombos, so what Paul and I did was what we sometimes do when we’re in this either-or situation, we go to our fellow executive producer Forest Whitaker and we say, ‘Hey, Forest, maybe you have an opinion about the acting,’” Chris told HollywoodLife at the 2023 Television Critics Association winter press tour. “And he came back and he said, ‘You know, I gotta tell you. The guys are both great, but I’m just going to say, there was something about Michael Raymond-James.’ That tilted the scales for us, so that’s who we hired. We told Michael when he first came aboard, ‘It was real close with you and the other guy. The guy who pushed you over the finish line was Mr. Whitaker.’ He was so overjoyed. He’s a wonderful chameleon.”

Michael Raymond James
Michael Raymond James as Joe Colombo. (MGM+)

Chris noted that the introduction of Joe Colombo into Bumpy’s world was partially due to Vincent D’Onofrio’s initial lack of availability. “So we were like, we need a new version of an Italian antagonist for Bumpy, and yet we’re still going to have Vincent come back at some point,” Cris revealed. “We’re not saying goodbye to him yet, so how do we do this? How do we bridge the gap? We were excited about writing for the character of Joe Colombo who we viewed as a new-age mobster.”

Godfather of Harlem season 3 will also feature Jason Alan Carvell playing Malcolm X, taking over the role from fan-favorite Nigél Thatch. Chris and Paul explained why the role of Malcolm X had to be recast.

“The season started about 4 to 5 months later than it was supposed to and Nigél had other projects that he had committed to, so we literally were not able to have him available to us,” Chris said. “We had to do what you never want to have to do, particularly when an actor’s performance has been so brilliant like Nigél’s, is find someone else. Through what I considered a minor miracle we found an actor. The audience is going to take a minute to adjust, but he’s got a lot of gravitas. He’s got a lot of warmth. I think he very capably plays Malcolm. I think the audience at the end of the season is going to say, wow, you guys are really lucky. You’ve gotten two great actors.”

Paul added, “It’s interesting when you think about it because he’s such an iconic person, and Denzel [Washington]’s already played him, it’s been out there. But in some ways to have two takes on our show that are uniquely different and almost incomparable. You really can’t say one’s better or worse because they’re such depthful choices that each one of these actors made. For Jason, his warmth, his ability to really make us feel what he’s experiencing on a familial level, on a personal level, it really works and it’s really vibrant. Nigél brought something else that was equally as powerful, so we’re really excited that we have this new take on it.”

Over the course of season 3, Chris revealed that Bumpy will realize that he “can’t go it alone and is going to have to form alliances and that will at the beginning of the season be with a Cuban gangster. If last year was the French connection and his attempt to get the heroin from Marseilles, this year is the Cuban connection and his partnership with a Spanish Harlem gang leader in his fight against the Italians, which is kind of mirroring the Black-Latin alliance that was going on in the Civil Rights Movement at the time. Those alliances will test his patience and test his life eventually.”

Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker as Bumpy Johnson. (MGM+)

Bumpy will also be dealing with more personal and internal issues, Chris teased. Chris said that Bumpy’s “own conscience will start to prick him about what he’s doing to his own community. In other words, he’s not going to be able to just hide behind the excuse of if somebody’s going to sell drugs it might as well be me because I put the money back into the community. That’s going to ring a little hollow. Bumpy’s going to be forced to confront his own conscience and the disapproval of those around him. It’s a personally important season and, obviously, all the gangster stuff will be there.”

Paul noted, “I think his other challenge is going to be with his wife where we’re going to see them come to a new reality and a new modern reality. I think it also speaks to the changing of times and the consciousness around women.” Mayme will begin working for Adam Clayton Powell and “have a few political aspirations of her own,” according to Chris. Godfather of Harlem airs Sundays on MGM+.





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