Singer, actor and executive producer John Legend opens up about his acclaimed slave-era show Underground and why its message resonates today

By Janine Rubenstein
March 08, 2017 09:30 AM
Advertisement
Amanda Marsalis

Between his hit music career, new foray into acting, date night-filled marriage with Chrissy Teigen and quality time with their 11-month-old daughter Luna, John Legend is a very, very busy man. But one project he’s been sure to make time for is executive producing the acclaimed WGN America series Underground.

“We’re so proud of the success the first season was able to achieve,” Legend, 38, says of the action-packed series that dramatizes American slavery and the real life efforts of Harriet Tubman and fellow abolitionists who risked their lives to bring southern slaves to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad.

Says Legend in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, “There’s a lot of inherent suspense. They’re getting chased, escaping from danger, death and capture around every corner. What’s so riveting is that it is real life, in the sense that these kinds of things really did happen.”

For more on how John Legend balances fame, family and first time fatherhood, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Now as the second season premieres Wednesday, the singer says the show feels even more relevant than before. “I think this has been a pretty divisive time for politics,” says Legend, “a time when people’s freedom appears to be in question again, though not in the same way.”

He continues, “The idea of a country that’s free, and just, and promises equality to all no matter what they look like, and who they love, and where they come from, all of those ideas are in question right now.” As for Underground, “It’s helpful to look back at another era when freedom was in contention, when people stood up to fight for freedom against all odds and succeeded.”

FROM COINAGE: What Is the Grammy Bounce? (No, It’s Not A Dance Move)

The singer, who just enjoyed his first major role in La La Land – and performed its winning song at the Oscars – is stepping from behind the scenes this season with a cameo as storied abolitionist Frederick Douglass. “I was only on set for a day and shot one scene, but it was very cool to embody such an important historical figure for a brief moment in time,” says Legend. “I’m excited for people to see how real historical figures play into the action.”

While he won’t be seen onscreen until the April 5 episode, he’ll definitely be heard. “I wrote a song that we used for the show called ‘In America’ that’ll be on the first episode,” he says. In all, “it’s an exciting series.”

Underground premieres Wednesday, March 8 on WGN America at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

  • Reporting by SCOTT HUVER