In When They See Us, Ava DuVernay's visceral limited series centered on the Central Park Five, Joshua Jackson steps into the role of defense attorney Mickey Joseph, who represented one of the five teens of color who were wrongfully convicted of the rape and attempted murder of a white woman in 1989. He plays a small but key role in the Netflix series, which serves up a stunning dramatization of the disturbing case across four harrowing episodes. It's difficult but essential viewing, especially for Jackson, who revealed that he needed time alone to gather his thoughts after watching the whole series in one sitting.
"I had a pounding headache when I walked out and went home," Jackson told TV Guide. "[I] just had a couple people over at the place and was like, 'Just can't talk for a little while. Just gonna go be outside by myself. Just need a moment to compose and I'll be able to rejoin society.'"
It's no easy watch, but Blair Underwood, who plays defense attorney Robert Burns, says viewers should stick through to the end in order to get the whole picture of what happened.
"It's gonna be difficult. It's unnerving. It's important to watch to the end because it's important to see how the story ends if you don't know," Underwood explained. "It's part of the history that [the Central Park Five] do get exonerated, so it's important to know that there is hope in that. But what they had to go through, these five young men, to get there, it's worth the journey to understand all the dynamics that went into it and the individuals."
Beyond a greater understanding of what teens Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson experienced and how those wrongful convictions impacted their lives, Jackson said he hoped the timely series inspires viewers to become proactive about combatting inequality so that cases like this one are no longer repeated.
"I hope, more than anything, when you get to the end of that journey of watching the show that all of the emotions you're having motivate you to reach out and be a part of the solution to this," Jackson said. "Part of the reason the story is so important to be done right now is we haven't moved very far. It doesn't feel like this is something that happened in the past. I mean, this is not something where you go like, 'Oh man, that was so messed up but thank god we're not there anymore.' I mean, we're there. We're here. And so, I think that this story and this moment has a real resonance and is important for people to spend the time with."
When They See Us makes its Netflix debut on Friday, May 31.