History is unveiling its latest epic miniseries, Sons of Liberty, which offers a dramatic look at the men who shaped a fledgling America. Featuring an impressive cast including Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia) as Sam Adams, Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) as Benjamin Franklin, and Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova) as George Washington, the three-night event promises to be another entertaining, yet also compelling docudrama.
Last week, we caught up with Sons executive producer Stephen David – the same man who was behind History’s Emmy Award-nominated The World Wars last year – to get the inside scoop on what makes his latest project tick.
“I think it’s going to be exciting to watch it on TV,” he told us while in the final days of finishing the miniseries. “I think it’s a fun show, and even though I’ve been making it this whole time, I can basically pull up any scene and watch it. So I know that I’m still entertained by it.
“This is still surprising history of this country,” he continued. “I didn’t even know this history a couple of years ago. Before I did this project, it’s not like I didn’t know the names Sam Adams and Paul Revere, but I had no idea that they knew each other. [And] just recently, they found a time capsule in Boston that was buried by Sam Adams and Paul Revere.”
Sons of Liberty focuses on the historical group of the same name, who did not start out intending to be the legendary figures we know them as today but in banding together, led the way toward the American Revolution. They are some of the biggest names in American history and we’re seeing them at one of the most crucial times – which is why Stephen doesn’t want audiences to expect an all-encompassing picture.
“I’m covering an eleven year period in, with commercials it’s really four and a half hours,” he explained. “We tried to get the story across of what happened with the essence of what happened but because it’s a documentary, we can kind of run through stuff faster than we need to.
“For instance, the Boston Tea Party, when we did the research, the research behind that is so complicated as to why that happened, but the essence was basically trying to show the British that the colonists were not going to be forced into exactly what they wanted them to do.”
At the same time, the dramatic part means Sons is much less dry than your average documentary. “It was an action-filled time, so the show actually moves pretty quickly, because we’re focusing on the action of it,” he said. “I think if you want to see a giant battle, than you probably want to stay through Bunker Hill. That’s a pretty cool battle.”
Yet when you’re featuring not only real-life people, but people that most Americans have likely heard of, how difficult is it to put together a miniseries? Stephen gave us some insight into the casting process as well. “When we were casting this, Washington and Franklin, we know what those two people look like. It was important that they looked right,” he said, referring to the roles played by O’Mara and Norris.
“The other people, I didn’t really know what they looked like. I really was casting more toward the essence of who I found these people to be in research,” he continued. “Rafe Spall, who plays John Hancock, actually looks like Hancock. But it’s really about the essence.”
That sentence is a perfect way to sum up Sons of Liberty, which uses dramatic storytelling to present key events in our history. It doesn’t claim to be entirely factual and it isn’t going to be – but it’s a rousing, inspiring piece of entertainment that strives to be as faithful as possible and hopefully will inspire viewers to learn more about the real Sons of Liberty.
“When we do the docudramas, what we’re trying to do is make it more accessible by basically doing what you do in scripted [television], which is get you engaged in the character,” explained Stephen, whose next projects include American Genius for NatGeo and The Making of the Mob for AMC.
“[With a] normal documentary, you might just get fact after fact and it starts to wash over you. We try to only use facts that have to do with the character, the character’s journey and the stakes, so that when you hear the fact, you have an emotional reaction to it.”
History’s Sons of Liberty is a three-night event that begins tonight at 9 PM ET/PT. For more information, including information on the real-life events that the program is based on, visit History’s official miniseries site.