PBS announced today that “Mercy Street” is adding new actors and directors to the series’ robust talent list for Season Two, which is currently in production in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
New cast members include: Tony Award-winner Patina Miller (“Pippin,” “Madam Secretary,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” – Parts 1 & 2) is Charlotte Jenkins, a black Northern abolitionist and former slave who escaped to freedom years before through the Underground Railroad (a composite of numerous historical figures, most prominently Harriet Jacobs); Tony Award-winner and Emmy Award-Nominee Brían F. O’Byrne (“Mildred Pierce,” “Aquarius”) is Allan Pinkerton, head of the Union Intelligence Service, based on the real Pinkerton; Tony Award-nominee Bryce Pinkham (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “The Heidi Chronicles”) is Maj. Clayton McBurney III, the new hospital chief.
Harriet Jacobs would escape from slavery and become a writer, joining the abolitionist movement. She wrote the autobiographical novel, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” which was published in 1861.
The series was renewed for a second season earlier this year. And in terms of other black actors who appear in key roles in the series, Shalita Grant, L. Scott Caldwell and McKinley Belcher III all are series regulars, and are expected to return.
Belcher plays Sam Diggs – a free black laborer in the employ of Dr. Summers. He harbors a secret knowledge of and ability in medicine, which he learned as a young servant in an enlightened northern doctor’s household. Sam is qualified to do much more than anyone would allow at this point. A black man with education and talent, he is caught between two worlds and two modes of thinking about the future. He is drawn to Aurelia. Despite her reserve and prickly facade, he gradually earns her trust. When she finally shares her secrets, he feels compelled to help her, no matter the cost.
Grant plays Aurelia Johnson – a young “contraband” (escaped slave) employed as a laundress at the hospital that’s at the center of the series. She has seen and endured things as a house slave on a southern plantation that she tries to bury deep within. Her life here is not much better than the one she fled. There is an undeniable romantic pull between her and Sam Diggs, although it is complicated by her involvement with the steward, Silas Bullen. Aurelia is single-mindedly focused on a goal that she believes can only be accomplished with the help of Silas and his many shady connections and illicit activities.
And L. Scott Caldwell plays Belinda Gibson – a house slave on the plantation of the Green family. The war has turned her world upside down and yet, despite he owner’s offer of freedom and the lure of new opportunities, she chooses to stay put out of loyalty, love and a practical realization that freedom may not be all it’s cracked up to be. At least here in the Green home she has respect, three square meals a day and a roof over her head. The main drawback, now that many of the servants have left, is that Belinda must fulfill a multiplicity of duties: lady’s maid, seamstress, cook, laundress and housekeeper. Sometimes, she wonders if she has made the right choice, and continues privately to ponder her options.
The first season, executive produced by Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Lisa Q. Wolfinger and David Zabel, drew a 3.85 rating (Nielsen Live + 7) for the January 17 premiere, reaching more than 5.7 million viewers.
Set on the Civil War home front of Virginia in the spring of 1862, “Mercy Street” follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict; Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a staunch New England abolitionist, and Emma Green (Hannah James), a naive young Confederate belle. Ruled under martial law, Alexandria was the central melting pot of the region, filled with civilians, female volunteers, doctors, wounded soldiers from both sides, free blacks, enslaved and contraband (escaped slaves living behind Union lines) African Americans, prostitutes, speculators and spies. Political persuasions open a window into a world where the unprecedented medical demands create a chaotic atmosphere and challenge doctors, nurses and patients in unimaginable ways, while the pressure of Union occupation threatens to tear apart the Confederate family.
Season two will pick up directly from the dramatic events at the end of the season one finale, continuing to explore the growing chaos within Alexandria, the complicated interpersonal dynamics of Dr. Foster, Nurse Mary and the Mansion House staff, the increasingly precarious position of the Green family and the changing predicament of the burgeoning black population. The season will introduce a number of new elements, taking us closer to the fight and into the halls of Confederate power, all set against the intensifying war, starting with the Seven Days’ Battle and culminating with Antietam.
“We are thrilled to add these talented actors and directors to the ‘Mercy Street’ production, both behind and in front of the camera,” said co-creator and executive producer Lisa Q. Wolfinger. “They each individually bring a new perspective to the series, and together, will take Season Two to new heights.”
“It has been a privilege for all of us on ‘Mercy Street’ to be able to tell these stories at the intersection of drama and history. This new season, with new faces, presents an exciting opportunity to build on all we’ve accomplished in Season One,” said co-creator and executive producer David Zabel. “Having worked with Stephen Cragg and Laura Innes for many years at ‘ER,’ and then on many projects since, I am eager to bring their considerable talents to this great ensemble.”
“We’re thrilled to welcome a new set of actors, directors and historical advisors to the ‘Mercy Street’ family for Season Two, as well as introduce viewers to compelling new characters with captivating story lines,” said executive producer David W. Zucker.
“Season One of ‘Mercy Street’ received such a positive response, and PBS is delighted to add these new members to our talented and diverse cast and crew for Season Two,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Officer and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS.
Amazon Prime Video is the exclusive premium subscription streaming home for “Mercy Street,” with each episode available to Prime members in the U.S. seven days after its broadcast on PBS stations.