Recreating the traumatic experiences of five boys ripped away from their families and sentenced to years behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit wasn’t an easy feat for the rising actors of Netflix’s "When They See Us."
The actors of the four-part series about the Central Park Five, which hit Netflix in full on Friday, aren’t much older than the boys were themselves when they were sentenced to between 6 and 13 years in prison for the brutal 1989 rape and attack of jogger Trisha Meili.
Much of the series focuses on the alleged mistreatment of the boys at the hands of law enforcement. And the actors playing the young on-screen versions of Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Korey Wise, say that wasn’t even the most challenging part of filming.
For most, it was the emotional, hard to watch, trial scenes.
Below, the actors behind the Central Park Five share the emotional toll filming "When They See Us" had on them.
Ethan Herisse as young Yusef Salaam
"For me, the verdict was the most emotionally taxing experience. Trying to portray that emotion, that feeling that you’re being sent to prison for a crime you didn’t commit, being taken away from your family, your brothers, your sisters for you don’t know how long. The trauma that comes from that experience and trying to create that, it’s taxing. Afterward, you can’t just continue on with your day. It affects you to your core. That’s what happened to me."
Asante Blackk as young Kevin Richardson
"This wasn’t in the series, but in the verdict scene Kevin’s mom actually had a stroke in that courtroom when they were reading his guilty conviction. As he’s being dragged away to prison, his mom has a stroke and he doesn’t know the next time he’s going to see her. He could have thought she died right then and there. Having to be in that moment, it was so taxing. Usually, it’s easy for me to snap out of the emotion, but for that right there, it stayed with me after they called cut because I was angry for these guys. How could they do this to these five innocent boys with all of these judgments and assumptions put on them, how?"
Caleel Harris as young Antron McCray
"The hardest thing for me was again the verdict and also the scene I had in the bathroom with Michael K. Williams [Antron’s father]. He’s the best scene partner and I was really just feeding off his energy and channeling Antron’s emotions in that moment. That was the whole goal because in that particular moment, he’s looking at his role model. But, he’s not looking at him the same way he did a year ago. It’s just how much the circumstances have changed, how much his life has changed because of this case. It’s really sad and I feel like just having to portray that on screen was really, really emotionally challenging."
Marquis Rodriguez as young Raymond Santana, Jr.
"For me, the most rewarding scene was the holding cell when we [the Five] meet each other for the first time. I was glad it was in the series because what we’re watching is children, a bunch of kids, just try and parse and sort of go through all these big adult ideas and break down why they’re in this situation in a way none of the adults around them were able to do.
The adults should have been the ones figuring it out for them. But the kids did it themselves and decided they were not going to die anymore. I thought that was really beautiful and indicative of what their journey was going to turn into. Years and years of them sticking to their truth, whether or not you believe them."
Jharrel Jerome as both young and older Korey Wise
"For me, I had to play younger and older Korey. So, the most challenging part was not having another actor to bounce off and tell his story together. I felt a lot of pressure and responsibility."