Seven Seconds Star Russell Hornsby Says “Black Men Are Being Left Out”

Actor Russell Hornsby has amassed a catalog of film and television credits that any actor would envy. Though his most popular role was that of Lyon in Fences, hes been in the business for over 20 years.  

From comedies and science fiction to dramas and stage plays, his craftsmanship has always rung sharp and true.

In the Netflix series Seven Seconds, Hornsby plays Isaiah Butler, a devout Christian father of a boy who is killed by the police. Initially, he is the unquestioned head of his home. But, after the death of his son, he quickly begins to lose inventory of himself and everything he believed to be real.

The Shadow League had an incredibly frank conversation with the actor regarding the inspiration for the role, the context of the series, working with Regina King, and more.

SEVEN SECONDS Trailer (2018) Netflix

Official Seven Seconds TV series Trailer 2018 | Subscribe | Clare-Hope Ashitey Show Trailer | Release: 23 Feb 2018 | More Tensions run high between African American citizens and Caucasian cops in Jersey City when a teenage African American boy is critically injured by a cop.

The Shadow League: So, how did you come about this role?

RH: I had been talking back and forth with the casting director and they were like No, we dont think Russell would be willing to, for lack of a better term, take a supporting role. I hadnt even read the script yet. It was just my manager was talking about it.  And, once I read it, I was like Yes, of course!  I would support a leading role. You have to understand that, I had done Fences that summer, but it was a role that I had already done. Thats not to say that it wasnt a challenge, it was just familiar. I did the movie, then I did the play, it was a wonderful opportunity, but it didnt present the same challenge from a work perspective that Seven Seconds would have and ultimately did.

This was the first time that had to audition for something that I really wanted in a long time. You know how it is, they want me to hurry up and I kept telling them to wait. They wanted me to come in and do a take. One minute it was Friday, the next it was Tuesday. If they find who they want, tell them to move on, is what I told my agent.  

First of all, I have a job that I have to go to everyday and I work 18 hours a day. This isnt just Look in this direction, say the line, or what have you. This was real character acting. I actually have to work. So, Im not going to rush and do a shitty job. If they want Russell Hornsby to come in and do the damn thing, theyre going to have to wait.

Then, when I found out that I was working with my friend Regina King, I was like Regina King? Two-time Emmy awarding winner? What! That was just how I got it. For us, for me, for Black men, theres always going to be a challenge. Theyre not going to give you anything. Thats my philosophy. So, then, I searched myself, I searched my world, and I tried to really ask myself who this character, how Is he close to me, who do I know in my life that resembles this man?

TSL: Where did you get the inspiration for your character, Isaiah?

RH: Fortunately, and unfortunately, I had a few examples. What I chose to do is examine the pain that we dont see. Black men are told to be strong, to stand up, but theyre never heard, and theyre never seen. Oftentimes, when youre see these press conferences or appearances on these shows, youre seeing the black mother. And the black mother is often the one speaking for the black son. Thats because seven out of ten times the boy was raised in a single parent family, but often its just that they dont really care about how it affects the father.

TSL: Do you believe they assume the father is unaffected?

RH: Right! I wanted to show that a man, a black man, a father who loves his son, is a family man, and was given a job as a protector, how does he feel? Because, if you think about it, he failed. How does that affect him? Not only that, hes helpless to do anything about it.

The black man is helpless in this. You have no advocates, you have no real supporters, were left alone on an island. Youre a black man, were going to take your boys, were going to kill them, and were going to render you helpless to do anything about it. You have no recourse!  This man is on an island. He cant go to his community, he cant go to law enforcement, he cant go anywhere. And his wife is now saying to him Nigga, you failed!

TSL: And what was it like bringing that dynamic to life?

RH: It was painful, but it was honest. In the family dynamic, Reginas character is saying My husband is first. Hes the leader of this family. I defer to my man, I defer to my husband! They set that up beautifully. Then, her son gets killed by the police. Now she, being aware of but not fully knowing the dynamic of this society, says Youre not doing your job. Im taking over!   

Now, they will tolerate a black woman with the histrionics and the yelling because she doesnt have the physical nature of a black man. So, they let her rant, they let her rave, they let her ask for justice, they let her stand on the podium and say this is unfair.  Black men inherently know by nature I have to step back because if I impose my will in any way I will be KILLED.

So, what ends up happening is youd rather deal with something than fight it. Thats what I wanted to show.

Seven Seconds Sneak Peek Netflix

Don’t forget to give us a thumbs up and a comment to help us bring you more content in future. Don’t forget to subscribe to get all of the latest promos. Subscribe: What are you looking forward to the most this episode? Let us know in the comments below?

TSL: Talk about the role faith plays in your characters life

RH: The Isaiah character is blindly following now because thats all he has. Hes questioning it quietly like If not this, then what? What is keeping him alive now? Its God, its all he has.  If he stops believing in that, he doesnt have anything.

TSL: Is there a real world correlation here?

RH: This leads to the Movement, and everything, were being left out. Black men are being shut out, black men are being left out. Black women are saying Were putting our womanhood before our culture. Were still fighting this dynamic together, but theyre saying No, no, no, its all about the women. Theyre not saying This is about black women, theyre saying This is about women. Theyre starting the feminist movement all over again.

When people are talking about the All Boys Club theyre not making the distinction that its an All White Boys Club.  Weve never had that power.  We dont posses that kind of power even in our own households. So, howre we going to have it in the everyday world?

Dont exclude the Black man from this fight. Were being left out, and thats what I wanted to show with my character.

Theres a scene in episode 6 where I ask my brother, You ever come home from a hard days work and you ask yourself Who am I doing this for? and he all hes saying is hes tired, but he cant say that to his wife. His brother says Well, I fought for your freedom, and he looks him dead in the eye and says, What makes you think that Im free?   

He brought into it like everybody else did You say, if I go to work, if I go to school, if I go to church, and I get my family, Ill be fine if I just play by the rules. Then, suddenly, they change the rules. I cant express anything, I can accuse all I want, but there will be no recourse. You change the rules and I am no longer a free man in society. Thats what the show is saying, in my opinion, and thats what Im trying to bring out of my character. Veena and the writers, they injected that into the script.

Back to top