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'Manhunt' on Apple TV+: Lovie Simone on bringing out the 'humanity' and 'courage' of Mary Simms

"History is a lot more than one word," Simone said

Based on the Edgar Award-winning book by James L. Swanson, Manhunt on Apple TV+, starring Anthony Boyle and Tobias Menzies, is a thriller about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth (Boyle), after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, played by Hamish Linklater.

Apple TV+

Watch Manhunt on Apple TV+, 7 days free then $12.99/month

$13 at Apple TV+

But one of the more interesting elements of the series is the story about Mary Simms, played by Lovie Simone. In the show, we see Simms as a slave to Dr. Samuel Mudd (Matt Walsh), who treated Booth when he was on the run.

She was one of the first Black Americans to testify in a trial, shortly after it became legal in the U.S. for Black people to be witnesses in court. However, her story has mostly just been a footnote in our documentation of history.

"I liked the humanity of her character that was ... given to me as the character description, rather than like, 'Hey you are going to be playing a slave of this person and everything was going to be about this person,'" Simone told Yahoo Canada about playing Simms. "It was a lot more like, 'Hey, this is what her journey looks like and this is what she wants.'"

"So to just have all of that knowledge, ... for sure I can work with that, because that's what you want as an actor, just to be able to work with something, a whole world really."

Episode 2. Lovie Simone in
Episode 2. Lovie Simone in "Manhunt," premiering March 15, 2024 on Apple TV+

Becoming Mary Simms

For much the series, we see Simone acting alongside Matt Walsh, an actor you likely know more for his comedy work, but plays out someone particularly cruel in Manhunt.

"He was playing a character that he wasn't used to and I was playing a character that I wasn't used to, there was this air of like, 'OK let's try it out. Let's do it. Let's go for it. I'm not usually here, you're not usually there, let's see what it looks like,'" Simone said.

Apple TV+

Watch Manhunt on Apple TV+, 7 days free then $12.99/month

$13 at Apple TV+

In terms of Simone's preparation to play Simms, the actor described the process as "a lot of rationalizing what things would look like."

"Just me being a Black woman and knowing what oppression looks like today, and just being like, 'OK so if that looks like this on a train, today, what would this look like dragged out," Simone said. "Because everything was just way more intense and way more in your face back then, because not much has changed, but just the extremity of it."

"[Series creator Monica Beletsky] gave me all of the things that we ended up knowing about Mary, there wasn't a lot of information on her life, there weren't many records, so Monica did give me what she did have from the trial, we did talk about her family life. ... I do know that any one person can represent 100 people easily, so I do know that Mary Simms was probably living a very similar life to many other Black women at that time period. It was just like simmering it in a pot to be all of those things. So in case it wasn't exactly true, it was exactly true for maybe someone else in their story, .. because there weren't many stories written about Black women, or Black people period."

Lovie Simone and Antonio Bell in
Lovie Simone and Antonio Bell in "Manhunt," now streaming on Apple TV+.

'We're trying to erase that quality from Black people'

For anyone who watching Manhunt, Simone hopes one messages stays with them is that "history is a lot more than one word."

"You only think about the Lincoln assassination, not the assassinations of so many people around it, not the betrayals of so many people surrounding it," she said.

The series does culminate with Simms' decision to testify about Booth’s conspirators, a particularly impactful moment in the series.

"I do think oppression, no matter who it's on, it plays out in a very similar way to the oppressed," Simone said. "So a lot of the times, it was seeing what the effects of oppression look like on you, how it can hinder you or make you hesitate or second guess yourself, but then to see what it would look like if a little bit of strength, or a little bit of courage, was thrown in there."

"What was her motive and what was her reason, and it being so serious, it being her livelihood, and her every days, having that drive her is very, very human. I do feel like in a time where we're trying to erase that quality from Black people. ... It was very important to be human in that time and to react to things, and to have a say, and beliefs."

Manhunt premieres globally with the first two episodes airing on March 15, and episodes will debut weekly on Fridays through April 19 on Apple TV+.