“The Good Lord Bird” tells the story of abolitionist John Brown‘s attempts to start a revolt among enslaved people in the 1850s. The story ultimately ends with the unsuccessful raid on armory Harpers Ferry on October 16-18, 1859, and (160-year-old spoiler alert) Brown’s execution for treason. Based on the novel of the same name by James McBride, the show interprets Brown — played by Ethan Hawke — from the perspective of an enslaved boy he sort-of frees. The boy’s name is Henry, but Brown calls him Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson).
John Brown’s ragtag but committed abolitionist army includes several of his sons. In the show, we meet John Jr. (Nick Eversman), Jason (Jack Alcott), Owen (Beau Knapp), Frederick (Duke Davis Roberts), and Salmon (Ellar Coltrane). All of them take part in the raid on Harpers Ferry, except Frederick. As the show depicts, he was murdered by pro-slavery supporter Martin White in 1856 in the lead-up to one of Brown’s battles against pro-slavers.
However, in reality, by October 1859, John Jr., Jason and Salmon had begun to resist their father’s use of violence in the name of his abolitionist cause. Of the sons in the show, only Owen actually took part in the raid on Harpers. Two more of Brown’s 20 children, Watson and Oliver, were injured and killed during the raid.
“The Good Lord Bird” wrote poor Watson and Oliver out of history, but Brown’s other sons occasionally get to steal attention from their charismatic father. It’s also the first time in the spotlight for many of the actors playing them. Here’s why the Brown brothers from “The Good Lord Bird” look so familiar.
This isn’t the first time any of the actors playing John Brown’s sons have appeared on screen — but for three of them, it’s their highest-profile part. Duke Davis Roberts plays Frederick (RIP) for one episode, and he’s no stranger to rough-and-tough dramas. You may recognize Roberts from two recent Westerns. Roberts played Mundo in Season 6 of FX’s “Justified,” the Hulu crime drama that “Yellowstone” fans need to watch. He also appeared in several episodes of period Western “The Son,” starring Pierce Brosnan.
Frederick’s older brother Jason is played by Jack Alcott. Fans of NBC’s FBI drama “The Blacklist” (which is one of the TV shows to watch if you like “NCIS”) may recognize Alcott from a brief appearance in the show. He played a younger version of Special Agent Donald Ressler (normally played by Diego Klattenhoff) in an episode of Season 7. Web series watchers might also be thinking that they’ve seen Alcott playing a character as a teenager: He appeared as a younger version of Zack (Rich Sommer) in web series “Champaign ILL” in 2018.
Nick Eversman portrays the oldest Brown brother, John Jr. Eversman has already worked on multiple well-known projects with a few big names. He played Mae Whitman’s character’s crush in the 2015 high school comedy “The DUFF,” and appeared in a couple of episodes of fairytale soap “Once Upon a Time.” Eversman also played a young hiker who meets Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed on the PCT in “Wild.” And John Jr. and the hiker aren’t the only real people he’s played. Eversman got to play the indomitable Mick Jagger in “Get On Up.” To add even more pressure, the real Mick Jagger produced the biopic of soul legend James Brown, which is also Chadwick Boseman’s most underrated movie.
Beau Knapp, who plays Owen, had a small but memorable part in “The Nice Guys,” the Russell Crowe- and Ryan Gosling-starring private eye buddy comedy set in the ’70s. Knapp plays a thug who earns the nickname Blueface after accidentally setting off a dye pack.
A few years earlier, Knapp also got to star in a memorable scene in J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8”: He plays the teenage gas station attendant who head-bops his way through the start of an alien attack but doesn’t survive much longer.
Knapp’s other credits include playing the friend of Jake Gyllenhaal’s troubled boxer in “Southpaw,” and playing a white cop who enlists his department to help him cover up hitting a young Black boy with his car in “Seven Seconds.”
Possibly the best known of the actors is Ellar Coltrane, who plays Salmon Brown. Coltrane has played Hawke’s son before, in “Boyhood.” The film was a 12-year project for director Richard Linklater and is one of those coming-of-age movies that should be required viewing. However, if you haven’t gotten around to that one yet, you might have seen him in “The Circle,” opposite Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, or in the Barack Obama biopic “Barry,” playing the future president’s roommate at Columbia.