Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Aaron Pierre, the stars of National Geographic’s Genius: MLK/X, a docuseries exploring the lives, accomplishments and differing philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, say they were apprehensive about taking on the roles of such historical giants.

They spoke to ABC Audio about how they put their emotions aside so they could best play and honor the civil rights leaders. 

“I was scared. I was terrified,” Pierre, who plays Malcolm X, said. “We identified the magnitude of embarking on that journey and the enormity of the responsibility, and what it meant, and that’s very unnerving.”

Pierre said he didn’t think he had the capacity, endurance or emotional intelligence to portray X “as authentically and truthfully” as he’d hoped. 

But, he “leaned into” the role, doing so with faith and using his fears to propel him.  

Harrison, who plays Dr. King in the series, said imposter syndrome fueled the fire of his fearfulness. When he was reassured by the show’s directors, Reggie and Gina Bythewood, that his emotions were “critical” to storytelling, he was moved to “answer the call.” 

“That’s exactly what Dr. King was experiencing. And exactly what Malcolm X was experiencing,” Harrison noted. 

“They said yes despite the fact that it was dangerous, despite the fact that it was scary, despite the fact that they had fear and anxiety,” he added. “And their courage is what has allowed Aaron and I to be here right now and to be able to be actors and be able to tell this story and live our dreams.”

Episodes of Genius: MLK/X air on Nat Geo, and stream on Disney+ and Hulu.

Disney is the parent company of National Geographic and ABC News.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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