Forest Whitaker on becoming Bumpy Johnson for ‘Godfather of Harlem’


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Godfather of Harlem is inspired by the story of infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker), who in the early 1960s returned from ten years in prison to find the neighborhood he once ruled in shambles. With the streets controlled by the Italian mob, Bumpy must take on the Genovese crime family to regain control.

During the brutal battle, he forms an alliance with radical preacher Malcolm X (Thatch) – catching Malcolm’s political rise in the crosshairs of social upheaval and a mob war that threatens to tear the city apart. Godfather of Harlem is a collision of the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

theGrio caught up with the Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker to find out what it took to become the legendary Bumpy Johnson.

I was reading like some historical documents like his prison records and I started to meet with people here when I came to New York and met with Chisholm and Junebug like a couple of people who had worked with Bobby during that time and had interviews and meetings with guys and start to talk about it,” he said of his research for the role.

“So I did look at things historically listen to the music look at the political times and understand Adam Clayton and Malcolm X more and start to form itself.” 

The series also stars Ilfenesh Hadera, Vincent D’Onofrio and Giancarlo Esposito, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. 

“The cast is amazing. I mean just go for my film and I’ll finish is great and Internet. She’s going to be she’s an amazing actress. You know it’s her first thing but she’s going to really strike people down,” he continued. “And even Demi all of them. And then this amazing visit and I feel I mean he does it. Maisie job is a mobster you know and Nigel patches is amazing.”

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Produced by ABC Signature Studios, the 10-episode series is written by Narcos co-creator Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein. Godfather of Harlem will launch on EPIX and EPIX NOW on September 29.

Check out our full interview with Forest Whitaker, above.


The series is set in Harlem, NY in 1963 and is based on the true story of crime boss Bumpy Johnson and his war with the Genovese crime family. It stars Oscar winner, Forest Whitaker,