Manhunt's Lovie Simone On 'Adding Humanity' To Lesser-Known Black Historical Figure, And Portraying Oppression In John Wilkes Booth Miniseries

While Manhunt, one of the newest book-to-screen adaptations to hit the 2024 TV schedule, revolves around the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after he assassinates President Abraham Lincoln, he’s far from the only character with whom viewers will spend significant time. Among the other people who have the spotlight shined on them throughout the miniseries releasing to Apple TV+ subscribers later this week is Lovie Simon’s Mary Simms, a slave to Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth’s fractured leg shortly after the shooting. As Simms is one of the lesser-known individuals who played a role in this saga, Simone opened up to CinemaBlend about “adding humanity” to this Black historical figure as well as how she went about portraying oppression in the miniseries.

I began my recent interview with Simone about her work on Manhunt, which is based on the book Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson, by asking the actress about what the process was preparing to play Mary Simms given how there isn’t nearly as much information available out her compared to people like Booth, Lincoln, Edwin Stanton, the list goes on. Here’s what she had to say:

So a lot of Mary Simms prep work was getting that limited information and just really digesting it over and over and over and over and over and over again. Because there wasn’t too much to know about her, so it was also just trying to understand that limited information, but also adding humanity to her, because I also do know that was a period where humanity didn’t really suit Black people or they didn’t want it to suit Black people. So just adding more feelings to her and all of this stuff that we knew that she possibly went through.

Manhunt chiefly takes place in April 1865, when the American Civil War was finally on the verge of ending, and a little over two years after Abraham Lincoln issues the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation, which decreed that more than 3.5 million African Americans in the Confederate States would have their legal status changed to free. Sadly, there were still many of Black people who remained enslaved during those territories in the years to follow, including Mary Simms and her brothers. It was through her forced servitude to Samuel Mudd that she crossed paths with John Wilkes Booth.

Speaking of Mary’s relationship with Mudd, I next pointed out to Lovie Simone how one of the notable things about her performance as Mary Simms was the fear she often had to deal with, particularly threw her interactions with the cruel doctor. When I inquired with Simone about how she got into the right kind of mindset for this aspect of her performance, she responded:

Well with any form of oppression, it’s going to have effects on the oppressed, so just knowing how oppression looks and takes space in modern times, and just transferring that into a way more intense time with the version of that. So just really allowing myself to feel that, and it just affects the body and performance from there.

While Manhunt is arguably Lovie Simone’s biggest TV project to date, she’s certainly no stranger to the small screen. From 2016 to 2020, she starred in the OWN series Greenleaf, and and in 2021, she played one of the lead roles in the Starz series Power Book III: Raising Kanan. But as the actress pointed out, playing Mary Simms marked a significant departure from the characters she usually plays. As she explained:

All of those characters I do feel were a lot more aggressive and assertive in what they wanted, even if they did have problems at home and stuff like that. They were going to do what they wanted to do. They were going to run away if they wanted to run away, and I feel like Mary didn’t have that option. So a lot of the times, yeah, it was just me trying to make everything a lot more stiller for Mary and a lot more processing for Mary rather than action-based movement.

Clearly Lovie Simone poured a lot of thought into effectively portraying Mary Simms, whom many people will be learning about for the first time thanks to this miniseries, so it’ll be interesting to see how her personal arc plays out amidst the main thrust of Booth and Stanton’s stories. Simone is joined in the Manhunt cast by Anthony Boyle as John Wilkes Booth, Tobias Menzies as Edwin Stanton, Hamish Linklater as Abraham Lincoln and Matt Walsh as Samuel Mudd, among many others. Monica Beletsky served as showrunner, and Carl Franklin directed the first two episodes. 

Manhunt’s first two episodes premiere Friday, March 15 on Apple TV+. You can keep yourself occupied until then by looking over the best Apple TV+ shows available to watch now.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore, Adam is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He started working for the site back in late 2014 writing exclusively comic book movie and TV-related articles, and along with branching out into other genres, he also made the jump to editing. Along with his writing and editing duties, as well as interviewing creative talent from time to time, he also oversees the assignment of movie-related features. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism, and he’s been sourced numerous times on Wikipedia. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.