• Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths in 'When We Rise'. (SBS)Source: SBS
The talent explain their motivation for signing on to the mini series.
Shane Cubis

27 Feb 2017 - 2:05 PM  UPDATED 3 Mar 2017 - 11:09 AM

Hotly anticipated docudrama miniseries When We Rise tells the story of gay rights in America, covering the struggle from the mid-20th century and the Stonewall Riots to marriage equality.

Built with authentic inspiration from Cleve Jones’ book of the same name, it’s also a series that stars lots of huge names.

We’re talking (deep breath): Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Carrie Preston, Michael K. Williams, Ivory Aquino, Kevin McHale, Dylan Walsh, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Denis O’Hare, David Hyde Pierce, Rob Reiner, Balthazar Getty, Pauley Perrette, TR Knight, William Sadler, Richard Schiff, Phylicia Rashad and Mary McCormack.

So how did Dustin Lance Black get all these big names to sign on – including Mrs Huxtable herself?

Sadly Phylicia Rashad’s remained silent on her reasons for taking part, but some of the series’ other stars have been more loose-lipped. Take our very own Rachel Griffiths, for example, who plays Roma Guy’s wife, Diane.

She compared the series to watching Roots as a young girl. “I didn’t feel like I was getting a lecture,” she has said. “But I understood what it was like to be owned by another person, through watching and experiencing the authentic lives of other people. As actors, that’s all we can do, is inhabit characters with our full humanity.”

But we know what you’re asking. Who's Roma Guy? She's the women's rights activist who Mary-Louise Parker portrays in the series. And MLP brought home how the events depicted in When We Rise are relevant throughout America.

“This show is resonant to me on so many levels because not only did, you know, both my college roommates died from AIDS - people dropped dead left to right,” she told People, adding, “The fact that I have to explain to my children what homophobia is is a result of the work that these people did. And my children live in a different world, yes; but because of the work that Lance has done, there’s a whole other group of children that will have that luxury because of him and because of the way that he’s extended himself a little bit further during this time.”

Michael K Williams, still best known for playing gay killer-slash-force-of-nature Omar in The Wire, is more laconic in his reasons for taking part in When We Rise. He said “kids need to feel pride in our country” and pointed to the miniseries as being made up of the “stories of triumph and courage this country was built [on]”.

That feeling continued throughout the production of the series, as the anti-LGBTQI rhetoric of Donald Trump’s election campaign was combined with the Orlando nightclub shooting that killed 49.

In this febrile climate, Guy Pearce told the Sydney Morning Herald how world events underscored the importance of what they were doing.

"It’s something we felt while making the show, this feeling of how tenuous civil rights for minority groups still are, whether they’re gay rights or women’s rights or rights for people with disabilities. It’s this sort of two steps forward, one step backwards feeling of how precarious recognition still is. It was a really moving project to work on.”


When We Rise is streaming now on SBS On Demand, fast-tracked from the US as part of the 2017 Mardi Gras season. It will premiere on SBS Saturday March 11 at 8.30pm. 


Watch the first episode right here:



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Why 'When We Rise' is the show we need in the age of Trump
How a great TV show can bring people together...
The acclaimed mini-series ‘When We Rise' is coming to SBS On Demand
The drama will be fast-tracked from the US and available on SBS On Demand from March 1. It airs on SBS on March 11.