The show may be called Lawmen: Bass Reeves, but Bass’s success as a lawman relies on his love of family, including his wife, Jennie.
Lauren E. Banks plays Jennie with so much heart. Through her performance, you feel Bass leaning on her love and strength, secure in the notion that he’s leaving those most important to him in very capable hands.
Their faith in each other gives them wings, allowing them to rise above their heartbreaking past as a couple, as parents, and as landowners in the early 20th Century.
We spoke with Banks about the challenges playing Jennie brings to her and why their marriage and family stand out against a crowd of other families on TV.
On Lawmen: Bass Reeves Season 1 Episode 4, the reality of their splintered physical connection hit Bass as he delivered a message from a dying outlaw to his wife. In our review, we discussed how this separation affects the family.
In our discussion, Banks chatted about how she views the relationship and the Reeves family dynamics, a timely exploration that sheds light on what might lie ahead for Jennie and Bass.
What challenges do you face with a role like Jennie Reeves?
I say it jokingly; I’m surrounded by so many beautiful little babies and kids on set. It was so hard to say goodbye to them because they became my children during the filming of the project. So that was one thing.
It was just challenging to attach myself because, as an actor, I have to attach to these children being my babies and endowing each of them with the very specific things that I understand about them, that I see about them, that I love about them, and then saying bye as if it was just a job and that’s all, goodbye.
So, thankfully, their parents still keep me updated with what they have going on, and that’s very nice of them.
But outside of that, as the actor it is approaching Jennie. There’s very little information that we know that’s recorded about Jennie Reeves. There’s a lot of information we know about Bass, and then a lot of information inferred or imagined about who this woman must have been.
Thankfully, I got to do a few good deep dives into some census data, and I found some almanacs from the time, just things to populate my understanding and the context in which Jennie Reeves lived as a woman.
She and I may have been similar in age, as well.
So, transporting myself back to that time, then putting on the responsibility of a wife and mother in that time, and then steeping myself in the lived reality of what she’s coming from and where she’s going, where she hopes to go with her future. It was quite the responsibility, to say the least.
When I spoke with David Oyelowo, I mentioned that I think that Bass Reeves is the hero that we need today, and he doesn’t do any of this in a vacuum. He does it all with Jennie by his side. What strikes you as the most important component of their marriage?
I think the most important component of their marriage is their unwavering faith. I think there is an unwavering spiritual connection between Jennie and Bass, and I believe that it comes from the real people because there is a scary proposition that comes with being separated from your loved one on a plantation.
There’s the reality you have to confront that you may never see them again. There has to be some kind of deep and vast faith that there is a possibility you can. If you continue to believe that you can walk a certain path, then you will.
There’s faith in that, and it is a choice to be faithful to that idea every day. There’s a choice to be faithful to what it is they were building together in a time in which they had to create all of the resources for themselves with their hands, with their hopes.
And that’s about it. Their hands and their hopes.
I think that is central to their love, central to their ability to stay connected to each other when they’re far apart from each other, and central to their choosing every day to carry forward and continue to bear children together and bring them into that world.
Promotional material for the series talks a lot about Bass carrying the weight of the badge on his shoulders, but by contrast, Jennie carries the weight of their family on hers.
How would you compare those two roles for them? How he’s out there working for the family, and she is the family?
You don’t get a family as big and robust or successful as theirs was without both of them. You don’t get that without a true partnership and a true appreciation for what the other provides and brings to the table, and understanding that it’s equitable.
It’s an equitable relationship. So I think that Bass is out, and he’s creating a considerable amount of resources and financial stability for a family that has land and is actively adding to the family every day with new children, it seems.
And then you have Jennie, who is taking care of that land and feeding those mouths and also staving off danger that sometimes comes knocking on the door. It’s the most ideal situation, I think, and it’s very inspiring actually for me.
It’s very inspiring overall, both their marriage and the way that they handle their family. We don’t see a lot of that on TV anymore where there’s a true partnership in the marriage and where it’s just a very healthy family.
The scene where Jennie and Sally are doing laundry and have a pretty deep conversation about Sally stepping up comes to mind because they also have fun while they’re doing it, which I think is such a rare experience.
It was fun to discover that too. And that’s a big nod to our writing team that there’s a way that we could approach this like everything is dry and hard and dark, but to survive, I think, as Bass and Jennie and Sally did in that time.
They had a considerable amount of wit, you know what I mean?
They had the jokes and fun, and the small things that become a game were real, and we all offered our imagination to what that experience was in the late 1800s of taking care of day-to-day tasks but having some kind of life underneath all of it so that you can get through it and enjoy the day and be out in the sun.
New episodes of Lawmen: Bass Reeves drop Sundays on Paramount+.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.