Today, the miniseries seems to live more in the territory of premium channels and streaming services rather than that of network TV. But on Feb. 27, ABC will premiere When We Rise, an seven-part docudrama chronicling the long and passionate fight for LGBT rights in the United States. (A fight, it's well worth noting, that is still not over.) Across eight hours, When We Rise will follow LGBT activists beginning with the revolutionary inciting incident of the Stonewall riots of 1969 and stretch into the present. The miniseries trades on a deep bench of talent portraying key figures in this important history, some shown in different periods of their lives. It's a huge ensemble, so this When We Rise cast roundup will introduce you to the major characters in this highly anticipated television event.
It's not impossible to list every actor who appears in this epic program, but it would certainly take a while. Beyond the main characters is a lineup of notable celebrities and up-and-comers playing smaller roles. Phylicia Rashad, Sam Jaeger, T.R. Knight, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, and David Hyde Pierce all appear in at least one episode of When We Rise. They, along with the central cast listed below, are putting the spotlight on an at worst maligned and at best overlooked civil rights movement.
Guy Pearce As Cleve Jones
You know him best from Memento, LA Confidential, and perhaps Iron Man 3. In When We Rise, Guy Pearce plays activist Jones, who wrote a memoir on which the miniseries is loosely based. When We Rise screenwriter Dustin Lance Black told the audience at ABC's Television Critics Association presentation how singular Jones' contribution to the movement has been. "The average lifespan of an activist is six years," Black said, according to TV Insider. "Cleve Jones has been at it for 45."
Rachel Griffiths As Diane
Seen most recently in the Andrew Garfield war movie Hacksaw Ridge, Griffiths has had extraordinary success playing very complicated women on television, including Sarah Walker on Brothers & Sisters and Brenda Chenowith on Six Feet Under. In When We Rise, she plays a nurse and social activist married to Mary-Louise Parker's character.
Michael Kenneth Williams As Ken Jones
Williams has the distinction of bringing to life Barack Obama's favorite television character of all time: Omar on The Wire. His other works includes roles in movies like Ghostbusters, 12 Years A Slave, and Inherent Vice, and he returned to TV to play Freddy Knight in The Night Of, another criminal with a strict moral code. He plays community organizer Ken Jones in When We Rise.
Mary-Louise Parker As Roma Guy
Parker won one Golden Globe for playing full-time mom and part-time drug dealer Nancy Botwin on Showtime's Weeds and another for embodying one of the greatest female roles in modern theater in the miniseries adaptation of the play Angels In America. Her When We Rise character Roma Guy has dedicated her life to advocating for women's health and rights, in addition to many related causes.
Carrie Preston As Sally Gearhart
True Blood, Person Of Interest, The Good Wife, Happy-Ish — Emmy winner Carrie Preston comes to When We Rise as one of television's most reliable actors. Her character is modeled after a noted novelist, radical feminist, and activist.
Ivory Aquino As Cecilia Chung
Playing transgender rights activist Cecelia Chung may prove to be a breakout role for the actress, whose last acting credit was a 2010 short called Couch.
Jonathan Majors As Young Ken Jones
The actor playing the younger version of Jones is another relative newbie, but Majors' upcoming projects include a role in Hostiles, a western co-starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Ben Foster.
Austin P. McKenzie As Young Cleve Jones
So far, much of McKenzie's success has occurred onstage, most notably as the lead in the Deaf West theater company's Broadway revival of the musical Spring Awakening, a production that brought hearing and non-hearing actors together.
Emily Skeggs As Young Roma Guy
Skeggs is another New York theater addition to the cast. She played "Medium Allison" in the acclaimed musical Fun Home, adapted from Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic novel about coming out at the same time as her father.
Kevin McHale As Bobbi Campbell
Through all six seasons of Glee, McHale played Artie, one of the original members of New Directions. The person he portrays in When We Rise was one of the first individuals to be diagnosed with AIDS. "I think my first takeaway was that he never lived in shame," McHale told Out. "Even though nobody understood what was going on, he accepted it and lived out loud with it."
It takes a village to propel a movement, and When We Rise proves that it takes another village to pay tribute to that movement.