EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Anderson and 'Black-ish' Find Their Strength in Tackling Issues Head On

Photo: Getty Images

“Now is the time to really hit them hard and talk about things we were dealing with in our community,” Anthony Anderson tells ET about season two of Black-ish, the multigenerational family comedy on ABC. The show, which used season one to establish its foothold, really came into its own as it dealt with issues -- the N-word, gun control, police brutality -- head on. “We always said we wanted to be timely and topical, not necessarily topical about what’s going on in the world but topical about what’s going on in the community. And that’s how 'Hope' came about.”

“Hope” is the show’s midseason episode about police brutality that sees Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anderson) and Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (a superb Tracee Ellis Ross) dealing with how to tell their kids about a case involving an African-American teenager.

MORE: 'Black-ish' Stars Tackle the 'N-Word' Debate in Provocative Premiere

On a different show or in a different decade (see: The Cosby Show), an episode like this would have felt like a “very special episode of Black-ish,” Anderson says. Instead, it comes from an authentic place. “Everything you see on Black-ish goes back to authenticity, the honesty in which we tell these stories.”

For this episode in particular, Anderson brought his own real-life experiences with police brutality to Dre -- the first of which took place when he was 17, living in Compton, California. Just a block away from his house, Anderson got caught up with the police, whom he says were “looking for drug dealers and gangbangers.” Later, while a studying theater at Howard University, he says he beaten by police officers while protesting a Klan rally.

“Andre is Anthony. Andre is me. Andre is [creator] Kenya Barris. What you see is the stories of our lives,” he says. “That’s how Andre Johnson is able to live and resonate with an audience.”

MORE: Anthony Anderson Opens Up About Living Through the 'Black-ish' Police Brutality Episode

In fact, the scene in which a tearful Dre gives a speech to Bow about the fear that he, and many others, had of President Barack Obama being assassinated during his inauguration is one of Anderson’s favorites from the season. It was a moment that could have easily slid into that “very special episode” territory, but was deftly handled by the actor, who has spent part of his career flexing his dramatic muscles on Law & Order, The Shield and Treme.

“It was a sentiment that Anthony Anderson felt,” the actor says, who managed to land the scene in two takes, the second of which was used in the final episode. “It was so powerful and so moving to me. It had an effect on the work, on the character.”

“As an actor, you always want to be in the moment and live that moment,” Anderson says, “and that was exactly what I allowed myself to do with that particular episode. It wasn’t acting, it was me just being.” 

MORE: The Standout Comedic Performances of the Season