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

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“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
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.” 

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