The first ladies Ilfenesh Hadera and Antoinette Crowe-Legacy return as Mayme Johnson, wife to notorious gangster Bumpy Johnson (played by Forest Whitaker), and Elise, daughter to Bumpy Johnson in season three of “Godfather of Harlem.” Mayme is resilient, intelligent, a rider for her community. Ilfenesh Hadera is the skilled actress bringing these authentic characteristics to life. Elise is a woman with a master plan, played by master actor Antoinette Crowe-Legacy. 

“Godfather of Harlem” tells a story inspired by infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker). In the early 1960s Johnson returns from 11 years in prison to find the neighborhood he once ruled in shambles. Season three will find Bumpy Johnson continuing to battle for control of Harlem, with other aspirants to the throne. Namely, the Cuban Mafia from neighboring Spanish Harlem. Taking on the Cuban mob will put Bumpy, his loved ones, and his community in the crosshairs of not only the rival Italians, but ruthless Latin assassins and, ultimately, the CIA. “Godfather of Harlem” is a collision of the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. 

21Ninety caught up with Ilfenesh and Antoinette to talk about season three of “Godfather of Harlem.” In addition to Black history and events highlighted in the series, what viewers can expect this season and more!

Credit: Jeffery Neira/MGMPlus

Liz Smith: I want to start with you Ilfenesh! You play the role of Mayme Johnson who’s Bumpy’s wife and you all’s chemistry is amazing on screen. I’m sure working with Mr. Whitaker is kind of like a masterclass live and in action. What was that first conversation like with Forest Whitaker regarding season three?

Ilfenesh Hadera: Forest was actually shooting another film, he’s always working on something great. But I like to think when he comes back to Godfather it’s like coming home for him. He’s an executive producer on our show, he’s a leader on the show and he knows things I might not necessarily know about the future of my character. So honestly I think I was just picking at him to tell me where things go this season because we only get an episode at a time. We also had talks with our producers and writers on what we should expect to happen and the shape of things so we know where we’re going to be going in our emotions and with our scene partners. So I was probably an annoying co-star, like “tell me tell me something!”

That’s funny but I get it! Returning to “Godfather of Harlem,” what would you say you all enjoyed most about playing Mayme Johnson & Elise?

IH: In my own personal life I fight for things, I work hard for things and Mayme, like any Black women in 1965 was like fighting for her life metaphorically and actually. She was fighting to be seen. A Black woman in this position, in her community STILL fighting to be seen. So I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to lean into someone who is struggling but does it with such passion and composure. It’s a lesson in how to be, I can learn a lot from a woman like Mayme.

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy: I love the journey that Elise has had. I think I’ve gotten to live in many different iterations of her body which I think has been really fun. She started as a heroin addict, she moved to the NLY, she’s come out, she’s just trying to be a mom and a good assistant while being good at all her jobs. So I think just getting to live in all of those different places has been a really fun experience.

Staying on the topic of lessons, did you all learn anything new about African American history from working on “Godfather of Harlem?

ACL: Absolutely! I think every season I start to do homework and I start to dig deeper. The writers will come in having done a round of homework so big and I’ll ask them for this packet that they make of research and you learn so much about Harlem. The amount of things that happened in and around Harlem, especially in the ’60s is beautiful. The Black culture, the Black history, that started, that is rooted, that has passed through, and developed all in Harlem is amazing. So every season I manage to learn more and more than what I thought I knew.

IH: Basically all the Malcom X stuff! There’s so much mystery still surrounding everything. I grew up there, native New Yorker, from Harlem but I even walk down the streets that I grew up on with a renewed sense of pride for community because of the rich history. You know, sometimes you forget and it’s like “yeah that’s just the bodega on the corner” and you’re not thinking about all the other incredible, greats that have walked down this street!

Credit: David Giesbrecht/MGMPlus

LS: Speaking of history, we see “Godfather of Harlem” shed light on moments within American history and highlight issues within the Black and brown communities, such as police brutality. Which unfortunately we’re still dealing with today. With that being said, what would you say to those people who think “Godfather of Harlem” is just another gangster show?

IH: I would first ask them if they watch the show?! Each of the popular gangster epics that have come out in the last 20 years all have great and powerful things about them but I don’t know if there’s necessarily a message. I think our show serves as a reminder and there’s messages throughout if you’re open to them. It’s not just merely entertainment and I also think it serves to renew this interest in Black culture and American history that the powers to be in someplace of this country would like to silence a bit. You can take books out of schools but you can’t take Godfather off of MGM+.

ACL: I would also say, it’s a great gangster drama if that’s what you’re looking for please tune in because it’s a good one and you will have fun, first and foremost! However, the beauty of this show is really the characters, the constantly evolving world of the characters in this show. If you sit down and think about what they’re dealing with, the politics, the history you really get a nuance view of Black people, Blackness and even as we move into this season the Cuban and Spanish Harlem view.

LS: What are you most excited for fans of the show to see this season?

IH: Knee jerk response is to say to see the ladies of this season Stella, Elise and Mayme shine but they’ve all shown their lights and you know who they are. So I think to see the seeds planted in the other two seasons come together and come into fruition. It’s beautiful for the audience and for the people who root for the women on the show.

ACL: I’m constantly shocked by the show and you think the writers have reached a peak and you read a new episode and you’re like oh my goodness what just happened! There’s something so exciting about well written television. I just really enjoy reading and watching what happens next!

Stream the new season of “Godfather of Harlem” on MGM+.