Two days into National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha series, you’ve likely caught on that C.L. Franklin wasn’t the only questionable male figure in the Queen of Soul’s life. Ex-husband Ted White, played by Malcolm Barrett, had his own set of demons as well. And while the show explores those shortcomings, it was of particular importance to Barrett that the portrayal of White stay true to Aretha Franklin’s recollection of their relationship.
“I definitely did not talk to Ted White in any way shape or form,” Barrett tells ESSENCE. “I know folks that grew up with his kids. I’ve heard one or two things, but it wasn’t my inclination to speak necessarily to him. I feel like it’s kind of a separate thing and, honestly, it kinda just starts with the page and listening to these things.”
Aretha and White married in 1961 when she was 19 years old and divorced just nine years later after a tumultuous relationship that included domestic violence. Their son, Teddy White Jr., was born in 1964.
“Knowing what little I did know about him and seeing the material that is there about him, you’re kind of creating a snapshot into somebody’s life, you know what I mean?” Barrett adds of his decision. “There’s a public persona, there’s a personal persona, and you kind of have to create what makes the most sense to you creatively and also as responsible as you feel because I do feel responsible to tell a story that isn’t wholly one-side while still recognizing that this is, at the end of the day, from the perspective of Aretha Franklin.”
Check out our full interview with Barrett and David Cross, who plays Jerry Wexler in the Genius: Aretha series, in the video above.