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When Jurnee Smollett-Bell signed on to star in WGN America's thrilling new drama, Underground, about a group of runaway slaves who attempt to escape their Southern plantation in the 1800s, she didn't really think about the fact that running away requires a lot of actual running.

"For some reason it didn't occur to me that when you sign on to do a show about the Underground Railroad, it didn't occur that I was going to be running a lot," she confesses to E! News' Erin Lim.

So in addition to all the emotional heft it requires to play a young woman contemplating running more than 600 miles to find freedom, she also had to do a lot of physical work as well. "Rosalee is faced with the choice of do I run or do I not run?" Smollett-Bell explains. "Having never known a life outside of this world, does she have the courage to take her life into her own hands?"

Underground, Jurnee Smollett-Bell

WGN America

The series follows Rosalee and her fellow escapees as they hatch a plan and put it into action.

It was a family affair for the actress, whose actor brother, Empire star Jussie Smollett, guest stars in several episodes. The siblings haven't acted together since their family sitcom 20 years ago, so it was a great experience for them to work together again.

"It was so much fun! He does two episodes on the show as a guest star and kills it," Smollett-Bell says. "He really loses himself in this character as a runaway slave. I'm excited for people to see because it's so different from Jamal on Empire!"

So will we see her try something new as a guest star on her brother's Fox drama? We'll have to see.

"I don't know if it works that way," she says with a laugh. Press play on the video above to watch the rest of the interview.

Underground premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on WGN America.