LeVar Burton

Actor


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

Long before becoming a part of the Star Trek universe himself, LeVar Burton watched the original series, impressed to see an African-American character in Nichelle Nichols's "Uhura": "I was a huge Star Trek fan when I was a kid. I loved science fiction literature and it was rare for me to see heroes in the pages of those novels who looked like me. Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future said to me, you— you little black kid from Sacramento, California, reading science fiction books — when the future comes, there's a place for you." LeVar Burton became an instant star with his television debut, playing "Kunta Kinte" in Roots, but he is just as well known in children's television as the Daytime Emmy-winning host of Reading Rainbow. So, too, is he well known in the sci-fi world, as the visor-wearing "Lt. Geordi La Forge" in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In his two-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Burton describes his drama studies at the University of Southern California (USC), and chronicles his participation in the groundbreaking miniseries Roots -- his casting, his immersion into the role he played, and his work with the all-star cast. He comments on the legacy of Roots and speaks fondly of writer Alex Haley. He recalls getting cast on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and meeting and getting to know show creator Gene Roddenberry. Burton describes the character he played on the show (and the challenges in playing him), and comments on his role as one of the series' directors. He details the concept of and book selection on Reading Rainbow, and talks about his work as a voice-over artist and director in television and features. Steven Wishnoff conducted the interview on January 27, 2009 in North Hollywood, CA.

"'Kunta' is a universal icon of freedom. How much of an honor to have been the person to create that role.… in terms of [his] meaning to people all over the world."

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
LeVar Burton on his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace"
LeVar Burton on how Roots was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history
LeVar Burton on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
LeVar Burton on the "prime directive" in Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on the connections between Roots and Star Trek
LeVar Burton on advice to aspiring actors
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early childhood in Germany; on his love of books and travel; on wanting to be Sidney Poitier when he grew up; on joining the seminary at age 13 and deciding not to become a priest; on majoring in drama at USC
On meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots; on getting cast in Roots while a sophomore at USC; on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots; on understanding and relating to his Roots character, Kunta Kinte
On Kunta Kinte and his first day of work on Roots; on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view; on his Roots character, Kunta Kinte; on the idea for Roots: The Next Generation and his fallout with David Wolper; on being mentored by Alex Haley and working with Stan Marguiles; on Fred Rogers and the power of television and good storytelling
On John Amos playing the older Kunta Kinte; on being nominated for an Emmy; on reprising the role of Kunta Kinte in Roots: The Gift

Chapter 2

On hosting the 25th Anniversary Special on Roots on NBC (not ABC on which the miniseries aired) and the impact of the miniseries
On stories viewers of Roots have shared with him; on how Roots was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history; on how his daughter could and couldn't separate him from his characters on television; on his thoughts on Roots co-stars; on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
On getting cast on Star Trek: The Next Generation; on meeting and working with Gene Roddenberry; on the "prime directive"; on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"; on his visor
On the challenges of special effects on the show; on being reunited with Ben Vereen on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation; on the connections between Roots and Star Trek; on his experiences with Trekkies and getting recognized as "Geordi"
On directing the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Second Chances"; on his favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation; on the series finale; on the relationship between "Geordi" and "Data"; on his co-stars

Chapter 3

On how he became involved with PBS' Reading Rainbow; on selecting books for Reading Rainbow; on hosting the show for 25 years and keeping it fresh; on his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace"; on why he loved Reading Rainbow and the evolution of the material
On one of his favorite scenes in Roots; on Reading Rainbow winning awards and the show's impact; on doing voiceover work; on being the narrator for Captain Planet and the Planeteers; on directing the more recent series of Star Trek
On directing The Tiger Woods Story; On television movies made about living people; on what draws him to biopics; on his wish to do a biopic of Sidney Poitier; on the children's film Blizzard
On then-current projects; on exploring his own family history; on advice to future generations; on how fame has affected him; on what he hopes the future has in store for him
Shows

Captain Planet and the Planeteers

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LeVar Burton on being the narrator for Captain Planet and the Planeteers

Emergency!

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LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency

Reading Rainbow

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LeVar Burton on how he became involved with the children's show Reading Rainbow on PBS; on the show's format and purpose
LeVar Burton on selecting books for Reading Rainbow, his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace",
LeVar Burton on bringing together Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow
LeVar Burton on why he loved Reading Rainbow and on the evolution of the material
LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow winning awards and the show's impact

Roots

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LeVar Burton on meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots
LeVar Burton on going from acting in a production of "Oklahoma" at USC to starring in Roots
LeVar Burton on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view; on scheduling the miniseries
LeVar Burton on his Roots character, Kunta Kinte; on working with David Wolper, Alex Haley, Stan Marguiles; on John Amos playing the older Kunta Kinte; on being nominated for an Emmy
LeVar Burton on how Roots  was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history
LeVar Burton on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
LeVar Burton on the impact of Roots and what Kunta Kinte has meant to him
LeVar Burton on one of his favorite scenes in Roots

Roots: The Gift

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LeVar Burton on reprising the role of Kunta Kinte in Roots: The Gift

Roots: The Next Generations

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LeVar Burton on the idea for Roots: The Next Generation and his fallout with David Wolper

Star Trek

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LeVar Burton on being a fan of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek: The Next Generation

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LeVar Burton on getting cast on Star Trek: The Next Generation, meeting Gene Roddenberry, and the prime directive
LeVar Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"; on special effects, Trekkies, and beginning to direct episodes
LeVar Burton on his favorite episodes and series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on bringing together Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow
LeVar Burton on directing the more recent series of Star Trek

Tiger Woods Story, The

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LeVar Burton on directing The Tiger Woods Story
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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LeVar Burton on understanding and relating to his Roots character, Kunta Kinte
LeVar Burton on his Roots character, Kunta Kinte
Le Var Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"

Fame and Celebrity

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LeVar Burton on how fame has affected him

Memorable Moments on Television

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LeVar Burton on one of his favorite scenes in Roots

Minorities

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LeVar Burton on it being a big deal to see black people on television when he was growing up
LeVar Burton on being inspired by Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek
LeVar Burton on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view
LeVar Burton on the impact of Roots

We Considered

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LeVar Burton on how Roots was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history
Professions

Actor

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LeVar Burton on wanting to be Sidney Poitier when he grew up

Directors

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LeVar Burton on directing the more recent series of Star Trek
Genres

Children's Programming

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LeVar Burton on how he became involved with the children's show Reading Rainbow on PBS

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

View Genre
LeVar Burton on the impact Nichelle Nichols had on the world by being on Star Trek and the inclusive nature of the show
Le Var Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"
LeVar Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"; on special effects, Trekkies, and beginning to direct episodes
LeVar Burton on his favorite episodes and series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

View Genre
LeVar Burton on Roots
LeVar Burton on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
People

John Amos

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LeVar Burton on John Amos taking over the character of Kunta Kinte in Roots
LeVar Burton on being nominated for an Emmy with his Roots co-stars also in his category

Edward Asner

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LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars

Rick Berman

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LeVar Burton on being reunited with Ben Vereen on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on beginning to direct episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on bringing together Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow

Michael Dorn

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LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

John Erman

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LeVar Burton on working with director John Erman

Jonathan Frakes

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LeVar Burton on beginning to direct episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on directing Jonathan Frakes in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Whoopi Goldberg

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LeVar Burton on the impact Nichelle Nichols had on the world by being on Star Trek
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace"

Louis Gossett, Jr.

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LeVar Burton on his first day of work on Roots
LeVar Burton on being nominated for an Emmy with his Roots co-stars also in his category
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars

David Greene

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots

Lorne Greene

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LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars

Alex Haley

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LeVar Burton on meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots
LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
LeVar Burton on Alex Haley helping him with his character on Roots
LeVar Burton on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view
LeVar Burton on working with and being mentored by Alex Haley

Robert Justman

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LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency, produced by Bob Justman

Ron LeFlore

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LeVar Burton on television movies made about living people

Richard Levinson

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LeVar Burton on being offered a production deal by Levinson and Link after Roots

William Link

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LeVar Burton on being offered a production deal by Levinson and Link after Roots

Stan Margulies

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
LeVar Burton on scheduling the miniseries Roots
LeVar Burton on working with Stan Marguiles

Gates McFadden

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LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Nichelle Nichols

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LeVar Burton on being inspired by Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek
LeVar Burton on the impact Nichelle Nichols had on the world by being on Star Trek
LeVar Burton on beginning to direct episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Sidney Poitier

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LeVar Burton on wanting to be Sidney Poitier when he grew up
LeVar Burton on his wish to do a biopic of Sidney Poitier

Sarah Purcell

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LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency

Gene Roddenberry

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LeVar Burton on being mentored by Gene Roddenberry
LeVar Burton on being a fan of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry
LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency, produced by Bob Justman
LeVar Burton on meeting and working with Gene Roddenberry

Fred Rogers

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LeVar Burton on being mentored by Fred Rogers
LeVar Burton on Fred Rogers and the power of television
LeVar Burton on Fred Rogers' mission

Alex Segal

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LeVar Burton on learning from director Alex Segal at USC
LeVar Burton on learning the politics and reality of theater from director Alex Segal at USC

Fred Silverman

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots

Marina Sirtis

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LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Brent Spiner

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LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Patrick Stewart

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LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Brandon Stoddard

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots

Cicely Tyson

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LeVar Burton on his first day of work on Roots
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars

Leslie Uggams

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LeVar Burton on Leslie Uggams stories of people leaving casinos to watch Roots

Ben Vereen

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LeVar Burton on meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots
LeVar Burton on being nominated for an Emmy with his Roots co-stars also in his category
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars
LeVar Burton on being reunited with Ben Vereen on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Wil Wheaton

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LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation

David L. Wolper

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
LeVar Burton on working with David Wolper

All Interviews

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