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."

Highlights
LeVar Burton on his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace"
02:11
LeVar Burton on how Roots was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history
01:13
LeVar Burton on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
01:33
LeVar Burton on the "prime directive" in Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:47
LeVar Burton on the connections between Roots and Star Trek
01:06
LeVar Burton on advice to aspiring actors
01:36
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
13:38
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
13:47
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
25:44
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
06:03

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
07:11
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
08:38
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
18:40
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"
08:14
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
17:51

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
17:23
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
06:48
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
07:30
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
09:04
Shows

Captain Planet and the Planeteers

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LeVar Burton on being the narrator for Captain Planet and the Planeteers
01:10

Emergency!

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LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency
04:50

Reading Rainbow

View Show Page
LeVar Burton on how he became involved with the children's show Reading Rainbow on PBS; on the show's format and purpose
04:24
LeVar Burton on selecting books for Reading Rainbow, his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace",
06:40
LeVar Burton on bringing together Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow
01:51
LeVar Burton on why he loved Reading Rainbow and on the evolution of the material
04:28
LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow winning awards and the show's impact
01:40

Roots

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LeVar Burton on meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots
02:31
LeVar Burton on going from acting in a production of "Oklahoma" at USC to starring in Roots
06:45
LeVar Burton on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view; on scheduling the miniseries
06:03
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
25:39
LeVar Burton on how Roots  was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history
01:12
LeVar Burton on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
01:33
LeVar Burton on the impact of Roots and what Kunta Kinte has meant to him
06:38
LeVar Burton on one of his favorite scenes in Roots
01:35

Roots: The Gift

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LeVar Burton on reprising the role of Kunta Kinte in Roots: The Gift
02:56

Roots: The Next Generations

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LeVar Burton on the idea for Roots: The Next Generation and his fallout with David Wolper
03:28

Star Trek

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LeVar Burton on being a fan of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry
00:42

Star Trek: The Next Generation

View Show Page
LeVar Burton on getting cast on Star Trek: The Next Generation, meeting Gene Roddenberry, and the prime directive
09:48
LeVar Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"; on special effects, Trekkies, and beginning to direct episodes
23:06
LeVar Burton on his favorite episodes and series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation
11:39
LeVar Burton on bringing together Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow
01:51
LeVar Burton on directing the more recent series of Star Trek
01:07

Tiger Woods Story, The

View Show Page
LeVar Burton on directing The Tiger Woods Story
02:29
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

View Topic
LeVar Burton on understanding and relating to his Roots character, Kunta Kinte
03:16
LeVar Burton on his Roots character, Kunta Kinte
02:13
Le Var Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"
06:24

Fame and Celebrity

View Topic
LeVar Burton on how fame has affected him
01:25

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
LeVar Burton on one of his favorite scenes in Roots
01:35

Minorities

View Topic
LeVar Burton on it being a big deal to see black people on television when he was growing up
01:20
LeVar Burton on being inspired by Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek
00:42
LeVar Burton on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view
01:35
LeVar Burton on the impact of Roots
02:16

We Considered

View Topic
LeVar Burton on how Roots was a seminal event in people's lives and has become part of history
01:12
Professions

Actor

View Profession
LeVar Burton on wanting to be Sidney Poitier when he grew up
00:42

Directors

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LeVar Burton on directing the more recent series of Star Trek
01:07
Genres

Children's Programming

View Genre
LeVar Burton on how he became involved with the children's show Reading Rainbow on PBS
20:38

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
00:28
Le Var Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"
06:24
LeVar Burton on his Star Trek: The Next Generation character "Geordi La Forge"; on special effects, Trekkies, and beginning to direct episodes
23:06
LeVar Burton on his favorite episodes and series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation
11:39

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

View Genre
LeVar Burton on Roots
44:25
LeVar Burton on how Roots raised the bar for TV miniseries
01:33
People

John Amos

View Interview Page
LeVar Burton on John Amos taking over the character of Kunta Kinte in Roots
01:57
LeVar Burton on being nominated for an Emmy with his Roots co-stars also in his category
01:10

Edward Asner

View Interview Page
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars
00:33

Rick Berman

View Interview Page
LeVar Burton on being reunited with Ben Vereen on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
02:54
LeVar Burton on beginning to direct episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
01:52
LeVar Burton on bringing together Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow
01:51

Michael Dorn

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:35
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:18

John Erman

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on working with director John Erman
01:34

Jonathan Frakes

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on beginning to direct episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
01:52
LeVar Burton on directing Jonathan Frakes in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
07:07
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:35
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:02

Whoopi Goldberg

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on the impact Nichelle Nichols had on the world by being on Star Trek
02:13
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:43
LeVar Burton on his favorite Reading Rainbow episode, "Amazing Grace"
02:11

Louis Gossett, Jr.

View Interview Page
LeVar Burton on his first day of work on Roots
03:38
LeVar Burton on being nominated for an Emmy with his Roots co-stars also in his category
01:10
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars
00:37

David Greene

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
02:57

Lorne Greene

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars
00:35

Alex Haley

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots
02:31
LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
02:57
LeVar Burton on Alex Haley helping him with his character on Roots
02:19
LeVar Burton on the unique perspective shown in Roots - history as told by the African point of view
01:35
LeVar Burton on working with and being mentored by Alex Haley
05:47

Robert Justman

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LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency, produced by Bob Justman
04:50

Ron LeFlore

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on television movies made about living people
02:02

Richard Levinson

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LeVar Burton on being offered a production deal by Levinson and Link after Roots
02:04

William Link

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LeVar Burton on being offered a production deal by Levinson and Link after Roots
02:04

Stan Margulies

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
02:57
LeVar Burton on scheduling the miniseries Roots
02:15
LeVar Burton on working with Stan Marguiles
01:34

Gates McFadden

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:37

Nichelle Nichols

View Interview Page
LeVar Burton on being inspired by Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek
00:42
LeVar Burton on the impact Nichelle Nichols had on the world by being on Star Trek
02:13
LeVar Burton on beginning to direct episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
01:36

Sidney Poitier

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on wanting to be Sidney Poitier when he grew up
00:42
LeVar Burton on his wish to do a biopic of Sidney Poitier
00:44

Sarah Purcell

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency
04:50

Gene Roddenberry

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on being mentored by Gene Roddenberry
00:33
LeVar Burton on being a fan of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry
00:42
LeVar Burton on the TV movie Emergency, produced by Bob Justman
04:50
LeVar Burton on meeting and working with Gene Roddenberry
03:24

Fred Rogers

View Interview Page
LeVar Burton on being mentored by Fred Rogers
00:33
LeVar Burton on Fred Rogers and the power of television
02:57
LeVar Burton on Fred Rogers' mission
00:29

Alex Segal

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LeVar Burton on learning from director Alex Segal at USC
02:02
LeVar Burton on learning the politics and reality of theater from director Alex Segal at USC
01:56

Fred Silverman

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
02:57

Marina Sirtis

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:28

Brent Spiner

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:35
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:04

Patrick Stewart

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:35
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:19

Brandon Stoddard

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
02:57

Cicely Tyson

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his first day of work on Roots
03:38
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars
00:04

Leslie Uggams

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LeVar Burton on Leslie Uggams stories of people leaving casinos to watch Roots
00:41

Ben Vereen

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on meeting Ben Vereen as a youngster and getting to work with him later in Roots
03:40
LeVar Burton on being nominated for an Emmy with his Roots co-stars also in his category
01:10
LeVar Burton on his Roots co-stars
00:03
LeVar Burton on being reunited with Ben Vereen on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
02:54

Wil Wheaton

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on his co-stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation
00:27

David L. Wolper

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LeVar Burton on early screen tests and production meetings on Roots
02:57
LeVar Burton on working with David Wolper
03:28

Tiger Woods

View Person Page
LeVar Burton on directing The Tiger Woods Story
02:29

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