People love LeVar Burton. He’s got just under 1.9 million Twitter followers and in 2011 was on Twitter’s Top 100 Globally Followed list. He’s been an iconic figure in North American television since 1977, when he starred as Kunta Kinte, a Gambian man in the prime of life taken to the American rape gulag to be worked to death.
Roots was the first American miniseries and at that time the highest-rated US television show ever made. Burton received an Emmy Nomination for his work. He later appeared in television series about Jim Jones and Jesse Owens, and even played a young Booker T. Washington. In the 2001 feature film Ali, he played Martin Luther King, Jr. And while becoming a highly successful television director, he’s known to hundreds of millions of people as Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as the host of Reading Rainbow.
This episode’s conversation is from the upper floors of the archives of the Grand Lodge of Imhotep. Burton spoke with me by telephone from his California home in March, 2011, just before coming to Edmonton for the Collectible Toy and Comic Show.
Among many topics, we discussed:
- His final and startling career choice before choosing acting
- Why he loves science fiction, and the most important question the genre asks
- The cultural importance of Lt. Uhura specifically and African heroes generally
- What he views as his special responsibility in his work as a director, and how directing has affected his perspective on acting
- The impact of Roots on how US television portrayed Africans, and how Burton views his Roots collaborators now
- His ongoing internal relationship with Kunta Kinte and Geordi LaForge, and the impact Geordi LaForge has had on others
- His special connection with a real-life astronaut, and
- His mental approach to making his dreams reality
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