A&E’s remake of Roots, the iconic 1970s show that broke ground on epic, multi-part specials, continues to sign on big names. Tip Harris (aka rapper T.I.), Mekhi Phifer (House of Lies), James Purefoy (Solomon Kane), and Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game), have joined a cast that already includes Anna Paquin (True Blood), Anika Noni Rose (The Good Wife), and Laurence Fishburne as narrator Alex Haley, who authored the book the series is based on.
Roots is a multi-generational story of slavery from the pre-colonial era in Africa to post-Civil War America. Originally broadcast as an eight-night event on ABC it received 37 Emmy nominations and won the Golden Globe for television drama. It featured a sprawling cast of top actors of the time including Ben Vereen, Lorne Green, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett Jr., and Sandy Duncan. Because so many popular white actors like Robert Reed, Lloyd Bridges, and Ed Asner were cast against type as slave owners and traders, ABC worried the series would flop and scheduled it well in advance of sweeps week.
British actor Malachi Kirby will play Kunta Kinte, a slave captured in Africa and sold to a plantation owner. Kirby is a young, relatively unknown British actor who starred in 2014’s Gone Too Far. Here’s the trailer.
The story follows Kunta Kinte’s family and moves quickly through generations in an episode or two. LeVar Burton made his acting debut as Kinte in the original. THR reported that Kirby and newcomer Rege-Jean Page, cast as Chicken George, and Emyri Crutchfield, playing Kunta’s daughter Kizzy, were signed after a global casting search that included 15 locations.
Purefoy and Goode, as well as Lane Garrison (Shooter), will play the roles of slave owners and Confederate soldiers.
An open casting call went out in August for children to work as extras during the series shoot in New Orleans.
A&E will air the miniseries across several of its networks including History and Lifetime. LeVar Burton is on board as one of the executive producers, with a team of directors including Phillip Noyce (Salt), Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli), Thomas Carter (Coach Carter), Mario Van Peebles (Ali), and Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy).