A+E Networks has lined up a roster of established actors and newcomers for its four-night, eight-hour event miniseries Roots, a remake of the iconic 1977 ABC mini, which drew critical praise and blockbuster viewership. Cast in the reboot, from A+E Studios, are Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Anna Paquin, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anika Noni Rose, Derek Luke, Chad L. Coleman and Erica Tazel.
Additionally A+E held a global search in 15 cities in 10 countries in Africa, Europe and North America to find young actors for the roles of Kunta Kinte and Chicken George. As we reported, English actor Malachi Kirby has landed the Kunta Kinte part. He was handpicked by producers Will Packer and LeVar Burton, who played the original Kunta Kinte. Another Brit, Regé-Jean Page (Survivor, Waterloo Road) has been cast as Chicken George.
Roots also has firmed up its lineup of directors, with Mario Van Peebles (We The Party) and Bruce Beresford (Bonnie & Clyde) set to direct nights two and four respectively. They join previously announced Phillip Noyce and Thomas Carter, who are directing nights one and three respectively
Roots is a historical portrait of American slavery recounting the journey of one family’s will to survive, endure and ultimately carry on their legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity. Spanning multiple generations, the lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte (Kirby), who is captured in his homeland of The Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America, where he’s sold into slavery. Throughout the series, the family continues to face adversity while bearing witness and contributing to notable events in U.S. history, including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and eventual emancipation.
Whitaker will play Fiddler, a slave who tries to mentor Kunta Kinte and risks his life to help him escape. The role earned Louis Gossett Jr. an Emmy for the original mini. Paquin (True Blood) plays Nancy Holt, the wife of a Confederate officer who has her own agenda when it comes to the handling of slaves; Meyers (The Tudors) is Tom Lea, an uneducated slave owner desperate to claw his way into the elite company of Southern gentility; Rose (The Good Wife) is Kizzy, the cherished, smart daughter of Kunta Kinte who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit; Coleman (The Walking Dead) is Mingo, a stern no-nonsense slave who keeps the Lea plantation afloat. Tazel (Justified) plays Matilda, a preacher’s daughter and love interest to Chicken George; Olivia Cole won an Emmy for playing the role in the original. Luke (Captain America: The First Avenger) plays Silla Ba Dibba, the military trainer of Juffure, charged with transforming teen boys into powerful Mandinka Warriors. Page’s Chicken George is Kizzy’s son, a handsome social magnet who knows how to transfix a crowd with a story, yet doesn’t appreciate what he has until his luck abandons him.
They join previously announced Laurence Fishburne (Black-ish) who has been set as Alex Haley, the author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Production is underway in New Orleans and set to begin later this month in South Africa.
Roots is an A+E Studios production in association with Marc Toberoff and The Wolper Organization, the company that produced the original mini. Will Packer, Marc Toberoff, Mark Wolper, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal serve as executive producers. LeVar Burton and Korin D. Huggins are co-executive producers. Konner, Rosenthal, Alison McDonald, and Charles Murray are the writers. Grammy winner Questlove is Executive Music Producer.
Luke is repped by ICM Partners, Greenlight Management and Ziffren, Brittenham. Tazel is with Pantheon and Management 360.