EXCLUSIVE: How 'Roots' Cast and Creators Doubled Down on Authenticity for Remake

by Raphael Chestang 5:18 PM PDT, May 27, 2016
Playing EXCLUSIVE: How 'Roots' Cast and Creators Doubled Down on Authenticity for Remake

While the original Roots miniseries swept the nation with its realistic depiction of slavery in America, the upcoming remake takes it a step further as ET found out on the set.

"This ground is sacred because it is alive with the blood of our ancestors," executive producer LeVar Burton told ET's Kevin Frazier on location in Vacherie, Louisiana.

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While most of the original miniseries was shot on the Disney lot, production for the remake spanned two continents. The slave ship scenes were filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, while seven different real Louisiana plantations were used for a number of U.S. scenes. Locations in Savannah, Georgia, served as the backdrop for Africa.

Like the original, the eight-hour remake, airing over four nights, is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The story traces author Alex Haley's genealogy back to 1750s West Africa.

In the 1977 version, which attracted 100 million viewers to ABC for its finale, Burton starred as Kunta Kinte. This time, British actor Malachi Kirby took on the iconic role.

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"We just sat down and it was weird," Kirby told ET while sitting next to Burton. "I don't know about you, but for me it felt like I already knew you."

Kirby had a great resource by his side with Burton producing the new project, but Burton told ET he didn't need to help too much with the performance.

"The only tip I could possibly give Malachi is to make it his own," Burton said.

In addition to Kirby, the all-star cast includes Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, Anika Noni Rose, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, T.I., Matthew Goode, Mekhi Phifer, and Anna Paquin.

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Every performance was helped along by the realistic wardrobe put together by costume designer Ruth Carter. Over 21,000 historically-accurate costumes were produced and stored in a New Orleans-based warehouse, and Carter labored over every detail.

"This is a slave tag," Carter said, holding the metal badge. "On the tag it said the name of the person who owned you and every year you got a new tag."

The production also has the benefit of 40 years of discovery, which has led to a more accurate production and understanding of Kinte's world before he was in America. "Kunta's origin story will have a very different flavor this time around," Burton said.

Roots premieres on Monday, May 30 at 9 p.m. ET on History Channel.