A+E Networks has set the cast for Roots.
Forest Whitaker (Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Dracula), Anika Noni Rose (The Good Wife), Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead), Erica Tazel (Justified), Derek Luke (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Regé-Jean Page (Waterloo) have been cast in the new take on the hit 1970s ABC miniseries. Additionally, A+E has confirmed the casting of Malachi Kirby.
Based on Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Roots originally aired on ABC in 1977 and starred Levar Burton as Kunta Kinte, who is abducted from Gambia and sold into slavery in the United States. The 1970s series followed the story of Kinte and those who followed him as they continued 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. The new mini-series – which will air simultaneous across A&E, History and Lifetime – will again be based on the novel and tell the story of Kunta Kinte but will include more material from Haley’s novel as well as carefully researched new scholarship of the time.
Forest Whitaker has been cast as Fiddler, a slave who tries to mentor Kunta Kinte and risks his life to help him escape; Anna Paquin as Nancy Holt, the wife of a Confederate officer who has her own agenda when it comes to the handling of slaves; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Tom Lea, an uneducated slave owner desperate to claw his way into the elite company of Southern gentility; Anika Noni Rose as the cherished, smart daughter of Kunta Kinte who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit; Chad L. Coleman as Mingo, a stern no-nonsense slave who keeps the Lea plantation afloat; Erica Tazel as Matilda, a preacher’s daughter; and Derek Luke as Silla Ba Dibba, the military trainer of Juffure, charged with transforming teen boys into powerful Mandinka Warriors.
A+E Networks, who are said to be spending huge amount on this new take on Roots, scoured some the globe (from 15 locations including Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Congo, South Africa, Kenya, Los Angeles, London, Toronto, Vancouver, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, New York, Paris and Ireland) to cast the key roles of Kunta Kinte and Chicken George. The two roles went to Malchi Kirby and Regé-Jean Page, respectively, after both showed an emotional depth and understanding of the characters that is critical to the project. Malachi was handpicked by executive producers Will Packer and LeVar Burton, who played the original Kunta Kinte. As previously reported, Laurence Fishburne has also been cast as Alex Haley.
Alongside casting, A+E has added some heady names to the production team, with the likes of Mario Van Peebles (We The Party, Posse, New Jack City) and two-time Oscar® nominee Bruce Beresford boarding the project, joining previously announced directors Phillip Noyce and Thomas Carter. The new take on Roots is being produced by A+E Studios alongside The Wolper Organization – the company that produced the original. Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Alison McDonald and Charles Murray are penning the scripts. Mark Wolper and Will Packer serve as executive producers. LeVar Burton and Korin D. Huggins are co-executive producers. A+E Studios International will handle global distribution. Production is now underway in New Orleans, with A+E eyeing a 2016 premiere.