Tomorrow night LeVar Burton, better known to Trekkies as engineer Geordi La Forge on Star Trek The Next Generation, appears in the Lifetime movie Taken in Broad Daylight. Burton also has a number of other directing and acting projects in the works, so it seemed like a good time to see how life after the VISOR was treating Burton
Burton Interview (Part 1)
Tomorrow night LeVar Burton co-stars in "Taken in Broad Daylight," the inspiring true survival story of teenager Anne Sluti, who was kidnapped from her hometown of Kearney, NE in 2001. Burton plays a police investigator and negotiator. This is Burton’s second collaboration with with producers Charlene Blaine, Mark Wolfe and Susan R. Rodgers and AMediaVision Productions, for whom he recently directed a feature film, "Reach for Me," starring Alfre Woodard and Seymour Cassel, about two very different roommates at a hospice who learn to live their final days to the fullest. In the first part of our interview, we focus on these projects and what else he has on tap for 2009, plus a bit about his new blogging hobby and a bit about Trek as well (with more Trek coming in part 2).
TrekMovie.com: What can you tell us about Taken in Broad Daylight?
LeVar Burton: It was produced by my friend Mark Wolfe and I got a call from him saying ‘I need you to come up to Winnipeg for a month and can you be here in two days?’ and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him so I said yes before I read the script.
TM: Did you know anything about the real-life story of the abduction of Anne Sulti?
Burton: I knew a little bit about it, especially from Mark when we worked on another project, Reach for Me. But when I read the script I was surprised at how much of a taut thriller it was, it is a good story.
TM: Your character, detective Mike Timbrook, is one of those composite characters, but did you do any research talking to real-life cops?
Burton: Well 48 hours after I got the call I was on the plane to Canada, and the day after I got there we were shooting. There was no research! You don’t do research for a TV movie, what are you nuts? [laughs]
TM: Have you ever played a cop before? Did you like it?
Burton: It was fun putting on the gun every day and liked the badge? [laughs] I don’t know. I am not like that where I can answer questions about the acting process. It isn’t something I can explain.
TM: You mentioned Reach for Me, which you directed, what can you tell us about that and how you got involved?
Burton: Again it was one of those phone calls from my friend Mark Wolfe. They needed a director and he said that he thought I would be terrific for it and they needed an answer in two days and I said yes, then I read the script and called back and said ‘I’m really in now!’ [laughs]
TM: Reach for Me deals with serious issues. Did you have concerns about doing a film that deals with a subject that is usually depressing, about dealing with death?
Burton: No. Reach for Me is about life, not death at all, and that is why I wanted to do it. It is a movie about how we live, not how we die, even though it takes place in a hospice.
TM: What was it like working with Alfre [Woodard] again, and Seymour Cassel?
Burton: Alfre is like my sister. Any opportunity to hang with my sister is a good opportunity. Having done that for so many years, I just love good acting and she is one of the best there is. I try to create an atmosphere on the set where the acting was respected…and that was joyful. Seymour did an episode of Next Gen, but we have been friends over the years, and it was just wonderful. I was so happy when he said yes.
TM: It has got good festival buzz, any word on theatrical or DVD distribution?
Burton: I know they are working on it. We have got terrific festival buzz. We had a great time in Germany at the Oldenburg Festival in 2008. I trust the movie will find an audience, I am really proud of it. I am confident it will find its audience, but at some point you have to let go, and I am on to other projects.
TM: What are those other projects?
Burton: I have two feature films that I am directing. One called Initiation, based on a book "Of Water and the Spirit," by Malidoma Patrice Some. Another called Ruby, it is a story about Ruby McCollum, the first African American woman sentenced to the electric chair in the US. We are close to financing on both, and it will probably be Ruby and we would shoot this July. I am doing a play in Spring, here in LA, called The Caterer, by my friend Brian Alan Lane, who was one of the writers on Trek. I am doing Main Street, written by Horton Foote, also as an actor. So I am doing a little acting and a little directing. It is shaping up to be a pretty good year.
Burton: Well if you read my first blog, that sort of explains it. It coincided when I went to CES and when I got my name back on Twitter from the fake LeVar Burton. Which turned out to be not so bad. He is not such a bad guy once he understood that his attempts at having some laughs was causing somebody else harm. I would like to meet him one day, actually.
TM: In a recent blog post you talked about about Gene Roddenberry and how as a big Trek fan, you were confused and disappointed to find out that he was human, can you go into that a little more?
Burton: I will go a bit into detail but no too much because, obviously, a lot of that I consider private. However, I will share this…Gene was a human being and full of contradictions. He was this great visionary, and yet he was a womanizer. All of the women all wore short skirts you know? He had somewhat sexist views. Star Trek was full of spiritual meaning and yet he was an agnostic. Those kinds of things.
TM: So getting back to your Twitter thing, what is going on with Wil Wheaton? You tweeted about how Wil stopped following you on Twitter.
Burton: You will have to ask Wil. Would you ask him? I have no idea why he stopped following me.
TM: Is there some kind of feud? Is this going to get like Shatner and Takei?
Burton: That remains to be seen. [laughs]
NOTE: TrekMovie did ask Wil about it, and here is what he said:
Wil Wheaton: Oh, this is just silly. I start and stop following people all the time, depending on a whole bunch of different things. Anyone looking for high school drama should go someplace else. I absolutely adore LeVar, and as far as I know, there are no hard feelings between us at all
TM: You recently blogged and tweeted about re-quitting smoking, so you think you are going to make it this time?
Burton: Day eight baby! I am really feeling optimistic about my chances. [Note: interview done two days ago, but Burton updated Twitter this morning that he was still a non-smoker]
TM: You use your picture of showing off your Levar/Kunta ambigram tattoo as your Twitter icon and you often refer to yourself as ‘Kunta.’ So do you relate more that character from Roots more than Geordi from Star Trek?
Burton: Well I refer to myself as Kunta, but I do it because it is funny and because I can.
TM: But you did get it tattooed…
Burton: Well I guess I would have to say the answer to that question is yes, then. I think the spirit of Kunta lives big inside of me, because I see Kunta as a warrior.
TM: What is your war?
Burton as Kunta Kinte in the 1977 mini-series "Roots" (L) and showing off his Levar/Kunta tattoo in 2009 (R)
More from Burton in Part 2
Coming up soon we will have the second part of our interview with LeVar Burton, where we talk all about Star Trek, including Nemesis, the new movie, and possible TNG reunions, and more.
See LeVar in Taken in Broad Daylight – Sunday Night on Lifetime
Taken in Broad Daylight, the true story of the abduction of Anne Sluti, starring Sara Canning, James Van Der Beek and LeVar Burton, airs Sunday at 8PM Eastern on Lifetime More information at Lifetime.com.
Here is the trailer and some more images of Burton from Taken in Broad Daylight.
And keep an eye out for Reach for Me, directed by LeVar Burton, starring Alfre Woodard and Seymour Cassel, with an appearance from LeVar and even Adrienne Barbeau. The movie is currently looking for distribution. More information at the official site.