LeVar Burton has been in the public eye since he was 19 and starred in the iconic miniseries “Roots,” and never left. He was recently interviewed by the New York Times about fame, his public persona vs. his private one, and the next big job he’s up for: hosting Jeopardy!. During the interview, he also talked a bit about the importance of his role as Geordi La Forget on Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as road not taken by the writers that he’d change if he could.
He wishes Geordi had gotten the girl sometimes
There’s always a character on every Star Trek series who gets one romantic adventure after another, and occasionally one who just keeps failing. On The Next Generation, it was Geordi. He was known for being awkward on dates and for his one-way attraction to various women, but his most famous romantic folly came when he fell in love with a hologram of Dr. Leah Brahms, then met the real woman only to find out that she was married. Burton told the NYT that Geordi’s consistent failure in romance definitely bothered him.
It felt like a tired trope. It is a tired trope. Were we to do that show today, I would insist that the writers be more creative.
That said, he’s still proud of what Geordi represented, how his iconic roles have connected, and his legacy as a Black actor.
There are times when I experience my life as having been for a specific purpose. I look at Kunta. I look at Geordi. I’ve been able to express humanity as enslaved in the past and as free in the future and do it as a completely liberated Black man. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
With the chances pretty high that he’ll be turning up on Star Trek: Picard season 3, Geordi’s story isn’t over yet; we may find out his awkward days are a thing of the past.
He really, REALLY wants the Jeopardy! gig
Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek died last year after a record-setting 37-year run, there has been speculation on who would take over his duties. The show has been rotating through a series of guest hosts like Mayim Bialik, former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings, Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Katie Couric, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, among others. Still to come: George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, and more, with Burton’s hosting stint scheduled for July 16th through the 30th. He talked about why the job matters so much to him.
It’s difficult to explain, but there’s something inside me that says this makes sense. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. I have been watching “Jeopardy!” more or less every night of my life since Art Fleming was host. “Jeopardy!” is a cultural touchstone, and for a Black man to occupy that podium is significant. Look, I have had a career for the [expletive] ages. “Roots,” “Star Trek,” “Reading Rainbow.” Won a Grammy. Got a shelf full of Emmys. I’m a storyteller, and game shows are tremendous stories. There’s a contest, there’s comedy, there’s drama. If you don’t know your [expletive] on “Jeopardy!” you’re sunk in full view of the entire nation. The stakes are high. I love that.
And while he’s been emphatic in the press and on social media about just how much he wants the job, he admits that he would find a way to take it in stride.
It will hurt. I’m not going to lie. But if that happens, I will get over it. I will be fine. Remember: Everything happens perfectly and for a reason. That is my default. It’s all going to be OK. Because it
He doesn’t always get the gig, either
Burton has had tremendous professional success, but he didn’t always get the roles he wanted.
I really wanted the job of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime.” It didn’t go my way. There was the time that I found out that the producers of “Glory” wanted me for the role that Denzel Washington ended up playing, and “Star Trek” would not agree to let me go. When the movie came out and then Denzel won an Academy Award, I thought, Hmm . [Laughs.] But it wasn’t for me, and I’ve made peace with that. That which is mine, no one can take away. That which is not meant for me, no amount of wishing or stamping my feet will make it so.
(Yes, he just said “Make it so”—for the first time in his life, he told interviewer David Marchese.)
Ultimately, he’s pragmatic about the way his career has gone… and grateful.
I’m not only still here but I’m still making a contribution. Those times in the past when I felt like I
wasn’t getting my due, out of jealousy or ego — that’s natural, but it’s self-destructive. I learned how to minimize my response to those feelings to the point where I rarely have them anymore. When I didn’t get certain acting jobs, it forced me to develop other skill sets, and that was obviously part of the plan because now I’m able to do what I do as an actor, writer, producer, director, podcaster, storyteller, public speaker. It all happened perfectly because here I am. I feel like this life is a gift.
Read the full New York Times interview with LeVar Burton.
Keep up on Star Trek celebrities at TrekMovie.com.