'Roots' Reboot: The Reason Original Kunta Kinte Actor LeVar Burton Took Part

Stars from the original weigh in on the remake, which premieres tonight.

ByABC News
May 30, 2016, 12:29 PM

— -- When LeVar Burton first got word that there could be a remake of "Roots," he wasn't sure what to make of it.

The actor "did not know that we needed this" until remake co-producer Mark Wolper showed his children the original, he told ABC News.

Their reaction influenced Burton, who starred in the 1977 landmark miniseries, to co-executive produce the new series.

"They watched it but they said, 'You know what dad, it's dated and it's old and the makeup is terrible,' and they were right," Burton, 59, said. "And they said, 'You know it's kind of like your generation’s music. I get why it's important and important to you but it really doesn't speak to me.'"

Burton became a household name with his starring role as Kunta Kinte in the original miniseries based on Alex Haley’s novel about a family’s journey from Africa to U.S. slavery. The mini-series, which also starred Cicely Tyson, Maya Angelou, Lou Gossett Jr., Madge Sinclair, Leslie Uggams, John Amos, Sandy Duncan, Ben Vereen and Lloyd Bridges, broke Nielsen ratings and received 27 Emmy Award nominations.

Uggams, who played Burton's daughter, Kizzy Kinte Reynolds, in the original, also admitted to having mixed feelings about the reboot at first.

“Kizzy is such a part of me," the Emmy and Tony winner explained. "So you're very protective and that doesn't mean that it can’t be done again.

“I'm sure it's going to be wonderful, so you'll have two versions,” Uggams, 73, continued. “I'm sure they are to have some wonderful actors and actresses, but we are the senior ones.”

Unlike her former co-stars, however, Olivia Cole felt only joy when she heard about the reboot. The actress, who played Mathilda in the original, said it's a story that needs to be told.

“I think because it is our story,” the 77-year-old actress told ABC News when asked why the epic story of slavery is important today. “Everyone has a wonderful story. We need to have these voices out here. We need to know where we come from. We need to know how we got here.”

The new version features a star-studded cast, including Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Anna Paquin. Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anika Noni Rose, T.I., Mekhi Phifer and Emayatzy Corinealdi. Also, the film will introduce British newcomers Rege-Jean Page and Malachi Kirby.

“This is what Alex's message was to us, keep telling the story,” Cole said of the late writer. “I think it should be told to every generation.”