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|Louis Gossett, Jr. Interviewed By Parade Magazine||Share:|
'We Need To Go Further With These Stories'
Thirty years after the ground-breaking TV miniseries, two actors discuss the impact of Alex Haley's masterpiece. In this segment of 'A Return to Roots', Sharon Male of Parade Magazine has a conversation with Louis Gossett, Jr., who portrayed Fiddler.
Parade Magazine, May 22, 2007
A Return to Roots: A Conversation With Louis Gossett, Jr.
Interviewed By Sharon Male
Sharon Male, host: What was it like on the set of the miniseries? Did you know you were doing something that would be important for future generations?
Mr. Louis Gossett, Jr.: It was something very special for us African-Americans to get stuff said like that on primetime television. But we had no idea other people would respond that way.
Male: You've acted in many films about the experiences of black people, both before and after Roots.
Gossett: It's very important. You know, there aren't enough even today. We talk about European culture because it's European people who live here and do movies. And naturally they do Alexander the Great and the Romans and the Greeks. And naturally it's in the colleges and in the schools. But now we have such a diverse bunch of people in America that it's important to put on the screen—on television and in feature films—those other civilizations. Otherwise our kids don't know, so they don't think they belong psychologically. Some of their survival mechanisms kick in, and some of what they do is illegal. But if they know about their culture, then they feel much more belonging to the whole. So I think Roots is much more important this time, than it was last time.
Male: Do you think the miniseries has had an impact on people under 30, who weren't alive when it aired?
Gossett: I think it's had an incredible impact. It should be in the universities now. I think we need to go further with these stories, we need to do some catch-up. Because that's just the beginning of the story. There's more now. ... I have a foundation called Eracism and a reality TV show that's going to be happening in New Orleans called ReNewOrleans. And then I'm taking the Crips and the Bloods back to Africa so they can connect with their roots. The programs teach the kids where they come from, how they used to act, how they got here, why they're so successful, the respect for the elders, the culture, the respect for the opposite sex, etc. Roots is very strong in me and my family. And it's what will help everybody survive in an equal way in America—and in the world—if they know where they come from.
Male: Who taught you about your own roots?
Gossett: My great grandmother. She died when she was 116. I have a photograph of me and her.
Male: Do you know your own family history?
Gossett: Well, not back to Africa, but to me the whole continent is familiar.
Male: What did you think when you first saw the script for Roots, and the role of "Fiddler"? How did you come to be involved in the project?
Gossett: All the top African-American actors were asked, and I begged to be in there. I got the best role, I think. It was wonderful.
Male: The miniseries portrayed so many horrible acts of cruelty. Did you feel discomfort or tension on the set when those were being filmed? Did you ever look at each other and think, "Wow, what are we doing?"
Gossett: Yeah, we did. We did a lot. Those people that worked with us, those actors and those crews, we became old family. It was very personal.
Male: Do any particular memories stand out?
Gossett: The special moment was the uncomfortableness when Kunta Kinte was whipped by Vic Morrow, who was an old friend, God rest his soul, and one of the greatest actors around. He was whipping Kunta Kinte and trying to make him say that his name was Toby. And it was very, very quiet. You could hear a pin drop. Alex [Haley] was on the set. Everybody was there.
Male: That's the scene where, after the whipping, you cradle Kunta Kinte's head and tell him, "You know who you are."
Gossett: Yes. And that came from me. Alex didn't write those lines: "There's gonna be another day." That came from me. He used to speak about that.
Male: I cried during that scene...
Gossett: But it's true. See, today things are getting better and better.
Male: You think so?
Gossett: Yes. But we have to continue to pull our children back into the fold.
Male: What do you remember about the days when Roots was airing?
Gossett: That it was a pleasant, pleasant shock and an affirmation that we're going in the right direction—that it stopped everybody. We had no idea. We were thinking about our lives as they were, and we never thought about our history. It was a wonderful feeling across the country.
Male: Was anyone angry?
Gossett: Well, you know, there were a lot of riots at schools. People really had emotional outbursts. Some of them opted not to go back to school and to be angry at home. But it was a catharsis one way or another.
Male: Black people or white people were angry?
Gossett: Black people. They wanted to get out their resentment, they wanted to get revenge because of slavery. But then finally, once they got older, they realized that's how we got here. It doesn't matter how we got here. Everybody got here running away from some kind of atrocity. We have gotten away from our atrocity. That was then, this is now. A lot of growth had to happen for us to be the way we are now.
Male: This happened in the '70s after the civil rights movement. Do you think in the long term, laws or art are more important in helping to achieve equality?
Gossett: I think more important than law is the hearts of people. They make the law. ... And it's more important now than ever. Because some of our children are getting a little wild. We need to do whatever it takes to get our children together and pay attention to them, because that's our future. What's in the hearts and minds of our children is what's in our future. We have to pay attention to that.
(A Return To Roots is presented to our audience under the Creative Commons License. © 2007 Parade Publications. All Rights Reserved.)