With the success of WGN's Underground, as well as films like 12 Years A Slave, it's clear that the cinematic telling of African American history is necessary for this generation and the ones to come. The truth about America's earliest days isn't just devastating and violent, it's also about the astonishing strength and light within the human spirit.
Based on the novel Roots: The Saga of An American Family written by Alex Haley in 1976, the upcoming Roots mini-series on the HIstory channel details the well-known story of Kunta Kinte, who was captured in Gambia and brought to the U.S. as a slave at seventeen in the 1700s.
Debuting next week, this will be the second adaptation of the novel; the first aired in 1977 on ABC.
Brandon Stacy, who plays Clingman in Roots, worked alongside a very talented cast to bring this story back to life--Forest Whitaker, Anika Noni Rose, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Lawrence Fishburne, among others.
I had a chat with Brandon recently, where he told me what it was like working on such an important series and what inspires him as as an actor.
PopWrapped: Tell me about your character in Roots.
Brandon Stacy: His name’s Clingman. He’s kind of a bad guy, but he’s a product of his environment; how he was raised at that time shaped his ideals and convictions. He’s respected in the community, but his understanding of humanity is flawed.
PW: What was your process in trying to connect to this character?
BS: I studied the history and built the character from there. It took place in the mid- to late-1800s, so civil war is brewing--brother against brother, human against human. My character’s traditions and his family, he’s got this way that he thinks it’s supposed to be. You just find a way to relate to anybody you play, really. There’s a lot of myself I put into that and there are discoveries I made based on [his] environment.
PW: Why did you want to be a part of this story in the first place?
BS: The first Roots was groundbreaking; it’s still moving today. My hope is that this one can be as moving as the original. It’s a lot to live up to, but it’s just time that a new generation is exposed to this part of history, if they’re not already. We need to know our past to know where we’re going.
PW: Did the fact that it’s a remake add any pressure?
BS: You certainly want it to live up to the original, but we do cover some new ground and there are new characters; we still have the same message. It’s still Roots. I think there is pressure, but I’m confident that it will be powerful.
PW: You have also played a part in Underground. Was it easy to transition between the two, being the same part of history?
BS: It actually really was close, as far as the timeline. I did them almost back to back, but the characters are very different, as far as mine. It’s a different process per character, but I do enjoy doing the period piece types of stories.
PW: What motivates you as an actor?
BS: Being able to do what I love, for starters. Being able to inspire people while being inspired by the arts and the people that I impact. It’s a reciprocal thing. It’s very fulfilling.
PW: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as an actor so far?
BS: Well, sometimes you can go into shooting thinking that your character’s going to be one way, and then you might be disappointed that it didn’t really come out that way, but being an actor is about being present in the moment, so you have to let the vibe of that moment direct where you go. If you fight that, it’s gonna come off false. I aim to have a goal in mind, as far as where I wanna go, but no set path in getting there.
PW: What actors have you been most inspired by over the years?
BS: That’s really tough. I will say - modern actors - I really admire the work of character actors that are also leading men. Johnny Depp, people like Michael Fassbender. He does 12 Years A Slave, then X-Men, then he’ll do a sci-fi like Prometheus. Very diverse roles. That’s what really inspired me, that’s what I aim to do.
PW: What TV shows are you into right now when you have down time?
BS: Well, of course Game of Thrones. I try to watch as much as possible. There is some really good stuff on TV. Of course, Underground - everything about that show I really like. Vinyl. I don’t sleep that much. When normal people are sleeping, that’s when I’m watching a season of something. Daredevil. Basically, anything that’s on Netflix - House of Cards. I’m all over the place.
PW: What about movies?
BS: Well, of course The Big Short. Very relevant to now. And because I had a part in that film [laughs]. Mad Max, of course. I think that really combined all of the beautiful art that is film; it really had everything. I wanna see some more movies like that.
Roots premieres this Monday, May 30 at 9 pm EST on the History channel, airing over four consecutive nights.
Watch the trailer for the series below: