“Star Trek: The Next Generation” star LeVar Burton took time out from his busy schedule and visited Australia last week attending events in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Burton recounted some memories from his Trek experience discussing the process of literally screwing the visor to his head each day, his favourite episodes on the holodeck, how the cast are still feel like family and emphasised that while there was absolutely no basis for it he feels that we will see Geordi La Forge again some day.
There are several projects in the works for Burton including an internet version of his successful children’s television series “Reading Rainbow”, a new television series that “if all goes right” will bring LeVar Burton back to television on a weekly basis and a project that he’s working on with Laurence Fishburne.
Moviehole caught up with Burton during his visit to ask him a few questions.
Question: You were a fan of the original Star Trek, what was your reaction to being cast in “The Next Generation”?
Burton: It’s very difficult to put into words, having grown up really embracing Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future and then finding myself as a part of it later on in life. I like to say to young people all the time I’m living, breathing proof that dreams do indeed come true, in fact, had I been able to dream up the perfect life for myself I would have made it this good, you know what I mean? I’m so lucky, I’m so enormously blessed and I don’t take any of that for granted.
Question: Did you think it would be as successful as it was?
Burton: No. I seem to continue to fall into situations that exceed and succeed beyond anyone’s expectations. No-one thought “Roots” would be the success that it was, in fact there’s a great story that the network executives at ABC, once they had assembled the twelve hour mini series, they thought it was good but they did not know that America would watch, in a country and a society where 80% percent of the population is white and less than 20% is black, they did not believe that a series where whites were the villains and blacks were the heroes would play very well so they decided “We’ll put it on in eight consecutive nights programming”. The mini series before that, “Rich Man, Poor Man” was done in weekly instalments, but “Roots” they aired in eight straight nights feeling that if no-one watched it would be over and done with and nobody would really get hurt and nobody would lose their jobs necessarily but the audience kept growing exponentially every night and the final episode of “Roots” is still the third most watched event in the history of the medium in America so no-one anticipated that sort of success and I think the same is true for “Star Trek”. You can’t orchestrate that kind of popular appeal, if there was a formula to it then everybody would be able to do it, you just never know when you’re going to strike lucky.
Question: Science Fiction is able to challenge us to think about social issues but from the safe distance of a futuristic or “alien” perspective, what are your thoughts on that?
Burton: I’ve just seen a remarkable movie called “District 9”, fantastic movie, it really is. I don’t want to spoil it so I won’t go into much detail but I really hope that this film is a sign of the direction that science fiction is heading. It’s certainly in the best tradition of science fiction in that it does give us an opportunity from that safe distance of the future to examine who we are in the decisions that we’re making in the present tense, at the present time. I think that’s one of the advantages that science fiction as a body of literature has always brought to the table, that ability to look at ourselves as you said from that safe distance and the story telling is just masterful, really really well done.
I don’t know that there are any issues that we haven’t addressed really, as we get deeper and deeper into this millennium we will create for ourselves challenges that I think science fiction literature and science fiction film and television will eventually need to address. I can think of the issue of stem cell research and cloning but again, we’ve already talked about it. I think one of the brilliant things about science fiction literature is it is from that place of “what if” that we’re really the engine driving the train. Everything that we have produced in terms of technology and science has in some way been inspired by if not directly influenced by science fiction literature, the process of that which we manifest in third dimension is one where the imagination is absolutely essential so science fiction is the engine that drives the train in terms of what we create, what we enjoy and what we experience. I believe there is an absolute link between that which we imagine and that which we create in third dimension, it’s always been that way and it’s always going to be that way.
Question: You’ve directed episodes of all the Star Trek series from Next Generation on, which was the most difficult?
Burton: The Next Generation actors were the absolute worst, there’s no secret there, they’re terrible human beings [jokes]. Here’s the thing [laughs] when any of us was directing the rest of us felt it was our responsibility to bring them down a peg. It’s the way families are. I like to think that I was better than the others but I’m certain that I wasn’t, in terms of giving my share of grief.
Question: You joined the social networking site Twitter earlier this year because someone was impersonating you, how difficult is it dealing with that aspect of being a public figure?
Burton: That would be on the list of things that aren’t so much fun about being a public figure. Twitter has been great about it, now they actually certify accounts that have celebrity names on and they make it very difficult for people. In the eight months that I’ve been on the site it’s really blown up, it’s amazing just how quickly it’s leaped into the mainstream. So they’re really doing a good job of being socially responsible with the social medium of Twitter. I love the conversation, I love that it’s a conversation that’s basically one way [laughs] It’s my opportunity to say what it is I want to say and if you aren’t interested or don’t want to hear what it is that I have to say it’s as easy as unfollowing, you know?
Question: Dare I ask how the smoking is going? [Burton announced via Twitter that he was giving up smoking in February]
Burton: I bought a packet of cigarettes coming here but I know that I’m going to leave it behind when I walk away. It’s a personal commitment.
Question: Has it been helpful being on Twitter and being public about it?
Burton: Oh absolutely, I think that element of being publically accountable is one of the things that really helped me quit and walk away back in February.
LeVar Burton appeared in Melbourne courtesy of First Contact Conventions who will host “Star Trek: The Next Generation” lead Patrick Stewart at an event next January. Tickets for the event are expected to sell out quickly.
– Elyssa Harris