The remake of a quintessentially American miniseries which traced slavery through multiple generations including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars will have three Australians in key creative roles.
Phillip Noyce and Bruce Beresford will each direct an episode and DoP Peter Menzies Jr. will shoot all four episodes of Roots for A&E Networks.
The original Roots based on the Alex Haley novel Roots: The Saga Of An American Family was the third most watched series in US history when it screened on the ABC network in 1977.
Laurence Fishburne will play the narrator, Kunte Kinte, portrayed in the original by LeVar Burton, who is among the producers of the remake with Mark Wolper. Mark’s father David produced the first series and the 1979 sequel, Roots: The Next Generations.
Beresford tells IF, “One of the things I like about working in the US is that producers, studios and networks are perfectly open to working with people from anywhere. They are not nationalistic, which is quite refreshing.”
In a further sign of the production's plurality, British actor Regé-Jean Page will play the pivotal role of Chicken George, a slave based on a real person, whose story arc spans two episodes. Beresford saw his audition tape and says, "He's wonderful."
Beresford's segment is mostly set during the Civil War, when Chicken George is 54, and will start a 26-day shoot – which is tight for two-hours- in New Orleans on September 22. Noyce will film his episode in South Africa. African-American Thomas Carter will direct an ep; the fourth helmer has yet to be named.
Menzies shot Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt and Patrick Hughes’ The Expendables 3. His earlier credits include Abduction, Playing for Keeps and Clash of the Titans.
Beresford is no stranger to quintessential American stories, including Tender Mercies, the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy and the miniseries Bonnie and Clyde, which screened simultaneously on Lifetime, History and A&E.
Earlier this year he finished Henry Joseph Church (formerly Cook), a US indie drama starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Lucy Fry, Natascha McElhone and Xavier Samuel.
With producers Simon Curtis and Elizabeth McGovern he is developing The Chaperone, a true-life drama adapted by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes from a Laura Moriarty novel.
The plot follows a teenage Louise Brooks, who went to New York City in the early 1920s to study dance. Her mother insisted she have a chaperone, a seemingly staid housewife from Kansas. McGovern will play the chaperone and a casting search is underway for the lead.
Brooks went on to become one of the biggest stars of the silent film era and later a writer. “It’s a very exciting project,” Beresford says.