The legendary actors of the show recently had a talk with Screen Rant, where they shared what it was like to star in the spectacular series.
Sharing his casting back in the day as Fiddler, Louis Gossett Jr. explained how he felt when he was cast in the mini-series, along with other cast members, many of whom were his favorites. All of the actors, including OJ Simpson, were given a choice to select their roles.
However, in the end, the character that he got was not up to his taste. He felt like the role he got was an insult to him, and it hurt him badly. Yet, he was not going to back down from the opportunity and say no. So, he went ahead because he wanted to be a part of the series.
He conducted his own research about the characters in Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland, and Willie Best and found out about the artists. He realized why he got the character that was given to him. He understood that it was Fiddler because of whom Kunta Kinte gets to "exist."
On the other hand, John Amos was the first cast as a wrestler on the ship in the series. The actor was living partly in West Africa, Liberia, at the time, and he was sent the script from the perspective of the wrestler and was told that if he wanted to act in the series, he could come in for an audition.
Seeing that the series had such a wide scope and was based on Alex Haley's bestselling novel, Amos also did not want to miss the opportunity even though the wrestler was just a small role in the background. He simply wanted to participate.
He added that even if he were given the role of a character needed to just sweep the room, he would still have agreed because he simply wanted to be a part of Roots. It was not about "acclaim or fame" when it came to the legendary series.
In fact, many actors in the series, both white and black, just wanted to be on the series regardless of the role they could score. The most famed names of Hollywood reached on the sets of the Roots in the hopes of meeting with the director or anyone so that they could request a role on the show.
Gossett Jr. also looked back to the show and retold what it was like to shoot the whipping scene in the series. Shooting that particular scene was difficult, and though they did improvise on some levels, it was not easy to get the scene right.
Explaining that in the moment of the scene, even though he knew that he was playing Fiddler and that it was all in the series, he was very touched by the scene's intention. The whip they used was made of velvet and not leather, yet it was something that struck him as he sat down with a pail to shoot the specific scene.
Both the black actors were very emotionally touched as they sat through that scene and shot it. They ended up in tears as they carried on the conversation as Black folks, hurt and humiliated in the scene.
The two made a very good point to show just the right emotions that might course through any being living through that specific situation. Alex Haley himself was very impressed with the scene and hugged the actor.
John Amos added in the conversation that Louis brought an added concept of humanity to the character of Fiddler, which was not necessarily mentioned on the pages of the series' script.
The actor most importantly brought forward what it was like to be a human, especially in the terms of a Black actor in the early days of his career in the United States when people were not as open to people of color.
He portrayed his struggle through every word of his role in the series. The struggle still continues to persist even in times like today. He was always keen on showing his character in the rawest humane terms.
The actors did add that they were surprised that there are some aspects in which Hollywood has not changed even now, 45 years after Roots. While the industry is far more inclusive to people from all backgrounds, all Black actors can share some of the other forms of struggle they faced due to their ethnicity.
There is still a long way to go in the future. Luckily, change is happening, it will take time, but people are slowly and steadily walking towards a better world with complete artistic freedom.