Burton Loves Star Trek's Speculative Future

By Michelle
July 18, 2005 - 10:47 PM

"What if" are the two words that LeVar Burton believes sets science fiction apart from other literary genres. "When we contemplate the 'what if,' anything is possible," he said in a recent interview.

Speaking at TheFandom.com to Chase Masterson, who called him a well-loved household name and a popular director as well, Burton - who played Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation and has directed numerous episodes of the contemporary Star Trek shows - said that he believes we have cell phones today because a child saw Captain Kirk flip open a communicator on television and grew up to be a designer who developed a device that is "more common today than the toaster."

A fan of science fiction as a child, calling the genre "the body of literature that I gravitated toward more than any other", the longtime Reading Rainbow host nonetheless found that it was rare to find people of colour as the heroes. "Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future was one where I was welcomed," he noted. "Seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of the original Enterprise said to me, 'When the future comes, there is a place for you.'"

He is therefore extremely happy to have earned a role on The Next Generation, where his character was more noted for the VISOR he wore than for his skin color. "To have grown up and become a part of the evolving legend and ethos of Star Trek, I'm incredibly proud of that...I'm a fan," declared Burton. "I love Star Trek."

Burton explained that similar feelings brought his friend Whoopi Goldberg to the series. She had told him that she would love to be on the show "purely because of her desire and her emotional connection to the vision", though when he initially approached executive producer Rick Berman with the proposal, Berman thought Goldberg must have been joking. "But she feels very much as I do," Burton explained of their mutual enthusiasm for Nichols as Uhura and the ideology of the original series. "The idea of IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, was something that was enormously attractive to both of us."

Masterson recalled Burton stopping production during an episode of Deep Space Nine that he directed in which she appeared, "Bar Association", because a group of Buddhist monks were visiting the set and he wanted himself and the actors to have a chance to talk to them. She said that not every director would have taken that time out, but he said that was a highlight of his Star Trek experience, along with meeting statesman Colin Powell and scientist Stephen Hawking on the set of The Next Generation. "It was always amazing to me to discover who was a fan," he recalled. "That just blew my mind."

Just back from a vacation in Martha's Vineyard with his family and saying it was good to get away from Los Angeles, Burton revealed that he had just signed on to direct The Golden Leopard, a feature film in the new Stan Lee Presents series. Burton said that the Marvel Comics and Fantastic Four legend considers this new project his legacy: "These are new superheroes that we have not ever met before." The Golden Leopard, Burton added, is a 17-year-old black female superhero. As the father of an 11-year-old, he is looking forward to creating new superheroes for a new generation, especially girls, saying, "I feel this culture is one that forgets often the needs of young women to find heroes that they can embrace."

Burton talked a bit about his own childhood - he is the son of a military photographer, which is where he thinks he gets director's eye, and an English teacher, so he believes he is "hardwired" to be interested in the things that engage him. Though he started acting while father was in the military, he initially entered a Catholic seminary intending to become a priest. "It was critically important to me; I decided to become a priest when I was eight years old, and was very serious about that commitment, a genuine vocation," he explained. "The decision to not pursue that path, to change horses, so to speak, was not one that I took lightly." But he felt that he had an opportunity as an actor to make a difference in people's lives as well.

For more, including Burton's recollections of directing his castmates and what he thinks an actor can contribute as a director, the full interview is available for download at TheFandom.com.

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