By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Friday, May 27, 2016
When local executive producer Will Packer asked Atlanta rapper and actor Tip “TI” Harris to join him in a modernization of the original seminal Alex Haley “Roots” series from 1977, he resisted.
Packer, whose resume includes a range of films such as “Stomp the Yard,” “Ride Along” and “Straight Outta Compton,” had worked with T.I. before in 2010’s action film “Takers.” He wanted someone with a little hip-hop swagger for the new role of Cyrus, who fought side-by-side with Chicken George for the Union Army during the Civil War.
“I first said, ‘Hell naw! I’m not doing that! ” T.I. said. “But after careful consideration of the character and actually reading the synopsis of the character’s arc, I kind of felt compelled to do it more. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. It was something I felt I had to do.”
T.I. noted that the original “Roots” only alluded to Chicken George’s participation in the Civil War. The new screenwriters decided to include scenes of him fighting. “You actually get to see how that happened,” T.I. said. “My character was the driving force behind Chicken George choosing to go and fight the war rather than just go back and reunite with his family because he had his freedom and they did not.”
The black Union army men were not allowed to use guns but Cyrus and Chicken George did shoot cannons.
“It was intense,” T.I. said. “It was extremely loud. Earthshaking! The conditions weren’t your normal Hollywood movie set with a big trailer being pampered and eating food all day. This was some rigorous s***. We were on slave row of an actual plantation. This was real dirt. This was real heat and humidity. The conditions were conducive to the story. It made for the best depictions of the actual circumstances. It’s a heavy set of circumstances. It added to the weight of our performances. They had to uphold the substantive nature of the story.”
He appreciated his character because he represented the black man who wasn’t tolerating the fact white folks often treated even free black men like second-class citizens. “There has always been resistance,” he said. “I think they wanted me to come in and convey that.”
He also remains in reality TV. His VH1 show “T.I. and Tiny” returns season six in July. But his wife’s pregnancy and their latest baby that came a few weeks ago will not show up because the show wrapped awhile ago. “I can’t accept responsibility for the timing at all,” he said.
“Roots,” (eight-hour miniseries), 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, two hours per night, A&E, History, Lifetime