A+E's 'Roots' Miniseries Casts Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin and Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Forest Whitaker AFI - P 2011
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Forest Whitaker AFI - P 2011

A+E is going all in on The Roots.

For its four-night, eight-hour miniseries event, A+E Studios has lined up an all-star cast led by Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Anna Paquin along with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anika Noni Rose, Derek Luke and Chad L. Coleman. They join previously announced Laurence Fishburne, who is set to play Alex Haley, the author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, and newcomers Malachi Kirby (as Kunta Kinte) and Rege-Jean Page (as Chicken George), who were discovered during a global search that spanned 15 locations, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa.

Production is already underway in New Orleans, and will move to South Africa later this month. The studio is said to be spending lavishly on the event series, a reboot of the 1977 original, which will air across multiple A+E Networks. To that end, they've brought in Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City) and two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) to direct nights two and four, respectively. Previously announced multi-award winning directors Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) and Thomas Carter (Coach) will helm nights one and three, respectively. Questlove is on-board as the executive music producer.

Whitaker is set to play Fiddler, a slave who tries to mentor Kunta Kinte and risks his life to help him escape; Paquin is on board as Nancy Holt, the wife of a Confederate officer who has her own agenda when it comes to the handling of slaves; Meyers is set as Tom Lea, an uneducated slave owner desperate to claw his way into the elite company of Southern gentility; Rose has been cast as Kizzy, the cherished, smart daughter of Kunta Kinte who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit; Coleman is in as Mingo; Justified's Erica Tazel will play Matilda, a preacher’s daughter and love interest to Chicken George; and Luke will round out the cast as Silla Ba Dibba, the military trainer of Juffure, charged with transforming teen boys into powerful Mandinka Warriors.

Roots is being produced in association with Marc Toberoff and The Wolper Organization, the company behind the original. Ride Along's Will Packer, Marc Toberoff, Mark Wolper, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal are all on board as executive producers, with Konner, Rosenthal, Alison McDonald and Charles Murray writing.