Yesterday, in part one of our exclusive interview with LeVar Burton, he talked about Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 25th anniversary and the imminent release of the Season Two Blu-ray set, and started to discuss the arrival of Reading Rainbow, his landmark educational program, as an App. Today, in the second half of the conversation, Burton goes into more depth about Reading Rainbow, chats about his appearances on the current television shows Perception and The Big Bang Theory, and comments on what he’d want to see for Geordi if someone were to make one more TNG episode.
What does it mean to you personally to see another generation enjoying Reading Rainbow? In many cases, it’s the kids of adults who were children themselves when they first saw Reading Rainbow.
Burton: It’s amazing. It’s a great feeling. You can’t plan for that. When we started this effort, the iPad had not come out yet. We have pivoted quite a few times on this journey and today we got that validation that the strength of the brand really does work. We’re so proud of the product. Kids are loving it. Their parents are loving it. It’s a circle of win.
You did Reading Rainbow for 26 years. Is it the credit that you’re proudest of, professionally speaking, perhaps even more so than TNG?
Burton: In a weird way, yeah, absolutely, because of the nature of the mission with Reading Rainbow. It’s so education-focused. I’m the son of a teacher. We’re all teachers in my family…, my older sister, my son, nieces, nephews, cousins. It’s what we do in my family. So, for the son of a teacher, this is pretty big.
You know we’ve got to ask you the iPad/PADD question. How appropriate is it that people are now watching Reading Rainbow on something that so closely resembles a gadget that was seen regularly on TNG?
Burton: You never know. You never know. I had no idea. It’s great. Look, I remember when I was a kid growing up feeling so good about myself watching The Original Series because I saw Nichelle Nichols on the bridge, because I saw somebody who looked like me in the future. Little did I know that I’d grow up and be a member of that storytelling family. It’s pretty wacky.
You have a recurring role on the TV show Perception. How do you like being back on television in a weekly series?
Burton: I love being back on TV, in this show. I love what (producers) Ken Biller and Mike Sussman are talking about, which is mental health in America. I love watching Eric McCormack work, and love working with him. He’s a great guy, and a tremendously talented actor. I’m happy to be back on TV and happy it’s such a quality project.
The show has been renewed by TNT for a second season. What do you hope to see for your character, Dean Haley, next season?
Burton: I want to be very active in the show. We found out at the end of the first season that the Dean Haley and Daniel Pierce (McCormack) were college roommates and that the dean has a long, long history with Daniel Pierce. I look forward to us finding out more about the nature of that relationship and how they have looked after one another for all of these years.
You’ve now done two episodes of The Big Bang Theory. You played yourself as well in an episode of Brent Spiner’s online series Fresh Hell. How did those experiences rate, and what’s the secret to playing… LeVar Burton?
Burton: The Big Bang Theory… I loved that. It was fantastical fun, especially the most recent one, with Wil Wheaton. Outside of a convention stage it’d been (quite) a few years since I’d worked with him. It was good to work with W.W. again. Playing yourself, the weirdest part is when they ask you to bring in some of your clothes from home and then they say, “No, he wouldn’t wear that.” I love that. But I am playing me. That’s what’s so great about it. I just get to be me. I’m at that stage of my career where people are calling me to play myself.
What else is on your plate? Any other acting opportunities? Are you hoping to direct Perception at some point?
Burton: All of those things will take care of themselves. Right now, as we speak, my focus really is on Reading Rainbow and RRKidz.com, and building this company. We want to provide many, many more products that engage kids and their families.
You’ve had a very long and varied career. You’ve done features and television as an actor. You’ve been in such iconic productions as Roots and TNG. You’ve directed. You created and hosted Reading Rainbow. When you started out, did you have a game plan or a vision, or did you ride the wave where it took you?
Burton: I am a product of “Dreams really do come true.” If I had a plan it wouldn’t have been this elegant, it wouldn’t have been this great. I doubt that it would have lasted this long if it were my own design that were in play. I’ve been blessed with a tremendous opportunity to make an impact on people while I’m here and perhaps leave behind something of value for generations to come. That’s a pretty good life in my opinion.
Let’s end by going back to TNG for a minute. If someone were to make one more TNG episode, the great lost Geordi episode, what would it be about? In other words, what went unexplored or incomplete? What one story would you like told?
Burton: Oh, wouldn’t you like to know! Well, we knew a little bit about Geordi’s family. We never saw his sexuality. That was always strange to me. I’d like to see Geordi get the girl. I’d go with Geordi getting the girl.
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