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By Suzanne

LeVar Burton

Interview with LeVar Burton of "Perception" on TNT 6/28/12

It was hard to speak with Mr. Burton without drooling like a fangirl. I've been a Trekkie since the 60's, and I watched and recorded all of the subsequent Star Trek shows and movies. Also, Burton is an icon already from his work in "Roots".  He couldn't be a nicer person to interview. Also, he is very smart and well-educated. He puts a lot of thought into everything he says. My husband is a PhD and knows a lot of other smart people, but I was blown away by how smart LeVar Burton seems.  He's playing a college Dean in this new show, and it's pretty clear that he could have indeed been a college Dean if he'd chosen that route.

Moderator: Wendy Levison
June 28, 2012
4:30 pm CT

Operator: Good day and welcome to the Turner Entertainment-Hosted LeVar Burton Perception conference call. Today's conference is being recorded.

And at this time I would like to turn the conference over to Wendy Levison. Please go ahead.

Wendy Levison: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining the LeVar Burton Perception conference call. Perception premiers Monday July 9th at 10:00 PM Eastern on TNT.

The conference is call is now open for questions. Please press star 1 to ask your question. Thank you.

Operator: We値l take our first question from (Aaron Sagers), please go ahead.

Aaron Sagers: Hi, LeVar, it's really great to be speaking with you today. Thanks for joining us.

LeVar Burton: Hey, (Aaron).

Aaron Sagers: Just curious, you know, how did you get attached to this project? It seems sort of like an interesting show for you to appear in.

LeVar Burton: Ken Biller and Mike Sussman are Star Trek alums and I read the pilot and forced my way in. I love Ken's writing and I loved his pilot and I called Ken and said, "Is there any way I can be in this?" And he said, "Well, the one character that you're right for it's like in a scene in this pilot."

And I said, "Yes, but, you know, I see room there for this guy to grow." And Ken worked it out. You know, he was thrilled at the prospects. We had a great relationship on Star Trek and I directed a lot of episodes that he wrote and as a fan I just wanted to be in this.

Aaron Sagers: Do you see it as sort of -- I mean it's a crime procedural but it also sort of has this science fiction element to it. I mean do you see that or am I way off base?

LeVar Burton: Well, I don't know that I would call it a science fiction element as much as a real psychological element to it. I mean, I think that Ken's point of view on the treatment of -- and I'm going to put this in quotes, "mental illness," and brain chemistry and how our perceptions literally determine our reality. I think this is a fascinating conversation to have especially in the popular culture medium like television.

Aaron Sagers: Yes, and also just because I know, you know, you've been to a lot of (Comic-cons). Are you going to be going to San Diego Comic-Con and also sort of what's your take like the fan experience at a Comic-Con versus sort of the insider experience at the Comic-Con, is it two different kind of convention worlds?

LeVar Burton: Definitely, I mean, I will at Comic-Con this year. This is the 23rd anniversary of Next Gen, Star Trek Next Generation coming on here, so we are actually doing, not in San Diego but we are doing a sort of a reunion tour where all of the cast is getting back together. We did the first one in Calgary back in April. We have dates coming up in Orlando and Austin and Toronto, I think.

So from the inside when two or three and in these cases all of us are together, it's just a glorious experience because we all remain incredibly close even though we don't see each other every day like we used to when we were shooting the show. Patrick lives in England, you know, Jonathan is always off working, we're all doing other stuff with our lives. However, when we're together there's just nothing better.

Aaron Sagers: Yes, and finally I know there's lots of people on the line but can we expect to see you perhaps making a return to Community because that was such a great cameo for you.

LeVar Burton: You know what I'm absolutely open to it. As I'm sure you now there has been a change of the regime there at Community so we'll see what the season holds. I'm a fan of the show and I'm interested like most of you to see what direction, this change, how it will impact what I think is one of the most inventive shows on television.

Aaron Sagers: Well great, thanks so much for your time. I could tell you that I grew up with Reading Rainbow and the Next Generation, and so, it's kind of great to be seeing Reading Rainbow come back and then see Next Gen on Blue Ray, it's like childhood all over again. So thanks so much.

LeVar Burton: My pleasure.

Operation: Thank you. We'll take our next question from (Jamie Steinberg), please go ahead.

Jamie Steinberg: Well, it's an honor to speak with you, thank you for your time.

LeVar Burton: Hey, (Jamie).

Jamie Steinberg: It was good seeing you on Watch What Happens Live last week.

LeVar Burton: You know what I am now -- I am an Andy fan. I love the guy. I think he's so smart. I mean, I have seen him but I hadn't -- you know, the Housewives shows are, you know, they're not -- I'm not the demographic for those shows but sitting with Andy Cohen and really getting a sense of who he is really a lot of fun for me. And the fact that he does it all in, you know, in his studio, you know, adjacent to his offices. I知 just very impressed with him as a businessman.

Jamie Steinberg: So hopefully you got your signed copy of the bookay.

LeVar Burton: I got a signed copy of the bookay and I got a set of four tumblers.

Jamie Steinberg: Great. Well, ((inaudible)).

LeVar Burton: I got lots of What Happens Live swag.

Jamie Steinberg: I was wondering what's it like getting to work with such amazing actors like Eric McCormack, and Rachel Leigh Cookay on the show?

LeVar Burton: I知 a huge Eric McCormack fan, was before meeting him and working with him and even more so now. He totally kills this role, definitely, and I really appreciate the difficulty of what he is so deftly doing in every episode. And he's just a joy to watch and a marvel to behold. I'm so happy to be working with Eric McCormack.

And then on top of being as good as he is, he's also -- you know, he's a real professional. There are a lot of kids who want to be famous these days who come to Los Angeles and say that, you know, they want to be an actor or an actress but really what they want is to be famous. Eric is a real pro, right. He takes what he does seriously, yet he doesn't take himself as a celebrity seriously, so he's one of those people who knows, understands what it means to be the number one on the call-sheet. You know what I mean when I say that? Number one on the call-sheet. Eric knows, he knows what it represents. He knows how to do that.

People like Scott Bakula, Mark Harmon, they're guys who know how to be number one on the call-sheet, right. They care about the work and, you know, saying good night to everybody when they leave, I mean, just that their humanity is a part of how they move in the world and it shows up in their inter-personal, you know, relationships with cast and crew and it just -- it's wonderful when you see that in action.

Jamie Steinberg: What do you think it is about the show that will resonate with fans?

LeVar Burton: Eric and the writing, you know, and like I can't say it enough, I知 a huge Ken Biller fan and I just think that the way he is approaching this idea of how, what happens in our brains determines the reality we experience. I think the subject matter is intrinsically fascinating, at least it is to me and I don't believe I'm alone in that.

Jamie Steinberg: Well it's such a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you again for all of your time.

LeVar Burton: You bet. My pleasure.

Operator: And once again it is star 1 to ask a question. Please limit yourself to one question at a time. You may re-queue for further questions.

We'll go next to (Karen Mull), please go ahead.

Karen Mull: Hi, thanks so much for making time for us today. It's great to talk to you. LeVar, your career has been marked by such really important and really iconic roles and a whole slew of awards for Reading Rainbow. What do you still want to accomplish at this point in your career as an actor and director? What still keeps you working on every day?

LeVar Burton: Aside from Perception I've really taken a bit of a side-step and as much as the last two years of my life have dedicated and wholly devoted to the Reading Rainbow app. We launched it just last week and in 36 hours shot to number one in education. It's still the number one grossing education app. This really feeds my passion.

My mother was an English teacher. My older sister is a teacher. My son is in education. I have cousins, nieces, this is the family business, you know what I知 saying?

Karen Mull: That was actually my next question, how you balance literacy with the (creative)?

LeVar Burton: That's how I do it. I mean, I did Reading Rainbow the television show for 25 years and Rick Berman, the executive producer of Star Trek, having produced a children痴 television series The Big Blue Marble, knew how important the show was to me and knew how important the show was to television. And so, he made it possible for me to do both Trek and Reading Rainbow at the same time.

And, you know, Ken knows it fully well how important Reading Rainbow is to me, and, you know, this is what I feel like I知 really, really supposed to be doing. And the reason why we brought Reading Rainbow back is there is such a need right now. We have fallen so far behind our own expectations as a nation in terms of how we educate our kids and what the outcome of a public school education is these days. And we can't rely on government to get it done anymore. It has to be a public-private partnership.

Our government is brokaye, right? We've spent the last decade plus engaged in funding the machineries of war and our kids have been left behind. And, you know, from my point of view that's just not OKAY.

Karen Mull: So with the app out, this is maybe a nice break for you being in a recurring role on television?

LeVar Burton: It brings a balance to my life because I stepped away from acting after Next Generation and became a full-time director. And then my business partner, (Mark Wolfe) and I decided to re-launch the Reading Rainbow brand. And so that's been a two-year journey.

And now through Perception -- I mean, I haven稚 been on television in, I don't know what, 10, 12 years in a series. So I get to return to my first love here. And (Ken), as the writer-producer, is committed to giving me notes to play that he knows the public hasn't seen from me before.

So I get to go to work and act and love every minute of that and love the people that I'm working with, (Eric) and (Rachel) and (RJ), just really tremendously talented, quality human beings.

And then I get, you know -- and my day job right now is, you know, continuing that mission of inspiring children who are making decisions as to whether they're going to be readers or not, to, you know, choose the light.

Karen Mull: Is it -- no, should we not be surprised then that the role that brought you back to television. Is that as an educator?

LeVar Burton: You know what, everything happens for a reason. And when (Ken) was naming the character, he called me and said, "I'm thinking of naming the character Haley. What do you think of that?"

And I was like blown away because as an homage to (Alex) who had such a major impact on my life and, you know, this country, by the way, I think it really does come full circle. It's really -- it's interesting because this is the 35th anniversary of Roots this year. It's also the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation coming on the air and between -- literally between Roots, Kunta Kinte and Geordi La Forge is LeVar. And there's just a wonderful symmetry I think to that. And playing Dean Haley in Perception is the fulfillment of some kind of, I don't know, some kind of karmic wonderfulness. I guess that's the best way I have of describing it.

Karen Mull: Well, thank you so much. I'm going to give somebody else a chance now. Good luck with the show.

LeVar Burton: Thank you so much.

Operator: Thank you. And as a reminder, please limit yourselves to one question. You may re-queue for further questions.

LeVar Burton: I guess I'll make my answers shorter.

Operator: We'll take our next question from (Earl Dittman). Please go ahead.

Earl Dittman: LeVar, how are you today, man?

LeVar Burton: I'm all right, (Earl). How do you do?

Earl Dittman: Doing great, doing great. I have to say congratulations. I mean, what an incredible show, incredible performance, incredible everything. It must be a welcome return to television with a role like this.

LeVar Burton: Yes. You don't get this all that often. You know what I'm saying, you know?

Earl Dittman: Yes, that's what I'm going to ask you. During your hiatus, did Hollywood knock every so often and say, "Hey, do you want to come on this show or this show" and you turned them down or they just weren't knocking?

LeVar Burton: You know, I read a lot of scripts and, you know, at this stage in my life and in my career, I go and audition for a lot of things, some things that I don't connect to. And once in a while I really do connect with something. And like I said before, when I read the script, I was like this I just want to be a part of.

Earl Dittman: What was it about your character that you're really connected to? Is he like you in any way or...

LeVar Burton: It wasn't the character, it was the writing. And in going to (Ken), I was basically saying, "Lookay, I trust you. You won't let me sit around and do nothing. But I want to be in this because I love what you're doing here."

Earl Dittman: Yes.

LeVar Burton: And he made it possible.

Earl Dittman: That's fantastic. Well, let somebody go, but I値l come back. Thanks, LeVar.

LeVar Burton: All right. Thank you.

Operator: Thank you.

We'll take our next question from (Suzanne Lanoue). Please go ahead.

Suzanne Lanoue: Hi. It's an honor to speak with you.

LeVar Burton: Hi, (Suzanne).

Suzanne Lanoue: I was wondering how many episodes in the show are you on the season if you know.

LeVar Burton: I'm in -- let's see. How many did we do? Do we do eight? Did we do -- I forget. I think I'm in six.

Suzanne Lanoue: Six? Well, that's good.

LeVar Burton: I believe, yes. What's the total number for the season?

Suzanne Lanoue: I have no idea.

Wendy Levison: It's 10.

LeVar Burton: It's 10. I'm in 6 of 10.

Suzanne Lanoue: Oh, good, good.

LeVar Burton: Yes, 6 of 10.

Suzanne Lanoue: Seven of nine would have been cool, but, you know.

LeVar Burton: Seven of nine would have been OKAY, too.

Suzanne Lanoue: I just have one real quick question. I was wondering, do you think there'll be any controversy when a show airs considering it's like a fully-functioning schizophrenic with a job but doesn't take any medication?

LeVar Burton: Well, it'll be interesting to see if there is, isn't there? I think the whole idea of mental illness and the stigma that we have associated with it in this country is up for discussion. We are ripe to reevaluate that stigma.

And to be able to, as I say, have that conversation begin with a television show, I know the value of that. I watched this nation become transformed in eight nights of television around an issue that goes to the heart of almost everything that happens in this country, in this culture. And that's the subject of slavery and its legacy on subsequent generations.

So I know and appreciate fully what the value of the medium to be an alive part of the evolution of culture. And I just think that we really need to have this conversation in America about how we feel about out-of-balance brain chemistry, just like we needed to have the conversation about racism in America, its roots and its legacy.

Suzanne Lanoue: Well, great. Thank you very much.

LeVar Burton: My pleasure.

Operator: Thank you.

We'll take our next question from (Mike Tim Crowley). Please go ahead.

Mike Tim Crowley: Hey, LeVar, how's it going?

LeVar Burton: Hey, I'm really, really well today.

Mike Tim Crowley: Hey, listen, and so, you know, you've been on a lot of shows with a lot of big fan bases like TNG and Reading Rainbow obviously, you know. And I guess those shows have a lot of big fan bases behind them, I mean, and you're quite interactive with your fans via Twitter and whatnot. What are you enjoying most about interacting with them?

LeVar Burton: Twitter I love because it's an opportunity for me to have a conversation with, you know, people who - you know, from different parts of my life and my career, you know, Roots fans and Star Trek fans and Reading Rainbow fans. I can converse with them absent gatekeepers. I get to say what I want, when I want in a manner that I want 140 characters at a time. And there's no studio or network or publicist between me and my voice. That's what I love about it.

Operator: All right, we'll take our next question from (Meredith Jacobs). Please go ahead.

Meredith Jacobs: Hi, thanks for being here. I was wondering what can we expect to see from your character and your interactions with Dr. Pierce throughout the season.

LeVar Burton: I'm not certain I'm able to share that with you, (Meredith), simply because, you know, in the (interwebs) we have phrase "spoiler alert" that we respect. And I haven't had an opportunity to talk to (Ken). I know where the character is going and I'm not certain that it would be a good idea for the audience to know in advance of them discovering. Does that make sense to you?

Meredith Jacobs: Yes, it does. ((inaudible)).

LeVar Burton: I can tell you for certain that Dean Haley grows in importance in terms of the unfolding of the story. I'm just not prepared to share that with you just yet. I invite you to go on the journey.

Meredith Jacobs: Okayay, thank you.

Operator: Thank you.

We'll take our next question from (Courtney Cashman). Please go ahead.

Courtney Cashman: Hi. It's a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for taking the time.

LeVar Burton: Hey, (Courtney).

Courtney Cashman: I was wondering if psychology and the inner workings of the mind if that was something that has always been an interest to you or is that something that really came out once you read this pilot and got involved with the script.

LeVar Burton: I'd have to say that the field of psychology and the nature of reality is something that I've been interested in for a long time. I read the Don Juan Chronicles, boy, when I was 16 or 17 years old.

So as a part of my own personal journey, the nature of reality has played a dominant role. And the exploration of the nature of reality has been a subject that I've been interested in a long time.

What excited me was (Ken's) take on it, his entry point into it in a vehicle in the popular culture. I just thought, "Wow, thank God. Finally, somebody gets it, somebody has cracked the code on how do we talk about this in a way that is interesting visually, is compelling in a story-telling sense." And can smartly, intelligently discuss an issue that we all have in common. I don't think there's anybody on this call that doesn't know someone who's either on medication or should be on medication and is not.

So I'm not saying that we're all walking around, you know, paranoid schizophrenics. I'm just saying that brain chemistry and brain chemistry out of balance is an issue that is so prevalent in America today from kids with, you know, ADD or Asperger's.

They're just -- and we cannot continue to function as a healthy society if we have this negative spin in our minds about what it means to have out of balance brain chemistry. It's nothing you can control. It's inherited.

And so we really need to lookay at how we feel about it and perhaps give ourselves an opportunity to change our minds about how we feel about it. And I'm a big fan of the power of the medium in terms of giving us an entry point, a way into the conversation.

Courtney Cashman: Great. Thanks so much.

LeVar Burton: You bet.

Operator: Thank you.

We'll take our last question from (Nicole Fix). Please go ahead.

Nicole Fix: Hi, LeVar. It's really nice to meet you. This has been a really good interview.

LeVar Burton: Thanks.

Nicole Fix: You're very, very eloquent. I really enjoyed it. So my question is you always seem to star in serieses that thrive on intelligence. How important is intellect and programming to you as an actor?

LeVar Burton: Oh, my gosh. It's everything. Unless the story-telling is smart, it's hard to have impact. I'm really drawn -- really am drawn to intelligence and to intelligent story-telling. And, you know it when you see it. Even if you can't define it, you know it when it smacks you in the face, right?

Nicole Fix: Agree.

LeVar Burton: Yes. And I've been really lucky. I've been very, very blessed throughout the course of my career. I just am grateful. I'm enormously grateful.

Nicole Fix: Well, I'm really glad because you've helped inspire probably everyone on this call in some way in some role that you've played throughout your career and I'm sure your own children, too, I mean, it's amazing, on future generations.

LeVar Burton: Let's hope, you know, let's hope. You know, as Van Morrison says, you know, I just consider myself a journeyman, I'm working and practicing, working and practicing.

Nicole Fix: Thank you.

Operator: We have no time for further questions.

Wendy Levison: Thank you so much for joining today's call. As a reminder, Perception premieres on Monday, July 9th at 10 PM eastern on TNT. A transcript of this call will be available within 24 hours.

Thank you, LeVar, and thank you all for participating.

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