How was this project different from your roles in Ant-Man or Entourage?
I had my apprehensions, given the prestigious reputation of the original series. It’s the most important performance I’ll ever have in my career. I don’t think I could guarantee anything else I’ve done will still be judged and critiqued in 40 years. But if it scares the sh-t out of you, you should do it.
You tweeted that Roots is “not another slave story of oppression. It’s a story about the origin of our existence.” Why that distinction?
It’s important to see we weren’t slaves first. The first episode covers so much ground on the life we were living before we were enslaved. To see Kunta Kinte tell his father that he wants to study at a university in Timbuktu–if you know that’s what you were before you survived this tragic, horrible thing, then your expectations for yourself will meet or supersede that.
What will surprise people?
In the original, you don’t see Chicken George fight in the Civil War. In this version you do [in the Battle of Fort Pillow] … He isn’t given a firearm and is put on what’s called cannon duty. But a cannon doesn’t help at short distances. And in this battle, when the Union soldiers surrender, the Confederates execute the black soldiers. That’s not in your history books, and people need to know.
You’ve spoken out against both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Will you vote in this election?
Everything Trump stands for supports and inspires hatred. If I said, “If you beat someone up at one of my concerts who doesn’t agree with me or look like me, I’ll pay your legal fees,” I’d be called a common thug. I’m not fundamentally against Hillary–I just want more answers from her. Bernie [Sanders] is an excellent candidate because he answers questions straight. You know where he stands.
This appears in the May 30, 2016 issue of TIME.
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