[WATCH] Rege-Jean Page (‘Roots’): ‘I collapsed’ during Chicken George’s toughest scene

“My biggest want for what I could bring to this project was to humanize it, to bring three dimensions to people that have been all too often misrepresented as two-dimensional ciphers,” says Rege-Jean Page as we chat about his role in “Roots” via webcam (watch above).

‘Roots’ reviews: History Channel miniseries is ‘as necessary today as it was almost 40 years ago’

Page plays Chicken George, the son of Kizzy (Anika Noni Rose) and grandson of Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby). “He’s a hugely ambitious young man who wants to be defined on his own merit in the world that tells him he has no merit,” the actor explains. George is a fast-talking, larger-than-life character, but Page is “intensely private and introverted, so getting to that very open, outward place I think comes just from getting to know your character.” George’s sense of showmanship is really a “survival mechanism,” to endear himself to a hostile world.

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But sometimes those mechanisms break down, for character and actor a like. There comes a point when George is sold overseas, separated from his family, and it brought Page to a breaking point. “It felt like the whole universe imploded in on itself,” Page remembers of shooting that scene. “The way we broke for lunch that day, it was maybe the fifth or sixth take of being dragged away. I kind of collapsed and I felt the camera follow me down as a good camera does – ‘Oh, this isn’t in the choreography but something interesting is happening.’ They just watch me weep for about 20 seconds, and then I felt the set respectfully melt away as they went, ‘Should we take lunch?’ ‘Yes, let’s take lunch while the actor has his breakdown.’ It’s tricky having your heart broken 10 or 20 times a day on a set like this.”

He notes that stories about the black experience are hard enough to get made, let alone confronting as dark a period of history as the enslavement of Africans. “There are a hundred million Jane Austen [stories]. Turn the camera 90 degrees to the left and we’re still there – you just don’t like looking at it quite so much.”

[WATCH] Anika Noni Rose (‘Roots’): ‘Not simply for black Americans, this is a story for Americans’

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