Lane Garrison is quite nice, actually.
After seeing him as Frederick Murray in Roots, starting Monday night on A&E, History and Lifetime, you might be caught unaware.
Garrison understands. He’s almost unrecognizable. And the promotional literature for the miniseries gets his character right, describing Murray as “racist, pro-secession," “vicious” and “violent.”
“That’s a lot to play,” the Dallas native agrees. “I had to say some mean, ugly things that first day. When it was done, I turned around, waved and said, 'Hi, everyone. I’m Lane.’ And everyone laughed. It was a way to break the ice.
“I’m lucky that I can turn it off and on quickly. … I work from the outside in,” meaning that he gets the look of the character first. That “awful beard” was a choice.
Garrison, a former football player who is a big fan now, was ready: “My first day on set in Napoleonville, La., I took a football with me.”
Roots is the story of young Kunta Kinte, who was sold into slavery in America, and the generations that followed him.
When the original miniseries aired in 1977, it seemed as if pop culture stopped to watch; the epic drew in 130 million people. It opened a dialogue on race that continues.
Garrison points out that there are entire generations that have not seen nor heard of Roots. He thinks this remake is made of the same stuff.
“I call them films,” he says about the television event being shown in two-hour blocks. “It’s four films. It is incredible. And it’s going to be groundbreaking.”
If the New York premiere is any indication of how people will perceive this one, then he’s right.
“There were standing ovations and tears,” he says. It was the first time he had seen the finished product with an audience. He plans to watch it again with some of the other cast members.
“Malachi Kirby — he plays Kunta Kinte — is wonderful,” Garrison says. And he starts ticking off other extreme players: Laurence Fishburne plays Alex Haley, the author of the book upon which the miniseries is based; Forest Whitaker is Fiddler; Anna Paquin plays his wife, Nancy Holt; Mekhi Phifer; and T.I., “you know, the rapper,” plays freedom fighter Cyrus.
“When I saw T.I. at the premiere, I just grabbed him and hugged him to tell him how good he was in what I’d seen,” Garrison says.
He has come a long way since he left Dallas in a beat-up car with only $400 and his diploma from Richardson ISD’s J.J. Pearce High School.
Prison Break catapulted his career. (It was icing on the cake when production moved from Chicago to Dallas after the first season. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Get ready to see some of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen in your life’.”) Emmy-nominated miniseries Bonnie & Clyde (2013) and Camp X-Ray with Kristen Stewart are a couple of recent resume highlights.
He wants people to learn from his journey that dreams are possible.
“I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned a lot from them,” he says.
At one point during filming, Garrison said he danced through the set, in full Confederate dress, singing Marvin Gaye.
“It was almost a testament to how far we’ve come,” he says. “But there are still problems today. So we have a responsibility."
He wants people to learn from Roots, too.
"[Roots] makes you want to be a better person. It reminds you to treat others like you want to be treated.”