Two highly anticipated shows both with Louisiana connections premiere Monday night on the small screen.
At 8 p.m., catch the first episode of “Roots,” which will air over four consecutive nights on History, and at 10 p.m. “Scream” slashes its way into a second season on MTV.
Look for New Orleans’ Kelvin Harrison Jr. on the fourth night of “Roots,” the reworking of the 1977 ground-breaking TV miniseries.
The 21-year-old actor will be featured as Winslow in the Louisiana-shot remake, which stars numerous Academy and Emmy winners, including Forrest Whittaker, Anna Paquin, Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Based on the Alex Haley novel, the drama follows the life of African Kunta Kinte, who is sold into slavery in America, and generations of his descendants.
The role is Harrison’s fourth time portraying a slave. TV audiences last saw him in the season finale of WGN America’s “Underground,” also filmed in Louisiana. He also had a small role in the 2013 Louisiana-shot feature film, “12 Years a Slave,” and will be seen on the big screen in “The Birth of a Nation,” due out later this year.
“I think I’ve done them all at this point. I had to think about it. Do I actually want to do ‘Roots’? Do I think I have anything else to offer? They’re all just so different,” Harrison said. “And I realized these are human stories, and it’s not just about playing a slave over and over again. They all have different journeys, and they all have different stories that they need to tell and different obstacles they need to overcome and different conflicts. So I don’t fear it. I think it’s all educational.
“There are things about ‘Roots’ that I did not know when I did ‘The Birth of a Nation’; there are things that when I was doing ‘Underground’ that I didn’t know when I was learning about the Underground Railroad. It’s constantly new information and it’s so informative,” he added. “So I think it’s all good.”
Ironically, Harrison, at 12 or 13, wasn’t so impressed when his parents, musicians Kelvin Sr. and Shirlita Harrison, made him watch a DVD of the 12-hour original “Roots.”
“I wasn’t very excited about it. It felt outdated and honestly just really long and old,” he recalled. “I had a hard time making a connection with something that felt so distant. I think this one’s going to be really great for the new generation, and to kind of reinform things that we might have missed from not being able to connect to the first one.”
In addition to trimming the running time by a third, the new series is a more action-packed presentation, with a different energy to it, Harrison said.
“Visually, it’s just more interesting, it’s more stunning, it’s more alive than I think it was before,” he said.
In playing Winslow, Harrison got to work alongside hip-hop artist/actor Tip “T.I.” Harris, and up-and-coming actor Regé-Jean Page, who’s portraying memorable character Chicken George.
Harrison’s time on the set was spent shooting at the LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge, and a remote field and woods in St. Francisville.
“Winslow is an escaping slave who has been kept for safety in a small cupboard, belonging to this free black wagonwright, for seven years. I think that’s why he’s just so interesting,” Harrison said.
“Wow, who is this guy, how did he get to this point, and I think his goal, just like so many other slaves, is just to get up North and experience what he would consider to be a chance at true freedom, whatever that means to him.
“I feel like he’s been through so much, because, for me, it was just developing, OK, what were those seven years in hiding, what were the 13 years of history before he escaped, and where is he now. And I feel like he just wants to be free from the domination and to find a sense of hope and possibility so that can just blossom.”
The return of ‘Scream’
Carlson Young has lots of memories of Baton Rouge, where the first season of MTV’s “Scream” was shot; and she’s making new ones in New Orleans, where filming is ongoing for the series’ sophomore season.
The Texas-born actress, 25, plays Brooke Maddox in the horror/drama based on the popular movie series. Production should wrap by the end of July.
In the meantime, Young and castmate Willa Fitzgerald, who plays Emma Duval, are sharing a living space somewhere in the heart of the Big Easy.
“We decided we wanted a really classic New Orleans vibe, so we decided to live on our own,” Young said from her Los Angeles home last week on a brief break from “Scream.”
The rest of the cast lives with or near each other further away from the city’s center.
“We definitely like the Bouligny Tavern on Magazine Street,” Young said, of their top hangout spots. “My favorite part is the food, that’s for sure. Shaya, I love Shaya (modern Israeli cuisine). I love Lilette (a French and Italian bistro), and I love Peche (a seafood grill).”
Back at work, Young said the show uses a studio near the Louis Armstrong International Airport for interior shoots, and films exterior scenes mostly around Jefferson Parish.
The Season 1 “Scream” sets at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge were recreated on the New Orleans soundstage, MTV spokesman Jason Shumaker said via email. “It’s my understanding the studio in NOLA is larger and could accommodate additional sets and indoor locations. They’re also using several outdoor locations in and around the suburbs of NOLA.”
In these new episodes, Young’s character, Brooke, continues to evolve, she said.
“In the first season, Brooke is a full ‘10’ — popular, bitchy mean girl — but over the course of the season, I got to break her down a lot, and there’s a lot of things that happen to her that I think, when you see Season 2, anybody who’s seen Season 1, they will have a little bit more understanding of this character,” she said. “But then, of course, everything gets shattered for her again for the second season, as with most of the other characters as well, when all of your friends are murdered, but Season 2 is a different roller coaster for Brooke that I think people will like to see.”
Playing Brooke’s father, Lakewood Mayor Quinn Maddox, is New Orleans actor Bryan Batt.
“It’s just fantastic. Bryan is just one of my favorite people in the entire world,” Young said. “He’s so talented, but he’s also just such a warm presence to be around. I just adore him.”
As the serial killer’s spree continues, Young said the cast has little warning as to the next victim.
“We get the scripts episode-to-episode, so we’re really not ahead of the audience in any way,” she said.