Star Trek's LeVar Burton Wants to Direct Picard, Talks Franchise's History and Future

LeVar Burton is known to generations as Kunte Kinte in Roots, Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The [...]

LeVar Burton is known to generations as Kunte Kinte in Roots, Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as the host of Reading Rainbow. He's headed to Keystone Comic Con at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia next weekend and, ahead of the show, caught up with the actor, director, and podcaster.

Burton appeared during the Emmy Awards to represent Star Trek: The Next Generation when the Star Trek franchise was given the Governors Award. With several of his Next Generation co-stars returning in Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access, some have wondered if he may reprise his role as Geordi to join them.

In an interview over the phone, Burton discussed the convention circuit, the past, present and future of the Star Trek franchise, what he envisions for Geordi's future, and whether he may step behind the camera again for an episode of Star Trek.

(Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

You've been doing conventions for a while now. I'm curious what it's been like for you and how it's changed over the years, especially now that both Star Trek is back and you've got LeVar Burton Reads going on.

LeVar Burton: I guess I've seen changes. I've seen changes in the business of cons. There are ebbs and flows in terms of the popularity of any franchise. We had a real good run though off the 25th anniversary in January. That was a lot of fun. That was a good two, three-year reunion tour for the 25th on the con circuit. It was great. It was great. Like I said, business is changing. There are fewer independent promoters than there used to be. The ReedPOPs of the world have moved into the space.

However, what remains consistent for us as a cast is that when at least two of us are together, then we know it's going to be a good weekend, regardless of whatever else happens. Because we're family and we enjoy each other's company. When we're all together, it's pandemonium to anybody outside of us looking in because we're just so loud and boisterous and we just make each other laugh so much. More than anyone else in our respective lives. When we're together, it's heaven for us because we don't get to do that anymore. To be together all in the same place at the same time, which we used to love when we were working together, when we were getting paid for it. We were just getting paid to hang out with each other and we were our favorite people to hang out with.

Some of you will be hanging out again in Star Trek: Picard. Like everyone else, I'm curious about whether we'll see Geordi in the new series, but I'm also curious about whether you'd be interested in directing given your history directed Star Trek episodes.

LB: Currently, I direct one show and that's NCIS: New Orleans. I direct because, number one, I love directing. I'm lucky to be able to do it as a storyteller, to direct. Number two, I don't suck at it. Three, I love the people that I do it with. Those are the reasons for me to direct. Right now, I'm only directing one show. There are a lot of ways that I tell stories in my life these days. Like I said, I'm really lucky. Whether I'm acting, directing, writing, producing, podcasting, I'm a storyteller. I'm an itinerant storyteller. It's not just what I do, it's my DNA, it's who I am.

If asked, absolutely. I would find the time in my life for it because it would be a joy again, as I say, to hang out with Patrick [Stewart] and whoever else is in the cast. I've met a couple of the people. I know Jonathan Del Arco and I know that Hugh figures prominently in Picard. And I know Jeri Ryan and I know Brent is in it. So, you know, I've got friends on that set.

In 2018, you were one of the stars who stood up representing Star Trek when it received the Governors Award at the Emmys. I know from other interviews that Star Trek has been a big influence on you even before you were cast as Geordi. How did it feel to stand up there and receive that award on behalf of the franchise more than 50 years after its debut?

LB: It's one of the few occasions when I really allow myself to go there, that night certainly was. I was enormously proud to represent this franchise, this vision, and this family. It's still a pretty cool club to belong to, a family that has worked on one of these Star Trek series, iterations of Gene Roddenberry's vision. It's not that many people when you consider all the human beings on the planet. It's a small group. We consider one another family in the larger sense. I think that all of us, whether we were fans of Star Trek or not, I think we were all proud of the work that we did. That's a lot to be said.

You've spoken in past interviews about how the representation on display in Star Trek affected you. That continued during the Next Generation era. Now we have Sonequa Martin-Green leading Star Trek: Discovery and Michelle Yeoh possibly leading the Section 31 spinoff. How do you feel about the direction the franchise has taken these last few years?

LB: Here's what I love about Star Trek. This is what I realized a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas. Two examples of why I love Star Trek and why I'm so proud to have been a fan for all of these many years. I walked into the large panel room in Las Vegas. The panel is called "The Doctors." Onstage are two white men, of course, because you've got to have two white guys — it's just the way things are, even in the 21st century apparently — and there's a woman and two men of color. You have Gates McFadden, you have Alexander Siddig, you have Wilson Cruz, as well as Bob Picardo and John Billingsley. These are all the chief medical officers of the various incarnations. Look at the diversity in that group of five doctors.

Later on, right after that was a panel, it was the Picard panel. It was Jonathan Frakes and Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del Arco. Jonathan talked about how back when he was on Next Gen there was conversation in the LGBTQ community about their ability to find themselves in Star Trek. There was a conversation, I know, in the offices in the Roddenberry Building, which is where the show was produced from, I know that there was a conversation about whether or not we were going to introduce a gay couple. They backed away from it. However, how wonderful, Jonathan was saying, that Star Trek itself has evolved to where it feels comfortable including that demographic, that dynamic, that aspect of diversity openly. There's a gay couple in Discovery, played by Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz.

Star Trek has led the culture. Star Trek was responsible for the first interracial kiss on television in America. It just speaks to the ability of the franchise, of this storytelling franchise to continue to evolve. It's a good sign for its continuing longevity. I believe that Star Trek will continue to be popular all over this planet because of, yes, its entertainment value, but because of its perhaps inspirational value as well.

As a storyteller yourself, I'm wondering what you might see in Geordi's future if it were up to you to decide. I don't know if you keep up with the novels or comics, but they've taken him in different directions.

LB: I don't. I don't. Or the fan fiction. I don't. For the record, I don't see him and Data in a relationship, contrary to a lot of fanfic. For the record.

I don't know. We have an indication that he became a writer. I'd like to think that he spent some time if he left space, that he spent some time teaching...He would, coming from the family that he does, would want to pass that knowledge and information onto a new generation of engineers, I'm assuming.


Keystone Comic Con takes place August 23rd through August 25th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. LeVar Burton will be available for photos, autographs, and panels on the Saturday and Sunday of the convention.