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Belle, when I arrived in this country, America, I decided to close my heart. It was the only way for me to stay strong… care for no one. Then, I remember opening my eyes in great pain. And the first thing I saw was you. Helping me. No, I didn’t see you. I depended on you, but I did not see you. It took too long, Belle, but now I see a woman like no one I’ve ever met… kind and strong… and very beautiful and smart, and… I hope that… Well, I-I hope that… What I would like… Yes. Kunta Kinte, I will be your wife.

‘Roots’ Star Malachi Kirby On Filming Kunta Kinte’s Intense Night 1 Scenes

Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte (Photos: History)

If you’ve seen the first night of History’s four-part Roots remake, when young Mandinka warrior Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) is captured by slavers, transported to America in the hold of a ship, and whipped because he refuses to identify himself as Toby, then you know what our critic-at-large Ken Tucker meant when he wrote, “The new Roots excels in the naturalism of its performances to make the horror of slavery vividly painful — and the resistance to it uplifting — in a way that deepens the tale.”

Related: Ken Tucker Reviews ‘Roots’: Remade For A New Generation

It’s a career-making performance for Kirby, the 26-year-old Brit who describes filming the miniseries as a spiritual experience. “For most of the stuff, I didn’t know how to prepare, so I prayed. I just asked God to help me, basically,” he says. “And what ended up happening on that day doing the whipping scene is, we got through the first take, and then the second take, something just took over. I was never actually getting hit, but suddenly it felt like I was experiencing the pain of hundreds of other people, and it was overwhelming and I broke down. I don’t know for how long — it felt like for an hour, but it was probably more like 15 minutes. I was just on the floor crying, in tears. It wasn’t an upset thing, it was like I was being tormented with all this incredible amount of pain. We weren’t finished, so we got up and carried on. It was an incredibly humbling experience.”

Related: Get to Know ‘Roots’ Remake Star Malachi Kirby — and His Road to an Iconic Role

Fiddler (Forest Whitaker) tells Kunta you keep your true name inside

To film the scenes in the ship hold, Kirby had a plan. “I understood that the actual people who were enslaved at the time would’ve been in the slave hold continuously for maybe at least three weeks or so, so I thought the least I could do was try to stay in there for a day,” he says. “So whenever we did that stuff, once we were in, I didn’t leave it. I didn’t go to the toilet, I didn’t have lunch. I just stayed in there until we’d finished the day. And again, that was horrible and took me to some very dark places. I’d go in there happy and come out just a different person. Where we were filming, they actually built a boat with the actual perimeters of the time, and they put 200 people in there and chained them up and put dirt and poo on them, and it smelled horrible, and there wasn’t much oxygen in there because of the amount of people, and you couldn’t stand up because of the roof. So you’re just in this cramped space with people wailing, and screaming, and singing. It was just horrible. But very necessary.”

How did Kirby recover after they wrapped for the day? “This has been something new for me this whole journey, with my faith and my work, but I pray. It’s the only way I kinda get through it and actually release and get back to myself. I pray and I praise God.”

Roots continues Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on History, A&E, and Lifetime.

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Relaxing Kirby Music Collection

tracklist:

00:00 Title Screen – (Kirby’s Epic Yarn)
00:41 Keychain Collecting – (Kirby Triple Deluxe)
02:06 Rest Area – (Super Smash Bros. Melee)
02:43 Chilly Area – (Kirby’s Return to Dream Land)
05:46 Grass Land – (Kirby’s Epic Yarn)
07:21 Quiet Forest – (Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards) [Remix by Blue Comet]
09:01 Nutty Noon – (Kirby’s Return to Dream Land)
10:59 A Well-Earned Rest – (Kirby Triple Deluxe)
12:25 Rainbow Resort – (Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land)
13:55 Swept Out to Sea – (Kirby & the Rainbow Curse)
15:56 My Friend and the Setting Sun… – (Kirby Super Star) [Remix by menergy125]
19:42 Aurora Area – (Kirby’s Return to Dream Land)
22:03 Bubbly Clouds – (Kirby’s Epic Yarn)
23:53 Grape Garden – (Kirby’s Return to Dream Land)
26:20 Wonders of the Stars – (Kirby Squeak Squad)
28:03 Milky Way Wishes – (Hoshizora no carnival DA!) [Vocals by Eriko]
31:50 Silver Snow Story – (Kirby Triple Deluxe)
33:16 Frosty Wheel – (Kirby’s Epic Yarn)
34:54 Grape Garden – (Kirby’s Adventure) [Remix & Vocals by Itoki Hana]
39:03 Milky Way Wishes – (Kirby & the Rainbow Curse)
41:03 Staff Roll 2 – (Kirby Triple Deluxe)
43:18 Good Night – (The Large Concert of the Starry Sky)

Original Composers: Jun Ishikawa, Hirokazu Ando, Shogo Sakai, Megumi Ohara, Tomoya Tomita

Watch on soph-okonedo.tumblr.com

The cast of the planned four-night, eight-hour scripted event miniseries already includes Forest Whitaker as “Fiddler;”Anika Noni Rose as “Kizzy”;Chad L. Coleman as “Mingo”; Erica Tazel as “Matilda”; Derek Luke as “Silla Ba Dibba,” Anna Paquin as “Nancy Holt”; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as “Tom Lea”;Emayatzy Corinealdi plays “Belle”, the wife of Kunta Kinte; Tip “T.I.” Harris plays “Cyrus”; Mekhi Phifer as “Jerusalem”; Malachi Kirby as “Kunta Kinte”; Regé-Jean Page as “Chicken George”; and Laurence Fishburne as “Alex Haley”

*The mini-series reboot premieres Memorial Day 2016