Following Michael Dawson’s unceremonious exit from Lost last season – his character mired in obscurity for the better part of two seasons only to be resurrected in season four so he could be properly killed off – Harold Perrineau has returned to ABC in a befitting role: a guy who’s deathly afraid of dying.
In The Unusuals, Perrineau plays Detective Leo Banks, a neurotic cop with a fondness for kevlar vests whose father and grandfather both died tragically at the age of 42. And how old is Banks? 42, of course. So, is this just a continuing device ABC is using with no real intention of wiping him out ? Or is Perrineau poised to become TV’s next Jeffrey Dean Morgan?
In an interview last week, a good-humored Perrineau responded to the ABC death wish question as well as others, like will we ever see him on the island again? Read on.
What’s been the biggest challenge or difference for you going from Lost to this?
The biggest thing is that most of my career has been very dramatic, so going to this thing that has drama but is also very comedic has been a little scary for me. I haven’t done comedy before and Adam Goldberg is so genius at it, it’s a little intimidating. I’m trying to get on the train and learn how to get my timing going. It’s been tricky but totally fun. I don’t have nearly as many headaches as I did when I was on Lost because it was always like ‘OK, I’ve got to go scream at Walt, or scream about Walt, or cry about Walt…something about Walt!’
There’s a lot less screaming in this show.
It takes a lot of preparation for that stuff! People think you just walk up to the screen and scream. No! You’re walking around in a bad mood for a really long time. People are like ‘why are you so depressed, we’re in paradise?’ and I’m like ‘I lost my boy!!!!!’
How’s it been being back in New York after the island life of Lost?
I have to say I’m kind of a sissy about it all. I grew up in New York and was really tough about it before I left. I got back and I just can’t believe I had to wear long johns! It was more difficult than I expected. But I really love working on the show so I went through it anyway.
You got accustomed to living out there.
I actually did. When I first got to Hawaii, the first three weeks I was like ‘wow this is great! This is amazing,’ because we’d just come from New York. It was like ‘this is cool, people just sit around.’ By week four, I was sort of looking around…and by week six I was like ‘really!? That’s IT?! Surfing and the sun, that’s IT?! That’s all they got here?!’ [laughing] so I was really annoyed, but then about six months later I started to get into it more.
But then when I found out Michael was going to be gone from the show for a while, I came back to LA, and suddenly LA felt like it was moving really fast. Then I got back to New York and it was a whirlwind. I would call my wife and go ‘there weren’t this many people in New York when we were last here!’
The cool thing about New York is even though it moves so fast, as soon as people talk to you, you go ‘ah, I get it. I totally get it.’ I’ve been in LA before and I’ve felt like ‘I don’t know what anyone is talking about out here.’ But I never feel like that in New York.
One of the central themes of The Unusuals is that everyone has a secret. It seems like your “secret” fear of dying has been revealed early on. Are there other secrets we’re going to see develop for your character?
I think not. My secret is divulged really early to my partner, but not to the rest of my squad. They don’t know what’s going on. The cool thing is our show is not so much about the secrets themselves, but how the characters relate to themselves based on the secrets. It’s not as much how ‘Lost’ was, but more about how life is. That I don’t know what Adam’s deal is is causing our relationship a lot of stress. But now that he knows what my deal is it changes the nature of our relationship.
Everyone knows you’ve got some kind of neurosis, but nobody knows your fear of death is based on a family history.
They don’t know. So far they do expect some kind of fear from him but no one knows specifically. Leo Banks feels very secure with this idea that it really could happen to him, and it’s not a joke.
Leo Banks may be secure, but what about Harrold Perrineau? Could it really happen? How much do you know about his future? And finally, if he does go, do you think ABC has a death wish for you?
Now that’s the question, isn’t it! [laughing] The thing that I do know for certain is nothing is for sure in television land. I thought I had a really secure job on ‘Lost,’ and then there it went! But there were great reasons for that.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with Leo Banks. I don’t know if he’s going to die at 42. You might get to like him and then ABC goes ‘you know what? We need to shock our audience!’ And then Leo Banks is gone. It could happen.
You’d have to write them a pretty angry letter if that happened.
Do I write them an angry letter? Or do I just go, ‘ah, they’ll put me in another show!’
You were vocal about being disappointed in your departure from Lost. Do you still harbor any anger or frustration?
I don’t harbor any ill will or anything like that. It was just my point of view as an African American viewer. I’ve been watching television in America since I was a kid. For me, what would have been interesting would have been to see Michael really fight to be with Walt. I didn’t so much love the idea that Michael was trying to kill himself and leave Walt hanging with his grandmother. But it’s not my show to write, and I can’t ask them to write to my social issues.
Somehow it got construed that I hated them, or thought they were terrible. I don’t hate them. They write a brilliant show.
But do you think there’s any credence to what you’re saying? They killed you and Mr. Ecko off, Walt is basically 100% gone, with the exception of one episode this season…
But here’s the thing: As an African American audience member, I think personally, I will notice stuff like that. I’ll say ‘there are no black people on the cover of that magazine.’ So I will also notice when those characters are gone. If you’re writing a show and you’re just writing about characters, you might not think about it, but I will, and I’ll say something about it. That doesn’t mean that they’re racist or bad people, it just means that it’s what I notice.
Do you think there’s a chance you’ll ever come back, even if it’s in a Hurley vision?
I have no idea if I’ll come back. Because I’m on the new show I’d say not. But because it’s on ABC, it could work out.
You could show up on the island in your kevlar vest.
Exactly! They’ll be like ‘Michael?’ I’ll be like ‘no. Leo Banks. Sorry, can I help you?’ [laughing]
You and Adam have a pretty neurotic/funny chemistry together. What’s been the funniest moment on set thus far?
We do. There’s been a lot of pants dropping on our show. I don’t know why at all, but in the middle of any scene one could drop their pants.
Like full moon pants dropping?
Yeah. There’s a word we throw around a lot on set: satchel. It’s talking about a part of the male anatomy.
Have you dropped trou yet?
I have not dropped trou but I have dropped satchel a number of times.