I’m starting at the beginning with this blog, with a throwback to my writing career in its infancy. I wrote film reviews for my high school newspaper, and through the power of social media I created a few interview opportunities for myself. I’ve done some revisions of this article for this blog primarily to update its readability in 2020.
Harold Perrineau is a man of many roles, having most notably played Michael Dawson in the groundbreaking ABC television series LOST. He is also widely regarded for his roles in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, HBO’s Oz, and the hit FX show Sons of Anarchy. Perrineau graciously agreed to do an interview for my high school newspaper and this blog, and I truly cannot thank him enough for that. When I made the call, Perrineau was in the grocery store, and hurried out to his car to answer my questions.
“How did you get into acting?” was the very first question, and it brought Perrineau back to his teenage years. He referred back to his high school experience in New York, where he had found a passion in music, more specifically the violin. His aunt was attending Long Island University at the time, where a theatre program for children called “Of, By, and For” was taking place. Perrineau, his brothers, and his cousins auditioned for the program, and Perrineau’s aunt paid for the program when they were accepted. For Perrineau, that was when it “all clicked,” and he knew that was what he wanted to do for a living. I asked if he had thought about it before attending the program, and he responded saying that he had only really thought about it in the sense that he had a fondness for television and musicals and thought that it would be cool, but never took it seriously because he didn’t know how to get started with it. It was more of a dream for him, and it wasn’t until he got to experience the theatre program that he finally realized that he truly wanted to become an actor.
From here, we moved into talking about some of the shows that he has been involved in, beginning with Oz. I asked him if he felt that the legacy of Oz, which was revolutionary in its time due to it being the first hour-long dramatic show on cable television, has impacted shows such as Breaking Bad. His response was that he hopes that yes, the legacy of Oz does affect modern-day shows not only because of the introduction of violence on cable television, but also because it showed the human aspect of the violence and that you can’t just get away with hurting someone without ramifications, which is shown nowadays in so many shows. Having also starred in season five of Sons of Anarchy, I asked him if he believed that the legacy of Oz had carried into that show as well, and he wholeheartedly agreed. Before Oz, everything that Sons of Anarchy includes, meaning gangs, violence, illegal activities, and things of the sort, were not on cable television at all. In summary, we all have Oz, and Harold Perrineau, to thank for paving the way for so many of the shows today that we know and love.
Myself being a major LOST fan (we call ourselves “LOSTies”), I couldn’t resist asking about the show. If given the opportunity to play any other character on the show, Perrineau still would have played his own, Michael, but said that he did love Jorge Garcia’s Hurley and Dominic Monaghan’s Charlie; he wouldn’t have minded playing either of them if he couldn’t have been his own character.
When the show concluded in 2010, there was a great deal of controversy over the finale and how it ended, and I wanted to know how Perrineau himself felt about it, having been a part of the show since the beginning. “I thought it was really great that they came right back to the people. At the end of the day, the finale was more about the people, which is what the show was about in the very beginning,” Perrineau said, “So it wasn’t about time-changing or flash forwards or [flash] backwards or any of the supernatural stuff. It was just like, ‘Oh, this is about a group of people who belong together.’ Now, I don’t know why Michael and [his son] Walt weren’t there, but I did like the way that that sort of ended up.”
I asked Perrineau what the craziest experience that he had with a LOST fan was. For him, there were too many crazy experiences to remember, but the craziest time was right after the first season aired in 2005. Being stuck in Hawaii filming, the cast was so secluded from everything that they didn’t realize the impact that the show was having on the public. When they got to go home for the first time since the show had aired, Perrineau recalled a lot of screaming from fans, and it was then that he realized that the show was actually a phenomenon. In one particular instance, he remembered a kid running up to him in the supermarket yelling, “You’re Walt’s dad!” and he thought it was the weirdest but coolest thing.
Though he already has a wide acting résumé and has portrayed so many different roles, his dream role that he hasn’t already played is that of a superhero character. “Everybody wants to be a superhero,” he said, “That would be kind of cool to have to go to the gym every day and look like a superhero. Like if I could look like The Wolverine, that would be awesome!”
The most difficult role for Harold was in the film Woman on Top with Penelope Cruz, in which he played a transgender woman. “I played this character Monica, and I hadn’t played that type of character before. It was one of my most challenging but also most rewarding [roles]. It was really tricky and challenging, but I had a lot of fun and had to do a lot of things like wear extensions in my hair and I had these nails that were cemented on my fingers and I just had no idea how difficult it was to have long nails. I was like, ‘How do women do this?! I keep poking myself in the eye! This is terrible!’ So I had to get used to all these things, and playing this character that was really out-there and outrageous and creative and fun and sexy and all this stuff, and it was really challenging for me to play that role.”
Seeing as how this interview was conducted partially for the purpose of being published in a high school newspaper, I asked Perrineau what his advice would be for any aspiring teenage actors. “For me, best thing is always to learn my craft. Take the time and learn how to do it, especially while you’re still in high school and you can experiment and you can try things and you can fail at things, and you don’t have the pressures to have a job or care for your children or pay your rent,” Perrineau advises, “You can really just experiment and learn and perfect your craft of acting. Explore your chance to act and try things that are outside of yourself.”