Exclusive: Harold Perrineau clarifies the record on his departure from 'Lost': 'I was disappointed...I wouldn't say I'm bitter'

Haroldperrineau_l SPOILER ALERT: Discussion of the Lost season finale follows.

Traitor. Desperate dad. Indestructible being. Tortured soul. Harold Perrineau’s Michael Dawson has been many things on Lost, and apparently you can now add "dearly departed" to that list. Michael — who had returned to action earlier this year after vanishing on a boat at the end of season 2 — seemed to be among the casualties of the freighter explosion in the season 4 finale on May 29. If Michael’s demise raised some eyebrows, so did some comments that Perrineau made in a recent interview about his departure. He voiced unhappiness with the end of his story line, which he also saw as having racial implications. EW.com asked him to elaborate on those thoughts — and to look back on his Lost journey.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You expressed displeasure with the way your story line ended, calling it “not cool.” Do you feel bitter about what happened?
HAROLD PERRINEAU: I wouldn’t say I’m bitter. I’m just like the fans, and I got excited when Michael was coming back. I thought it was really significant when Michael dropped those people off with the Others; I thought he was going to have something just as significant when he came back. I was disappointed that he didn’t. He didn’t get to make amends with those people. And nobody got to see [him try to neutralize the bomb]. Walt didn’t get to see it. Jin got to see it, but wasn’t necessarily so mad at him. And Desmond, who Michael didn’t know at all, was there. I was disappointed more than anything, like the fans were disappointed. Like I think the fans were disappointed.

You were quoted as saying that the loss of Michael meant that Walt "winds up being another fatherless child, [and] it plays into a really big, weird stereotype." Did you voice that concern to the producers?
There’s not been any conversation about that. That was just my point-of-view in an interview. This is nothing that I’ve ever talked to the writers about, or I think is necessarily anything I should talk to them about. Their job is to make the story work. My feelings about the social implications are my feelings. My feelings don’t determine what the storyline is.

Do you feel that there is something fundamentally problematic with that plot, or is that just an observation?
It’s just an observation. Michael’s a black character and I’m a black person, so I have feelings based on it. I can’t really separate those two things — my race and my country and all that stuff. How it plays out in the story, I don’t know, because I don’t know how the rest of the story is going to play out. I accept that this is what [the producers] need to happen for something else to happen later.

Do you regret going public with your feelings?
I should probably think more before I say things. I should especially think before I say anything racial, because I recognize that when you make a racial comment it polarizes people. That was never the intention. It’s like, “No, no, no, don’t choose sides. I’m just telling you this is what I think. Everybody stay on whatever side you’re on; this is my point-of-view.” I should think about those things, and then unfortunately what happens is I just start to talk — like I’m doing now, I should probably shut up. [laughs]

Did you express your disappointment when you found out about the story line, or even say to them, “Have you considered this or that option?”
No. It’s not my gig to write it. When they called me up to tell me what was going on, in the moment, the most I could say was “Okay.” I didn’t want to seem like, “Oh, please, save my job.” I just [said], “Okay, that’s what you’ve come to. Cool.” Even in the moment, there’s no full-on processing all of it. No matter what they tell you, you have to take time and process.

When you agreed to return, did you have any idea how long it would last?
Not at all. We re-signed a new deal, and the deals are multi-year deals. So the thing was like, “He could be back for the season, or he could be back for the next three seasons. We’re just not sure.” They weren’t sure which way they were going with it.

If you had known that this was going to be the story line, would you have come back?
If I had known, I think I would have asked if I could have a conversation about it. And then I might have said, “Hey, these are some of the things that I think. What do you think about that?” And [executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse]  would say, “This is how it’s going to play out in the story line or not going to play out in the story line.” We find out things pretty quickly and then have to process it and go do the work…. I wouldn’t have chosen it if it were me. [But] then I would have done whatever they said. They are brilliant guys. They have a fantastic show. The show’s been great since we’ve been on it; it’s going to be great when I’m not on it. They know exactly what they’re doing, so I don’t question that.

How would you have liked Michael’s story to have played out?
I didn’t think he got to redeem himself especially to the people who I feel like he wronged. I wanted Michael to go back and do something for them so that they felt like he really put out and that he did something to satisfy his own guilt and their anger…. At the beginning of the show, we didn’t understand much about him, but as we did get to understand him, he was a good guy. I think he was probably going to be a good father. I wish Michael would have gotten to be the father that he had always wanted to be, because he’s a good dude.

On some level, he did get a hero’s death.
Totally. In some sense he did. It wouldn’t be what I would have done. What I was wishing for was something, and that could be my actor pride too: “It should have been bigger!’ [laughs]

Was it emotional shooting your last scene?
No, actually because I’d been in and out and in and out again [laughs]. All those folks in Hawaii — the crew and the cast — they’re like my family, so it’s like, ‘Hey, I’ll see you when I see you. I gotta go have a baby but I’ll probably catch you at some point.’ [Perrineau’s wife gave birth to a girl on May 7.] I mean, until the show ends, it doesn’t feel like it’s the end, if that makes any sense…. A bunch of guys were like, ‘Yo, man, I said goodbye, but I said goodbye to you once before…. I’ll see you next time.’

What are the chances that you’ll return, as a ghost, or in some other form?
There are definitely possibilities for Michael to return — and maybe even possibilities for the thing I’m hoping for to happen. Maybe there’s some way through Walt’s eyes, or through a vision, Michael gets to redeem himself to those people. Or maybe never. When they said, “We’re not going to finish with him here, but as on Lost, you never know who comes back, and dead doesn’t mean you’re gone from the show.”… If they call me up and say, “Hey, Michael needs to come back and do a thing.” It’d be like, “What’s the thing he needs to do? Yeah, let’s go do it!”

What kind of send-off does a dead character receive on Lost? Do you get a “Sorry for Killing You” Hallmark card from the producers? And is there a support group for dead Lost characters?
Now that you’re saying it, I might have to start a little group that meets every weekend in West Hollywood. [laughs] Goodbye is never goodbye. There’s no official sendoff because you never know. Until it’s over, none of us know. So there’s no card, no flowers. There’s the call from Carlton and Damon, and you know that’s it. It’s like, “Aaagh, here it comes! The ax! Kapoooosh!”

Name your three favorite moments on the Lost set.
The top, top, top, top moment is in the very first season when Hurley introduces us to golf. We had been working so hard that it really was a breath of fresh air to shoot that kind of light scene. Me and [Matthew] Fox giggled almost through the whole thing. It was like, “We’re playing golf, dude—it’s crazy!”… [My second favorite] wasn’t funny in the moment, but it’s funny now. When I got the [script] at the end of season 1, I went “What? They’re on the raft and he’s screaming ‘Walt!’? The boat blows up? Wait a minute! I don’t know how to swim! I don’t swim!” They all looked at me like, “What do you mean you don’t swim?’ [laughs] Suddenly there was a rush of calls because nobody had thought to ask, “Do you swim?” We took care of that because we had a really great water team, so I just went, ‘Listen, if I die, I die. Here we go." Third favorite moment is in the second season — me, Dan [Dae Kim], and Josh [Holloway] wind up getting thrown into a pit when we get caught by the Tailies. It was just a day of boys-in-a-pit humor, and if you understand boys in a crowded, tiny little room, you understand that the humor was, you know, smelly. [laughs]

How about a least favorite moment?
One is the day that Michael killed [Ana Lucia and Libby]. It was just really sad and I just wanted that day to be over, because we all — can I say “fell in love” without everybody getting all upset, thinking I was cheating on my wife? [laughs] We all fell in love. That was a bad day.

When you look back at your Lost experience, what are you most proud of?
I was really, really proud to be part of this group of people that looked like this on network television. We just weren’t used to seeing that kind of diversity on television. So when the cast won the SAG award [in 2006], I was like, “Yeah, man—that’s absolutely right.” And we worked really, really hard.

On your way out, did you score answers to any burning questions about the show’s mysteries?
No, no, man. I’m not that dude. I’d rather see when it happens. I don’t want you to tell me. I’ll just wait around with everybody else.

Did you express your disappointment when you found out about the story line, or even say to them, “Have you considered this or that option?”
No. It’s not my gig to write it. When they called me up to tell me what was going on, in the moment, the most I could say was “Okay.” I didn’t want to seem like, “Oh, please, save my job.” I just [said], “Okay, that’s what you’ve come to. Cool.” Even in the moment, there’s no full-on processing all of it. No matter what they tell you, you have to take time and process.

When you agreed to return, did you have any idea how long it would last?
Not at all. We re-signed a new deal, and the deals are multi-year deals. So the thing was like, “He could be back for the season, or he could be back for the next three seasons. We’re just not sure.” They weren’t sure which way they were going with it.

If you had known that this was going to be the story line, would you have come back?
If I had known, I think I would have asked if I could have a conversation about it. And then I might have said, “Hey, these are some of the things that I think. What do you think about that?” And [executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse]  would say, “This is how it’s going to play out in the story line or not going to play out in the story line.” We find out things pretty quickly and then have to process it and go do the work…. I wouldn’t have chosen it if it were me. [But] then I would have done whatever they said. They are brilliant guys. They have a fantastic show. The show’s been great since we’ve been on it; it’s going to be great when I’m not on it. They know exactly what they’re doing, so I don’t question that.

How would you have liked Michael’s story to have played out?
I didn’t think he got to redeem himself especially to the people who I feel like he wronged. I wanted Michael to go back and do something for them so that they felt like he really put out and that he did something to satisfy his own guilt and their anger…. At the beginning of the show, we didn’t understand much about him, but as we did get to understand him, he was a good guy. I think he was probably going to be a good father. I wish Michael would have gotten to be the father that he had always wanted to be, because he’s a good dude.

On some level, he did get a hero’s death.
Totally. In some sense he did. It wouldn’t be what I would have done. What I was wishing for was something, and that could be my actor pride too: “It should have been bigger!’ [laughs]

Was it emotional shooting your last scene?
No, actually because I’d been in and out and in and out again [laughs]. All those folks in Hawaii — the crew and the cast — they’re like my family, so it’s like, ‘Hey, I’ll see you when I see you. I gotta go have a baby but I’ll probably catch you at some point.’ [Perrineau’s wife gave birth to a girl on May 7.] I mean, until the show ends, it doesn’t feel like it’s the end, if that makes any sense…. A bunch of guys were like, ‘Yo, man, I said goodbye, but I said goodbye to you once before…. I’ll see you next time.’

What are the chances that you’ll return, as a ghost, or in some other form?
There are definitely possibilities for Michael to return — and maybe even possibilities for the thing I’m hoping for to happen. Maybe there’s some way through Walt’s eyes, or through a vision, Michael gets to redeem himself to those people. Or maybe never. When they said, “We’re not going to finish with him here, but as on Lost, you never know who comes back, and dead doesn’t mean you’re gone from the show.”… If they call me up and say, “Hey, Michael needs to come back and do a thing.” It’d be like, “What’s the thing he needs to do? Yeah, let’s go do it!”

What kind of send-off does a dead character receive on Lost? Do you get a “Sorry for Killing You” Hallmark card from the producers? And is there a support group for dead Lost characters?
Now that you’re saying it, I might have to start a little group that meets every weekend in West Hollywood. [laughs] Goodbye is never goodbye. There’s no official sendoff because you never know. Until it’s over, none of us know. So there’s no card, no flowers. There’s the call from Carlton and Damon, and you know that’s it. It’s like, “Aaagh, here it comes! The ax! Kapoooosh!”

Name your three favorite moments on the Lost set.
The top, top, top, top moment is in the very first season when Hurley introduces us to golf. We had been working so hard that it really was a breath of fresh air to shoot that kind of light scene. Me and [Matthew] Fox giggled almost through the whole thing. It was like, “We’re playing golf, dude—it’s crazy!”… [My second favorite] wasn’t funny in the moment, but it’s funny now. When I got the [script] at the end of season 1, I went “What? They’re on the raft and he’s screaming ‘Walt!’? The boat blows up? Wait a minute! I don’t know how to swim! I don’t swim!” They all looked at me like, “What do you mean you don’t swim?’ [laughs] Suddenly there was a rush of calls because nobody had thought to ask, “Do you swim?” We took care of that because we had a really great water team, so I just went, ‘Listen, if I die, I die. Here we go." Third favorite moment is in the second season — me, Dan [Dae Kim], and Josh [Holloway] wind up getting thrown into a pit when we get caught by the Tailies. It was just a day of boys-in-a-pit humor, and if you understand boys in a crowded, tiny little room, you understand that the humor was, you know, smelly. [laughs]

How about a least favorite moment?
One is the day that Michael killed [Ana Lucia and Libby]. It was just really sad and I just wanted that day to be over, because we all — can I say “fell in love” without everybody getting all upset, thinking I was cheating on my wife? [laughs] We all fell in love. That was a bad day.

When you look back at your Lost experience, what are you most proud of?
I was really, really proud to be part of this group of people that looked like this on network television. We just weren’t used to seeing that kind of diversity on television. So when the cast won the SAG award [in 2006], I was like, “Yeah, man—that’s absolutely right.” And we worked really, really hard.

On your way out, did you score answers to any burning questions about the show’s mysteries?
No, no, man. I’m not that dude. I’d rather see when it happens. I don’t want you to tell me. I’ll just wait around with everybody else.

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Comments (139 total) Add your comment
Page: 1 2 3 10
  • Bubbx

    Harold P. is just like Michael’s character – a loud whiner!

  • Eric

    I really feel for Harold – I love the show and the character, and although I admire the writers very much, I agree that the way they handled Micheal this season was disappointing.
    It just didn’t make any logical, or dramatic sense, and Michael was a great character in season 1. I hope the writers do find a way to resolve his character’s dilemma with Walt and the rest of the group before the end.

  • John

    While the writer’s may not be thinking “Let’s kill off the only black guy left of the show.” They did in fact kill off the only black guy left on the show. I can see where he doesn’t want to be seen as difficult. I hope his new show does well.

  • Shaun

    Bubbx, what in the article makes Harold seem like a “whiner”? Give him a break. He gets written out of the show once, gets brought back with much fanfare, and then? His character gets under-utilized in what was easily the most disappointing aspect of an otherwise awesome season of Lost.
    Harold’s right that Michael really never got to redeem himself to the people he wronged (Did Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Hurley even know Michael was on the boat?). Will Walt (I’m sorry: WAAAALLLTT!) ever know what Michael did to save the O6? I completely understand his disappointment.
    His concern over the message Michael’s death and how Walt’s being abandoned, so to speak, sends is also understandable. I think the TV Guide comments were said in the heat of the moment, and perhaps taken out of context. Hopefully, Harold will get his wish and be able to return in some fashion, giving Michael a better sendoff than he got.

  • Danny Mac

    He might be the only black GUY that was left on the show, but not the only black PERSON. We have Rose, and we have that freaky guy that pops up every now and again. So I think we can put that idea to rest and just enjoy the show

  • texmex

    This was an interesting interview. Thanks for posting it! Overall, I think his character did get the shaft, what with never being able to raise Walt the way he wanted to.
    Perrineau seems like a genuine guy. I hope we see more of him in the show in the future – as a ghost, of course.

  • Laura K.

    I’m kind of surprised by this, only because, in terms of the character, the idea of redemption always seemed pretty secondary. Michael knew he’d screwed up; he was on the freighter to earn the right to die.

  • Nicole

    I am a huge, die-hard Lost fan and I do hate that the minorities on the show are disappearing. When the show first started, I loved the diversity on a network show, a rarity. Then, Walt and Michael left, they killed Mr. Eko(loved him) and Rose is non-exsistant. Now, Jin is gone and my beloved Sayid is always wait-listed for another Jack show.
    I will still watch and I love the show, just an observation.

  • Lisa

    Ugh, Michael was THE WORST.

  • MJ

    Sorry, Harold but we’re just not that into you…
    If the writers were going to bring you back as a ghost before, they sure aren’t now! No one likes a prima donna. Also, people who see racism in everything…. PLEASE don’t belittle REAL racism by making this racial. They killed off Boone (who we were REALLY into) & Shannon. Maybe they’re prejudiced against really, really hot people…

  • Janice

    To Nicole. I loved Eko too, but unfortunately the actor who played him wanted off the show. And Harold P has always seemed like a very pleasant person in interviews so I can see he was disappointed in how his character ended up. I am glad he was given the chance to comment on his other article and clarify his comments. I wish him the best.

  • Will

    I feel for Harold – who wouldn’t want to be on the show? – and I hope they do bring him back a few more times for both his sake and the sake of the story (LOST is awesome because no plot thread dies forever).
    However, I do think his death worked at this point. I think a lot of people don’t appreciate that you CAN’T juggle this many plot threads at once without some getting the short end of the stick. And this is particularly hard when you have actors who want all the attention.
    Season 1 was by far the most balanced for all the actors because there was a whole lot less going on. We didn’t have Desmond, Penny, The Others, Ben Vs Widmore, Juliet, The Freighter, the science team, etc, etc…
    I’m glad they brought Michael back even if it was short. He redeemed himself, regained the fans’ sympathy, and hopefully we’ll see a LOT more of Walt now that the show has caught up with MDK’s growth spurt, and Michael can live on in that way…

  • Lisa

    My thing is why does everyone really believe that Micheal is actually dead???? Sounds like a great promo idea to me, that means you would have to believe Jin is also dean!

  • Lis F

    I agree with other comments that the shows diversity was one of the things that drew me to the show. Seeing the diverse characters disappear off the show is extremely disappointing. I loved Michael and Walt and wanted to see where that storyline would go. I will keep hoping that Michael somehow returns to the show!!! And I will certainly be watching for Harold Perrineau in other roles, because I think he is a terrific actor.

  • Jackie

    Sorry – I never really liked Michael and I wasn’t that excited to see him back (although I did, obviously, want to know what had happened to him and Walt when they left). I am much more upset about the thought that Jin is dead. Oh, and I’m deliriously happy that Desmond and Penny found each other. I hope that doesn’t mean we have seen the last of sexy Desmond though. Maybe Michael’s story this season would have turned out differently if it hadn’t been for the writer’s strike?
    ps I was also glad to see yummy Alpert back! Hope we see more of him next season :)

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