Harold Perrineau’s first major television break happened in 1990 when he was cast in a recurring role on the NBC series “I’ll Fly Away.” In 1995, he was cast in Wayne Wang’s critically acclaimed film “Smoke,” a comedy that weaves together stories centering around a smoke shop. Perrineau’s ability to play three character’s brought the actor’s ability to the limelight. For his role in “Smoke,” he was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male. He next appeared opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, and John Leguizamo in Baz Luhrmann’s new rendition of Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996.
The following year, Perrineau was cast in the critically acclaimed HBO series “OZ” (1997-2003) created by Tom Fontana. Perrineau portrayed the role of Augustus Hill, the wheel chair bound narrator imprisoned for 20 years to life for drug dealing and murder in this gritty, quick-paced CableACE-winning series. Perrineau was cast in Malcolm Lee’s feature film debut “The Best Man” (1999) and played a drag queen in Fina Torres’ “Woman on Top” (2000), which starred Penelope Cruz. In 2003, Perrineau was seen as Link in the summer blockbuster “The Matrix Reloaded” and later that year, reprised his role in “The Matrix Revolutions.”
The actor returned to series TV when he was cast as Michael, a man who had only just reclaimed custody of his young son when the two are among the 48 plane crash survivors on a seemingly deserted island on J.J. Abrams’ clever adventure drama “Lost” (ABC, 2004 – ).. Now, having left Lost behind, Perrineau co-stars in the post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Weeks Later and spoke exclusively to Paul Fischer
Question: What were the risks involved in taking on a genre movie like this?
Perrineau: The attraction to it was the first movie. That it was done by a great production team and it was done really, really smart and really good and also I got to meet Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the director, and I had seen a film that he did called Intacto that he did in Spain. And I was really really moved and impressed by the intro. My initial drawing to it was all those things. I really wanted to work with these people and I read the script and I thought the script was really, really good. As good as, you know, seeing the first movie, so I wanted to be a part of it. The only thing that was scary, and lots of people have said this, are that sequels are sometimes just not as good. They just don’t hold up as well. So that was sort of scary but I was really like, ‘Well, if I’m going to take a chance in doing a sequel I may as well take a chance with people who I think are really great to work with.’
Question: What do you think makes this sequel different to other sequels. I mean what makes this movie a little bit different from the norm?
Perrineau: Well I don’t know, I guess the whole production team, Juan Carlos’ team, and Andrew Macdonald’s team. Those guys are really great and really creative and he had a really great idea with 28 Days Later, you know, this virus that’s gone out and ravaged an entire country because we live in an age where there are diseases and virus are really frightening for us and he just sort of takes that idea and really explodes it. So I think it works for that really, really great idea. And then they were able to really expand on it and, we kind of saw the infected, in the first one we saw them sometimes in the shadows, while now we get to see the full force, full on, hundreds of them chasing you down the street or being shredded with bullets. it really just sort of [explodes and you go on this ride and it doesn’t stop. The tension is there from the very beginning. You get caught like that all the way through to the end.
Question: Unlike the first movie, this is an American version of this story. I mean, the first one was British and very British.
Perrineau: It’s American only in that the American army is there but I think still British in that we’re still in London and even though the characters that we’re really following are these two people who are British and the dad is British. The American army is just there, you know, doing what they can – as a sort of topical thing, you know, the American army going in and occupying some place and so, it’s right in our consciousness right now so it makes it really sort of interesting and engaging.
Question: Now when you signed up for Lost, what kind of expectations did you have and how surprised were you it continues to become a cult – kind of classic in a manner of speaking?
Perrineau: You know, when we first did it – again, a lot of times I’m drawn to like, one of those projects I’m drawn to working with people. And so I was really drawn to working with J.J. Abrams because I knew Regarding Henry and I knew Felicity and I really was a fan of um, with Sydney Bristow …
Question: Alias, right.
Perrineau: So, you know, I heard that there was this opportunity to work with J.J. Abrams and, you know, from a lot of people who work with him, they would say ‘He’s a really great guy to work with’. He’s very much like Com Fontana who’s a guy I worked with on Oz and so I was looking for that kind of experience. And so I was just expecting to go and work with some people and maybe do a TV show for a couple of years that worked. If it didn’t .. you know, we’d just sort of move on. It was TV. Who knew? And then this thing just goes and it explodes.
Question: It’s become almost a cultural phenomenon which is …
Perrineau: Really. Yes. Like all over the world. I gotta say I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect that at all.
Question: Did it open up a lot of doors for you?
Perrineau: It has in a way. You know, like I’ve been working for a long time and lots of people have seen my face, you know, a lot. Suddenly people are starting to know my name. And so it’s opened up things and in that sense, a lot more people know my name and that’s been a little helpful in getting other jobs and stuff like that. And I think, you know, because I was only on for two years and not, again, like I don’t think people are totally attached to me as Michael. So it’s helpful in like I said before about not hindering and it’s really hard not to see them like that.
Question: You know they made an announcement that Lost will be in the air until 2010. Are you, do you think there’s any possibility of your return at some future date?
Perrineau: I certainly hope so because I’m a fan of the show as well so I’m hoping that we find out what happened to Michael, like I’m hoping that he didn’t just disappear. I do have a connection as a piece and a longing to be part of it, like we all started together and I would like to finish up the character in some way or come back and go through to the end with him. So I would live it, yeah. Who knows if it’s going to happen or if it’s in the cards or if that’s what they’re thinking.
Question: Now you’ve got a couple of other things coming out right?
Perrineau: Yeah, I mean we’ve got 28 Weeks Later. I did a couple of other movies, Your Name Here and this thing called the Gardens of the Night. And then I did a pilot for CBS called Demons. So that’s another thing that’s in the mix, you know, about whether or not I’ll be returning to Lost. If this pilot gets picked up, who knows if we’ll see Michael again. If it doesn’t get picked up maybe they’ll see clear to having me come back which would be great.
Question: Who do you play in Demons.
Perrineau: Ron Eldard plays an ex-priest who performs exorcisms and in the pilot the voice of reason for him, like I try to get him back on track, you know, he’s living his whole life and he’s a little consumed.
Question: Have you signed up for anything else Harold, in the meantime?
Perrineau: No, those are the only things.