“Lost” actor Harold Perrineau is speaking out about his time on the ABC drama, and he revealed that the producers wrote him off the show after he asked for equal pay. Perrineau’s time on the show is recalled in the book “Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood” by Maureen Ryan.
Perrineau spoke to Ryan about the racism he experienced while on the popular drama, as did his former cast mate Daniel Dae Kim. Ryan wrote that the 59-year-old actor told her he joined the show after the creative team claimed they wanted to tell a “really equitable” story about all the characters.
“Lost” was a drama created in 2004 by Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams, and Damon Lindelof about a group of people who survive on an island following a plane crash. The show’s producers were eager to hire Perrineau, who’d had roles in two “Matrix” films and starred in the hit HBO drama “Oz.”
“The Best Man” actor reportedly told Ryan that as a Black actor he knew “where the lines were, and what the ceiling was” but he was encouraged by the cast and what he was told by the creative team about the project, which ran for six seasons on ABC through 2010.
“We were all really hopeful about it,” recalled the actor. “It was a bigger try than I had ever seen on broadcast TV. … I was shouting about it from the rooftops. I was such a believer.”
Ryan said Perrineau and another cast member told her that the main cast promised to present a united front when negotiating salaries so that the lead actors would all get equal pay. However, according to Perrineau, the promises were not kept, and the white actors were paid the highest tier salaries. He also noticed the storylines weren’t equal as had been promised toward the 25-episode mark.
“It became pretty clear that I was the Black guy,” he said. “Daniel [Dae Kim] was the Asian guy. And then you had Jack and Kate and Sawyer.” Jack was played by “Party of Five” actor Matthew Fox, Kate was played by Evangeline Lilly and Sawyer was played by Josh Holloway, who are all white.
Another source told Ryan that the producers would make comments about the show’s Iraqi and Korean characters like, “Nobody cares about these other characters. Just give them a few scenes on another beach.”
After Perrineau reportedly told one of the “Lost” producers that the show was only focusing on the three white characters, he was told they were more “relatable.”
“I don’t have to be the first, I don’t have to have the most episodes — but I’d like to be in the mix. But it seems like this is now a story about Jack and Kate and Sawyer,” Perrineau told the producer. “Well, this is just how audiences follow stories,” the producer responded.
Perrineau added that it reminded him of other times he dealt with racism in the industry, such as being told to stand in the back row or the edges of a frame during photo shoots.
“You can feel the energy,” he said. “You can feel, like, ‘Oh, you’re not as important as these other people.’”
The “Claws” star said he again raised concerns when his son on the show went missing, and his character never mentions him again. “I don’t think I can do that. I can’t be another person who doesn’t care about missing Black boys, even in the context of fiction, right? This is just furthering the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers.”
Perrineau said he spoke with Lindelof and showrunner Carlton Cuse during a phone call and told them he wouldn’t just be “the Black guy” on their show and reminded them what he was told when he agreed to the job.
“If you’re going to use me, let’s work,” he said. “I’m here to work. I’m good at my job and I’ll do anything you want. Except be ‘the Black guy’ on your show.”
A few weeks later, Cuse told the Broadway entertainer that he would not be returning for the third season, and Perrineau told Ryan he was taken aback by the decision.
“I was f—ked up about it. I was like, ‘Oh, I just got fired, I think,’” he said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s happening?’ Cuse said, ‘Well, you know, you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.’ I was just asking for equal depth.”
Cuse reportedly responded, “Well, you said you don’t have enough work here, so we’re letting you go.”
Perrineau added to Ryan, “It was all very much, ‘How dare you?’”
During an interview in 2008, Perrineau ruffled more feathers when he noted that the show played into racist stereotypes by not reuniting his character with his son on the show.
“Listen, if I’m being really candid, there are all these questions about how they respond to Black people on the show. Sayid gets to meet Nadia again, and Desmond and Penny hook up again, but a little Black boy and his father hooking up, that wasn’t interesting? Instead, Walt just winds up being another fatherless child. It plays into a really big, weird stereotype and, being a Black person myself, that wasn’t so interesting.”
Perrineau said that after the interview came out, he was accused of playing the race card. “Me mentioning the color of my skin—that just sent everybody off the rails.”
Other sources told Ryan that after the cleaning staff used the restroom at “Lost” offices, jokes about putting up a “Whites Only sign” were made in the office.
Lindelof reportedly also said that Perrineau “called me racist, so I fired his ass.”
Writer Monica Owusu-Breen recalled everyone laughing when Lindelof made the comment. “There was so much s—t, and so much racist s—t, and then laughter. It was ugly. I was like, ‘I don’t know if they’re perceiving this as a joke or if they mean it.’ But it wasn’t funny. Saying that was horrible.”
Owusu-Breen also recalled Cuse saying he wanted to have a Black actor’s character hanged from a tree since he wanted to leave the show.
“Carlton said something to the effect of, ‘I want to hang him from the highest tree. God, if we could only cut his dick off and shove it down his throat.’ At which point I said, ‘You may want to temper the lynching imagery, lest you offend.’ And I was very clearly angry,” said Owusu-Breen.
Lindelof claimed that he did not remember saying he fired Perrineau for calling him racist but was “heartbroken” about his experience, and Cuse denied the lynching comment. “This exchange never happened,” he said.
Perrineau is currently starring on the MGM drama “From.”