The star of the new Epix horror series From looks back on some of his most memorable roles, including Romeo + Juliet, The Best Man Holiday, and Claws.

"I wanna stretch myself as an actor," says Harold Perrineau, describing his thought process behind the roles he chooses. "I'm always looking for a human condition. I'm never looking for an archetype or a stereotype, or anything that's just like some type." 

Living true to his word, the 58-year-old has avoided parts like "the old curmudgeonly guy" or  "the young drug dealer," and still managed to play a wide range of characters, from men trapped on an island to men trapped in a haunted town, from TV shows based on movies to movies that are becoming TV shows, each time expertly disappearing into the role.

"If there are things that I feel like, "Oh, that'll stretch me, then I'd like to try it," says the actor who is now starring on the new Epix horror series From, and currently filming The Best Man: The Final Chapters for Peacock.

Here, he sits with EW over Zoom to talk about those roles, and more from his decades-spanning career.

Fame (1982-1987)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau was a background actor on the show 'Fame.'
| Credit: courtesy everett collection

"I don't know if a lot of people know this, but I got a scholarship to dance and I learned to dance, but I always wanted to be an actor, that's what I wanted to do," explains Perrineau, who trained at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. "So while I was in the chorus of Dreamgirls as a dancer, I was still auditioning for acting roles. And this thing came up for Fame. And it was in New York City and I thought, 'Oh, it's an acting role,' but it wasn't, it was still a dancing job." 

He went to the audition anyway, and found himself among a massive, "500 people deep" group of hopefuls.  "And I flew in from like Detroit or something crazy like that and stood in this line, auditioned, and then got the job to be in this one episode in New York out of, I mean, literally thousands of people." That wasn't the end of the road though. "From that group of dancers who did that job, they took one person to LA and that was me." And so started his onscreen career, already in the background of scenes with icons like Janet Jackson and Debbie Allen, who he says he is "still in awe" of to this day.

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in 'Romeo + Juliet.'
| Credit: Merrick Morton/20th Century studios

"All the things that made me not get a job in theater were the things that made me get a job for this one," says Perrineau of the unique Shakespeare adaptation that melds the classic dialogue with a modern, stylish setting. "Sometimes my classic American speech wasn't on point and as articulate as I wanted to. And when it was, the language sounded stilted, but because Baz Luhrmann was looking for the characters to sound very American, I could just go in there and sound like I sounded. I could do the words the way they came out of my mouth." He even recalls one time where the filmmaker caught him off guard in his embrace of how he was tackling the role of Mercutio. "I had to do a scene and I was trying to get into the scene. So I was starting, I was doing this Biggie rap in my head. I did it out loud and then I started the language, but Baz was filming the whole time. And so in there, there's Biggie and Shakespeare, and it's me saying it. I love every bit of it."

He adds that while "it was all great for me to be able to do it in my voice and to look like I look with my dreads and my dark skin. And when I got the job, I was like, 'Yeah, that's the way that's supposed to go,'" he did have to mentally coach himself through the scene-stealing performance, saying "Yo, you better make sure you bring it. Don't fool around. Don't fake it. And when they say you have to dance? 'Yeah.' They're going to put you in heels? 'Yeah. Okay. I took pointe class, let's go.'"

Oz (1997-2003)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Rita Moreno and Harold Perrineau in HBO's 'Oz.'
| Credit: Eric Liebowitz/hbo

Perrineau jokes that "20 some odd years later people still go 'Man, I thought you'd be here in a wheelchair,'" in reference to his turn as Augustus Hill, the de facto narrator of the early HBO drama. "I always think people should circle back to it because it was the first hour long dramatic show on cable period. I don't think there was another one. I know HBO had Dream On, they had the Larry Sanders Show, but there wasn't anything that was dramatic," says the actor. "And then we came on and the rules were just all broken. They just broke all the rules. In the very first episode they introduce you to a character who you're like, 'Oh yeah, I know we're gonna love him. We've seen his face before— Oh, they just killed him. He just died. What?! Set him on fire?' Like boom gone. Changed all the rules right away, and that set the stage for all the shows that we have that are on cable, that are streaming, and they were just hard hitting." Perrineau suggests creator Tom Fontana deserves his flowers for that, and for the fact that the questions the prison-set show asked, like "Is prison retribution or is it rehabilitation? A combination of both? And when do we realize that the prison population inside actually affects the population of the country outside?" are all questions Americans are asking to this day. 

The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau and Nona Gaye as Link and Zee in 'The Matrix Revolutions.'
| Credit: Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Perrineau was a massive fan of the first Matrix film, saying "​​I paid seven times to go see it, and then, when it finally was on television, I would watch it over and over. Me and my oldest would sit there and just watch it and I'd go "Watch this part, bullet time, they call it bullet time!'" He had originally auditioned for the role of Commander Lock, which would have seen him in charge of the human hideout Zion, but the role went to Harry Lennix. His second chance came when Marcus Chong dropped out of playing Tank, and the Wachowskis wrote in the role of Link for which he was cast as. "When I first got the job, they weren't letting anybody read the script. And so I was like, 'OK, cool.' I was taking yoga classes and martial arts classes. I was in the gym, I was doing it all," Perrineau recalls. "And I got the script. I was like, 'Wait a minute. He sits here the whole time?!'" The man-in-the-chair role ended up being a gift to him though, with production being where he and Laurence Fishburne, who played Nebuchadnezzar captain Morpheus, became best friends.

Another aspect of the character is his romance with Zee, a character that was originally meant to be played by Aaliyah before the singer's fatal plane crash. "The whole dance in the cave, when everybody's there, yeah we'd shot all that in San Francisco. And a couple of the scenes, I think when I come home," says Perrineau, remembering what parts of the films he'd shot with the young pop-R&B star. "Then the production moved to Australia over the summer, and over the summer we all got the call about Aaliyah. And so that was pretty sad. And then, the happy part is that we got to meet Nona [Gaye], and Nona's amazing. I mean, her dad's Marvin Gaye. What else do I have [to say]? She's amazing, he's a huge part of my background, so yeah, it was a lot of great, a lot of sad."

Lost (2004-2010)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau played Michael on 'Lost.'
| Credit: Mario Perez/Walt Disney Television

"I will endlessly be proud of being part of that show and bringing Michael to the screen," says Perrineau of the blockbuster ABC sci-fi drama. "I know people did not like Michael, and to this day, I'm confused, like Michael didn't kill his dad. He didn't set fire to his mom's house. He wasn't a conman. He was a dude who had a son that got taken away from him. He went to get him back, and the world went nuts." He especially remembers catching fire for Michael shooting Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and Libby (Cynthia Watros) in season 2. "I said, 'But I shot myself too. I didn't just shoot them. I got shot.' They're like 'You should've got shot! You should've shot yourself in the face!' They were so mad about it."

The actor had his own public frustrations with the show, and the unfortunate racial optics that were a consequence of his character's death. "What I said about Black characters in the show, I still stand by those things, not taking out anything on the writers. They were just like moments that I thought were lost." He now laughs in hindsight at how while he was trying to get over the way he'd left the show, he kept coming in contact with co-creator Damon Lindelof because their kids were in the same class during elementary school. "Those first couple years I was pretty salty about it. And yes, we had lots of conversations and I understood his point of view. He understood my point of view, but we stood where we stood. And then as the years went by, I guess he had many other conversations with lots of other people, he started writing really amazing things." He now commends the Watchmen creator for the roles he's written for Black actors since. "If you say something to somebody, then you have to back up and let them hear that. And if they choose to do something about it, let 'em do it. And he chose to do something in a big way. And I'm like, 'Yeah, Bravo!'" 

Blade (2011)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau voiced Blade in the 'Blade' anime.
| Credit:

"Voice work I'm oddly terrible at," admits Perrineau. "It takes a lot of work for some reason. I'm such a physical person, I'm just always moving around." Playing Marvel Comics' infamous daywalker on the G4 anime series, the actor quips "You can't out Wesley Snipes, Wesley Snipes, but I feel like I gave it my spin." Having also starred on NBC's Constantine about the DC Comics character, Perrineau says "I really like the superhero stuff. I think it's really, really cool and interesting stuff, because I think the take that a lot of people are doing is superheroes are humans. And now that's what makes them interesting and fallible and great." Welcoming the chance to do another one, he also notes that, for superhero projects "your acting really has to be pretty on point because you're doing a lot of acting with things that aren't there, on a green screen. And you're ducking from things, and yelling at giant men who aren't there, so your acting has to be on point. They've gotten lots of great actors to do a lot of amazing things."

The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Regina Hall and Harold Perrineau in 'The Best Man Holiday.'
| Credit: Michael Gibson /Universal Pictures

The original The Best Man was "a treat beyond treats" according to Perrineau, "but then, as a kid who wanted to be in the movies, I had always wanted to be in It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. But now that we have The Best Man Holiday, I'm like, 'Yes, I definitely, I made it.'" Ever grateful for the franchise that brought him so many friendships, and helped him enter into the Christmas movie pantheon, he's excited to make his return as Murch in the follow up Peacock limited series The Best Man: The Final Chapters. "I love that cast and crew and [writer-director] Malcolm Lee, like give it to me all. They're great. And it's gonna be so much fun to get back to them. Though my [movie] wife Regina [Hall] is gonna be hosting the Oscars. So, I dunno how much time she's gonna have for me while she hosts the Oscars." 

Claws (2017-2022)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau as Dean in TNT's 'Claws.'
| Credit: TNT

Although the TNT drama just ended after four seasons, Perrineau is already saying "I am waiting for the movie version. If you did it for Sex and the City…" He says that his character Dean "was a scary role to take on because we wanted to make sure that we did it right. We talked about issues that you really might have as a person living with autism, and really tried to present the character Dean as a human being, not as autism, or not as some caricature of what autism is." The thoughtfulness paid off, with him seeing nothing but support from the Autism community, with parents walking up to him saying things like "this is exactly the way my son approaches things."

The actor first gives a special shoutout to showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois, who he feels was the inventive dramedy's secret sauce. "It was a really great show that people I think didn't get a chance to really check out. It looked like a niche show. It had a certain look, but it was really interesting, and really on the edge and spoke politically about a lot of things. And it was helmed by five women of all different shapes and sizes. Man, that's a dope show." On those five women, including his TV sister Niecy Nash, he says "We were so connected, and so just right for each other, like she is my sister for the rest of my life. She's just an amazing person on set, and an amazing actress, and Desna and Dean are just for me forever together. And that's just the two of us. And then if you count the rest of the magic that those ladies brought, Carrie Preston and Judy Reyes, Jennifer Lyon, Karrueche [Tran], we literally still text every day, that whole group of people."  

From (2022)

Role Call with Harold Perrineau
Harold Perrineau stars on the new EPIX show 'From.'
| Credit: Chris Reardon/Epix

While Perrineau says "I'm not a horror person. I don't wanna sleep and think about that stuff. I don't want screams and blood," his new show on Epix offers just that. So why then did he take the job? "It was a chance to lead a show, that was a good thing. Haven't done that in quite some time. And lead a show with a character that I think is really compelling." He describes his character Boyd Stevens, sheriff of a mysterious nightmare town where residents can't leave, and are plagued by shapeshifting, bloodthirsty monsters in the nighttime, as "a man of service, but he's also pretty tortured, and those two polar opposites, being like you have to do good, but you have all this bad, that's stuck in your body that you can't get rid of, that push and pull I always think is really really dynamic." The project reunites him with two Lost alums, executive producer and director Jack Bender and showrunner Jeff Pinkner. "Those men know how to tell stories, so even though I'm not a horror person, I'm really a story person. I love story. I love the stories in Matrix, I love the story in Lost. I like stories and I like human beings in stories. And, and I know that they know how to do that."

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