Leonard Roberts describes racism, 'friction' working on Heroes; costar Ali Larter responds
Heroes (TV series)
Former Heroes star Leonard Roberts is opening up about his contentious exit from the hit show early in the second season, claiming in a new essay that he clashed with his main costar, Ali Larter, and was met with perceived indifference from creator and showrunner Tim Kring, leading him to feel singled out as a Black actor.
In a first-person piece for Variety, Roberts said that despite playing Larter's onscreen husband on the NBC drama, she expressed discomfort at doing an intimate bedroom scene with him and later excluded him from discussions about their shared scenes. Roberts said he was later told by Kring that his character would be killed off over "the Ali Larter situation," while she got to stay on the show. Variety reportedly corroborated Roberts' account with 10 people who either worked on the series at the time or were "contemporaneously familiar with his experience on the show."
On Heroes, which ran from 2006 to 2010, Roberts' character, D.L Hawkins, first appeared in the fifth episode of season 1 before being killed off in season 2. Larter's Niki Sanders later died, but the actress remained on the series to play Niki's sister Tracy Strauss.
In response to Roberts' essay, Larter said she does not recall his account but feels "truly sorry."
"I am deeply saddened to hear about Leonard Roberts’ experience on Heroes and I am heartbroken reading his perception of our relationship, which absolutely doesn't match my memory nor experience on the show," Larter said in a statement to EW. "I respect Leonard as an artist and I applaud him or anyone using their voice and platform. I am truly sorry for any role I may have played in his painful experience during that time and I wish him and his family the very best."
NBC declined to comment.
Kring did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment. In a statement to Variety, he said, "In 2006, I set out to cast the most diverse show on television. Diversity, interconnectivity and inclusivity were groundbreaking hallmarks of Heroes. So too was the huge, diverse cast that continually rotated off and onto the show, with none ever being written off based on their race."
He continued, "Looking back now, 14 years later, given the very different lens that I view the world through today, I acknowledge that a lack of diversity at the upper levels of the staff may have contributed to Leonard experiencing the lack of sensitivity that he describes. I have been committed to improving upon this issue with every project I pursue. I remember Leonard fondly and wish him well.”
During the staging of the aforementioned bedroom scene in season 1, Roberts said that Larter became upset after director Greg Beeman asked if she could lower the straps of her top and expose her shoulders so she could match Roberts, who was shirtless in the scene.
"Despite Beeman's clear description of what he was looking for visually, my costar insisted she was, indeed, being asked to remove her top completely, and rehearsal was cut," he wrote. "She then demanded a meeting with Beeman and the producers who were on set and proceeded to have an intense and loud conversation in which she expressed she had never been so disrespected — as an actress, a woman or a human being."
Roberts said he later found out from costar Adrian Pasdar, a white man, that Larter had no such issue when shooting a scene in which her character seduced his character. Pasdar did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment. Variety also reported that his representative did not reply to multiple attempts at outreach.
"I pondered why my costar had exuberantly played a different scene with [Pasdar's] character involving overt sexuality while wearing lingerie, but found aspects of one involving love and intimacy expressed through dialogue with my character, her husband, disrespectful to her core. I couldn't help wondering whether race was a factor," Roberts wrote.
When asked via email about that specific day on set, Beeman told Variety, "I don't remember a loud argument or her saying anything about being disrespected. We worked out her character's intention regarding the wardrobe and shortly returned to work and finished the shot."
After learning his character would be killed off the show in the second season, Roberts said he met with executive producer Dennis Hammer, who allegedly told him, "Don't think of this as a situation where the Black man loses and the white woman wins."
Hammer did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment, but said in a statement to Variety, "14 years is a long time ago, but I remember clearly that Leonard was a great guy and a total pro."
Weeks after his last day filming Heroes, Roberts said one of his white male castmates told him, "Can you really say you lost your job because you're Black? C'mon, man. They're gonna always keep the hot blonde on the show. That's just Hollywood."
Roberts said he told his costar that "for him, as a white man, to ask me to deny I lost my job because I was Black, but accept my costar kept her job because of attributes he clearly believed identified her as white was, in fact, a quite literal embodiment of systemic racism."
When describing his experience to "white and non-Black people in my orbit," Roberts said, "What happened was often chalked up to a tough break; one solely driven by artistic concerns, with my long stretches of unemployment in the years after referred to as simply a stint in 'actor's jail.'
"To constantly feel I had to prove not only the validity, but the very existence of racism before I could even own my feelings about it only added to my frustration," Roberts said.
In the years after his exit from the show, Roberts said, "Professionally, I struggled with an internalization of anger and defeat unlike any I had ever experienced in my career… Personally, carrying the burden led me to withdraw from colleagues, friends and loved ones, due to my belief that I was a failure for not being able to somehow just be 'better' and rise above it all. My voice felt muted and my light dimmed."
Roberts, who has also appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and American Crime Story, said he wanted to speak out during this "turning point" in American society in order for white people to understand that "action is what this moment demands."
"The studio can't spend millions to support Black causes publicly, but have no Black people in leadership roles," he said. "The white show creator can't create a show featuring non-white on-camera talent but disregard non-white voices behind the scenes. The white actor who's worked for half as long as a comparable actor of color yet makes twice the pay has to be willing to put that on the line to give voice to the disparity in the name of fairness and equity."