SPOILER ALERT: Discussion of 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? </span>
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.’ </span>
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.
Harold Perrineau, who plays Michael on ABC's Lost, has been tapped for a one-hour ABC pilot called The Unusuals. The show is a dramedy set at a New York police precinct. Perrineau plays Det. Leo Banks, a worrisome cop who never takes off his Kevlar because he's always afraid that he might die. The actor next stars in the Sony prison drama Felon.
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