IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Harold Perrineau Talks 'Seeking Justice,' Kathryn Bigelow's 'Untitled Bin Laden Project,' and Looks Back at 'LOST'

Thursday, 15 March 2012 11:47 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Harold Perrineau Talks 'Seeking Justice,' Kathryn Bigelow's 'Untitled Bin Laden Project,' and Looks Back at 'LOST'

Best known for his career-defining role as Michael Dawson on the phenomenally successful TV series LOST, actor Harold Perrineau has been giving impressive performances on television and in film for more than twenty years. The gifted actor has appeared in such popular movies as Smoke, Romeo + Juliet, 28 Weeks Later, and The Matrix Trilogy, as well HBO’s ground breaking TV series Oz, and ABC’s short-lived but critically acclaimed series The Unusuals. While Perrineau will return to television this summer on the new TBS series The Wedding Band, first he will be seen on the big screen opposite Oscar-winner Nic Cage, and Guy Pearce in Seeking Justice, which will open in theaters on March 16th.

In the film, which is helmed by veteran director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Thirteen Days), Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) plays Wil Gerard, a man that’s wife (January Jones) has been brutally attacked. While she is in the hospital, Will is visited by a mysterious man named Simon played by Guy Pearce (Memento). Simon says that he represents an organization that helps people who are “seeking justice,” and makes Wil an offer that he cannot refuse. Simon will arrange to have a complete stranger exact vengeance on his wife’s attacker, in exchange for a favor from Wil in the future. He agrees to the deal, and unwittingly puts himself into a dangerous underground vigilante program. While continuing to protect his wife from the truth, he quickly discovers that his quest for justice could lead to deadly consequences and that all is not as it seems. Perrineau plays Jimmy, Wil’s best friend and confidante who has a big secret of his own that may be closer connected to Wil’s mysterious organization than he ever could imagine. Actress Jennifer Carpenter (TV’s Dexter) and veteran actor Xander Berkeley (TV’s 24) round out the film’s talented cast.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor Harold Perrineau about his role in Seeking Justice. The talented actor discussed the new film, his character, why he wanted to do the movie, working with director Roger Donaldson, Nic Cage’s unique approach to acting on and off the set, playing a character with a secret and creating his back-story, whether he would “seek justice” or not if given the chance, his next film; which is Kathryn Bigelow’s Untitled Bin Laden Project, his upcoming new TV series, and how he feels now looking back at his time on LOST.

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I’ve heard some actors say that one of the most important things they look for when choosing a project is who the director will be, and you have a fantastic director here in Roger Donaldson, so was the prospect of working with him what excited you most about being a part of this film?

Harold Perrineau:
You know, he was one of the reasons for me. I've loved Roger Donaldson. He did The Bounty and all these really amazing films. I think last year he did that bank movie.

Do you mean The Bank Job with Jason Statham?

Yeah, right and so I really was looking forward to working with him. I really love his work a lot. I’ve got to be honest; I'm a real Nic Cage fan. You know like Raising Arizona and Leaving Las Vegas, all those films I mean he's just been such an iconic figure in movies and I was kind of looking forward to working with him. That was actually the fun in it for me and once I got there it was like really kind of cool to watch him work and be part of this movie with him. Those two things combined were really big draws for me.

So you really look at the entire package when you're signing on to a project, not just who the director will be?

Yeah you really do. Once in a while if you really love a script you'll take a shot on whoever the director is, or if the director's been really cool, you'll take a shot on whatever the project is. I'm in that situation right now. I just got cast in this movie that Kathryn Bigelow is doing, you know she just did The Hurt Locker with my buddy Jeremy Renner. So it's like yeah, I know I'm going to take a shot on this but they won't show me a script at all. Sometimes it's the whole package and sometimes just some of the parts are just really, really interesting and you want to be involved in some way.

You mentioned working with Nic Cage, and obviously he has a very unique acting style and approach, so what is it like working opposite of him in a scene? Do you kind of have to be ready for anything?

Perrineau: Nic
is just like a constant professional, he's always working, and he's always in. The thing that I found the trickiest was that because he really is always working, sometimes I wasn't even sure when we had cut. In the first few days that we met I wasn't really sure what was happening sometimes. He was having a rough time then, I was having a little bit of a rough time and sometimes I’d look at him and say, "Oh, man I hope your day is going well." He'd say, “What?” And I'd say, "Oh, sorry, you’re acting. Never mind. Sorry, I read that completely wrong." It was really cool because I like to be on my feet and go, and he likes to be on his feet and go, so yeah, it felt like a really good tennis match, back and forth with each of us so it was a lot of fun for me.

Harold, does Cage stay in character when you’re not shooting? 

Sometimes he does, yeah! He gets at least in the emotional realm of whatever scene it is that we're doing even if he is ... you know, he had a lot of stuff to deal with during that time. This was a while ago and he was dealing with all his financial stuff, his ex, and his dad had passed away. My mom had just passed away too. So he was dealing with stuff, we were dealing with stuff and he always at least stayed in the realm even in the midst of all this other stuff that he had going on. That's why it was confusing, like I said, there were so many outside things happening. Sometimes it was just hard to focus in on what we were doing, but Nic is always in the realm even if he is not exactly in character. Do you know what I mean? He’s never just off having random conversations at craft service.

Do you have the same approach to acting as Cage? Do you stay in character when you’re not shooting or do you go back to being Harold?

No, no. I usually have to stay in the mode as well, especially for something that's tricky for me. I stay in the mode and sometimes the kind of cooler days for me are when it's a fun scene like at a party. Then I'm just at a party as long as we're doing the party stuff. I kind of have to stay going too because if I jump right back into Harold, switching back and forth just gets a little too draining. You might not end up having the energy for the scene where you need it.

I want to ask you something specific about your character in the film without giving too much away. He's got a secret, as all good characters do and I'm sure you're used to playing secrets from your time on LOST. I'm curious, are you thinking about that secret in the earlier scenes when the audience isn’t in on it, or as an actor do you ignore it all together and just play what's going on in the scene?

Yeah it kind of really just depends on if that stuff is supposed to inform the scene or not. Sometimes I just don't think about any of the secrets that the characters have, I just play whatever's right there. Because when you go back and you look at it you go, wait a minute, oh wow, that person was really tricky, or not tricky. It depends on how it informs the scene. I always know it's there as the actor and so I guess it's always a little in the background. Hopefully when you watch the film as a whole you go, man, if I paid more attention, I'd have known that this person was ... you know what I mean? Without giving too much away, Jimmy does have a secret and weather it's good or bad is up for the audience to decide, but he does have a secret and that's really fun to play.

Do you go through the script before shooting and create a back-story for yourself that helps you understand the character?

Absolutely. I try to so that when we do get there and I'm getting to work with Nic Cage or Jennifer Carpenter, have a full life happening, a life that's really relevant to the script, not that's relevant to my own life, so that we're all on the same page and in the same place. I wish I were one of those actors who could flip back and forth. I'm just not that skilled. Some people are really skilled like that, but I don't have that skill set.
The film deals with the theme of justice and as an audience member I could really relate to what Nic’s character goes through in the movie. Obviously, if a loved one had something tragic happen to them and someone offered to make those responsible for it pay, most people would at least consider it. If you ever found yourself in that situation in real life, do you know what you would do? Would you want justice for your loved one at any cost?

Again, that's one of the reasons I actually really wanted to do the film because I love that question. If something happened to you or a loved one, how far do you go for justice, or how far do you go for revenge, or are they the same thing? Which one are you actually doing? I think that's the fun of watching this movie. You sit in a dark theater and you turn it on, and you're not informed by a lot of explosions or special effects, you're just informed by the story and these great characters. You’re watching this stuff unfold with your popcorn and hopefully siding with our hero, or maybe sometimes against him depending on how you feel. I think that's the fun of the movie, I think that's totally where it lives. I did it when I was watching it as well. I was like, yeah would I ... and I knew what happened. As I was watching it I would go, would I make that choice? Would I do that?

You mentioned you’re going to do the new Kathryn Bigelow film next, is that her Bin Laden project?

Yes it is, yeah.

Do you know when you start shooting? I'm sure you probably can't tell me too much about it, right?

This is very similar to LOST. I don't know anything. I haven't seen a script, and I don't know anything about it. I know I'm supposed to leave sometime next week to someplace, maybe in India, maybe in Jordan. They're getting me a visa; I'll know where I’m going when I see it. It's wacky.

Since you didn’t get to see a script, was working with a director like Kathryn Bigelow the main reason why you wanted to do the project?

That was really it. I wanted to work with her. I've been a fan since Point Break. I'm a fan so I just wanted to work with her. Like I said, I love The Hurt Locker and Jeremy [Renner] is a good friend of mine from The Unusuals. We did an ABC series called The Unusuals and 28 Weeks Later together so we've been friends for a while. He was talking about doing The Hurt Locker and I was around when the film was just really small. They were just going from city to city with it and all the sudden it become an Oscar award winner, so I was just interested. What's that about? Let's get in there and see what she's got and how that changes me as an artist. Let’s see how much fun I could have doing this. So yeah, I'm excited.

It seems like a lot of projects now are very secretive like that, do you think LOST started that trend? It seems like every actor I talk to who's doing a highly anticipated film says, “They won’t show me a script only my scenes,” or “They let me read the script but I had to stay in their office with an armed guard watching me.”

Perrineau: I think we just live in a time where information is so easy to get and you can really ruin a film or a television show quickly because now all you got to do is post on Twitter and millions of people will know so it takes away from the fun of watching it. Maybe LOST is one of the beginning projects that started that because LOST was really, really interactive with all of the online stuff. Information is just so available, ready and quick. I think in order to have a project with a lot of intrigue; you really just have to be in the hush, hush. You can't say anything, you can't mail anything, and there's no emailing a thing. I think it's kind of cool that way. It actually makes it a little bit more fun than before. You have really do have to be on your toes and be ready to do almost anything.

Finally, since we are on the subject of LOST, looking back on it now that it is over, are you pleased with your time on the series? Are you happy with Michael’s story arc and what you were able to accomplish with the character while you were on the show?

Perrineau: I am really pleased with my time on this show. I had a great time; I have met some great people who were now a part of my family and I’m part of theirs. I don't think I'll ever be please with Michael's story arc. I thought it was cool, I was a little disappointed that Michael and Walt weren't there at the end, but I really loved that they got back to the characters anyway. I couldn't have asked for a better time. It was fun, it was intriguing, there was still a couple of holes that make it stay intriguing for me, and so yeah on a whole I'm really happy that I got a chance to do it. I'm glad my wife talked me into doing some more television stuff because I wasn't so sure about it at the time. So I'm really glad she talked me into it.

So we have her to thank for you being on LOST?

Perrineau: Well I had finished the HBO show (Oz), I had done The Matrix, and I was doing a play. She was like, “You just need to get back into some more television.” I was like, yeah, I don't really know. When the audition came up I had to be at the theater and I was like, if I make it, I make it. I don't mean to be callus about it, I just didn't want to get my hopes up and I was kind of comfortable where I was. So I went to the audition, but yeah, she was the one who was like, “You got to try to figure this out.” Then we got lucky and found this job. It was just the most amazing job ever and it took us to Hawaii and like I said, we now have all these new members of our family. I really thank her for it.

Would you want to do another series and go back to TV?

Perrineau: I am back at TV. I just finished ten episodes for a TBS show with Brian Austin Green (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Peter Cambor (NCIS: Los Angeles) and Derek Miller (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) called The Wedding Band. It’s not at all like Oz or LOST or any of that. It's just fun, music and more fun. It's just a very cool show that will happen this summer.

Seeking Justice opens in theaters on March 16th. 

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