Heroes’ Leonard Roberts Opens Up About His Time on the Superhero Series

Back in 2006, NBC tried to cash in on the burgeoning superhero craze with Heroes, an hour-long drama series that followed the interconnected stories of people with extraordinary abilities. The show’s first season became an instant hit. It also helped launch the careers of Zachary Quinto, Milo Ventimiglia, Hayden Panettiere, and others. However, other cast members weren’t so lucky. One of the first season’s key players, Leonard Roberts, has reflected on his time on the series in a new op-ed published by Variety.

Roberts appeared on Heroes as D.L. Hawkins, an escaped prisoner with the ability to phase through solid objects. His character was married to Ali Larter’s Niki, whose own power gave her a violent split personality with enhanced strength. In his editorial, Roberts detailed some of the clashes he had with Larter when they started working together. On the show, D.L.’s incarceration put a strain on his and Niki’s marriage. But according to Roberts, “it wasn’t long before art was imitating life.” As he tells it, problems first arose when Roberts received “pushback” from Larter while filming “a particularly tense scene” for the show. Roberts initially dismissed this as “passions running high,” and even sent Larter a bottle of wine to convey his respect. However, Larter never acknowledged the gift.

Later, during a bedroom scene between their characters, Larter became irate when the episode’s director, Greg Beeman, asked if she was comfortable lowering the straps of her top to expose her bare shoulders. Larter somehow felt she was being asked to remove her top completely, and immediately demanded a meeting with Beeman and the producers, where she claimed that “she had never been so disrespected — as an actress, a woman or a human being.” Despite this, Roberts observed that Larter shot a more intense love scene with Adrian Pasdar for an earlier episode. Pasdar, who played Nathan Petrelli on Heroes, eventually told Roberts that Larter didn’t raise similar concerns while filming this scene.

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“I pondered why my co-star had exuberantly played a different scene with the Petrelli character involving overt sexuality while wearing lingerie,” wrote Roberts. “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 continued to find himself at odds with Larter over the next year. During Heroes season 2, viewers were surprised to learn that D.L. had died offscreen. Flashbacks later revealed that D.L. was unceremoniously shot by a nameless guest-star. Roberts admitted that he found his death “perplexing,” given D.L.’s phasing abilities. Regardless, Heroes creator Tim Kring blamed it on “the Ali Larter situation” and their lack of onscreen chemistry. Roberts also pointed out that people would view the situation differently depending on their own race.

“To Black people, whether a part of the entertainment industry or not, the frustration and pain I went through was an all-too-familiar reminder of what it meant to feel as invisible as Ralph Ellison’s revered protagonist,” added Roberts. “But to white and non-Black people in my orbit, 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.”

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Variety noted that Larter declined to comment on Roberts’ account. However, they were able to obtain a statement from Kring, who wishes he handled things differently.

“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,” said Kring. “I have been committed to improving upon this issue with every project I pursue. I remember Leonard fondly and wish him well.”

You can share your thoughts on Roberts’ Heroes experience in the comment section below.

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