UPDATE: Ali Larter has addressed Roberts’ essay and allegations in a statement to TVLine: “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. 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.”
Leonard Roberts has revealed the truth behind his Heroes character D.L. Hawkins’ death in a new essay he wrote for Variety.
In his account, Roberts recounts how he was immediately met with racial negativity during his time on Heroes, starting with the show’s production. The first instance of mistreatment began when he was told his character, which was originally written into the pilot, would be introduced in the second episode, making him worry his character could be seen as fodder for removal.
“As production began, I looked forward to sharing my thoughts on my character with the writing staff, as I heard other cast members had done the same with theirs,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, no such meeting ever materialized. Then I learned that despite the show’s three Black series regulars, there were no Black writers on staff.”
Roberts also referenced a “particularly odd promotional photoshoot” which seemed segregated.
“All the Black adult series regulars were relegated to the back and sides of photo after photo because, we were told, we were ‘tall,'” he wrote, adding that Heroes creator Tim Kring informed him that his character wouldn’t be introduced in the second episode.
“I sat on the sidelines for the second, third, fourth and fifth episodes,” wrote Roberts. “Finally, I was excited to learn that Episode 6 would mark my debut.” In that debut, his character was introduced in an interracial relationship with Ali Larter’s Niki Sanders. In the essay, Roberts alleges that Larter fostered an icy relationship with him, failing to collaborate on scenes and alleged an intimate scene was disrespectful to her. However, when Roberts talked to fellow cast member Adrian Pasdar, who played Nathan Petrelli, he found that Larter acted completely differently with other actors who were white.
“I pondered why my co-star had exuberantly played a different scene with the Petrelli character involving overt sexuality while wearing lingerie, but found aspects of one involving love and intimacy expressed through dialogue with my character, her husband, respectful to her core. I couldn’t help wondering whether race was a factor.”
Even though two non-white lead characters were killed off in the first season, causing Roberts to worry about his character’s longevity, he was assured D.L. would be back in the second season. But, he later received a voicemail from Kring after the upfronts. In the voicemail, Kring said that because of “the Ali Larter situation,” D.L. would be written out of the show, having died. Also, while in a meeting with Kring and executive producer Dennis Hammer, Hammer acknowledged a racial element to the situation, saying, “Don’t think of this as a situation where the Black man loses and the white woman wins.”
Roberts also addressed the irony of his character’s death from gun violence, even though his character can phase through matter. He also wrote he was offered a guest star rate of pay instead of as a series regular. His representation fought for his series regular pay rate.
“In the years after my time on Heroes, the burden of carrying the secret of my experience had a profoundly negative effect on how I interacted with the world,” he wrote. “Professionally, I struggled with an internalization of anger and defeat unlike any I had ever experienced in my career. Realizing I had no agency to demand anything from a work environment in which I was expected to perform left me incensed. Knowing that every other future work endeavor could potentially turn out the same left me exhausted. 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. Fighting against the isolation brought on by both was at times all consuming. I was ashamed and the shame I felt wasn’t the result of suffering the indignity, but, for a fleeting moment, actually being surprised by it. It would be 10 years before I would become series regular ever again.”
Many of the people Variety spoke to in order to confirm Roberts account agreed with Roberts’ version of events, including the fact that there were no Black writers on staff, that Black actors were mistreated during the publicity shoot, and that Larter was divisive on set and didn’t like working with Roberts. A copy of an early draft of Heroes also described Roberts’ character as “a white man’s nightmare.”
Larter didn’t respond to Variety for comment on the record, but Kring did provide a statement, acknowledging that his dream of creating a diverse show lacked the sensitivity behind the scenes needed to support such an endeavor.
“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 upper levels of the staff may have contributed to Leonard experiencing the lack of sensitivity that he describes,” Kring wrote. “I have been committed to improving upon this issue with every project I pursue. I remember Leonard fondly and wish him well.”
Hammer also issued a short statement, describing Roberts as “a great guy and a total pro.”
For the essay, the publication “corroborated Roberts’ account with 10 people who either worked on Heroes at the time or were contemporaneously familiar with his experience on the show.”
You can read the full account at Variety.