Back in 2006, NBC had a hit on its hands with Heroes, a series that examined the lives of ordinary human beings who become superpowered over time. Leonard Roberts, one of the few Black cast members, says that his time on the program was made worse due to clashes with a fellow cast member and the lack of diversity overall left him feeling frustrated.
In an op-ed piece for Variety, Roberts, 48, detailed his time on the set of Heroes and thought this was his big break. It was Roberts’ first full-time cast member role and he delivered as a man who had the ability to phase through objects. Roberts wrote that Ali Larter, who played the wife of Roberts’ character on the show, carried their onscreen troubles as a couple into a series of icy real-life confrontations and that he felt frozen out from the higher-ups of the show.
In one instance, Roberts shared how a love scene between he and Larter’s characters had a measurable amount of pushback and despite his desire to keep things professional, he later learned that Larter essentially thought the onscreen romance and perceived tensions were bad for her personal endeavors. Roberts was killed off the show and Larter remained a series regular. Roberts also had to have his representatives demand he be paid his full salary and not that of a guest player on his final day of shooting.
Weeks after my last “Heroes” episode, one of my castmates, with no irony, said, “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.” I responded that for him, as a white man, to ask me to deny I lost my job because I was Black, but accept my co-star kept her job because of attributes he clearly believed identified her as white was, in fact, a quite literal embodiment of systemic racism. There always seemed to be a collective need for a more palatable justification of what I went through. As time went on, mentions of Ali Larter in my presence were often patronizingly qualified with a “your girl” or “your favorite person,” suggesting it was just my problem, or worse, a figment of my imagination. After “Heroes” became a success, our scripts came with a warning of our immediate dismissal, should any material ever be disclosed. “REMEMBER … WE’RE A FAMILY AND A FAMILY IS ONLY AS STRONG AS THE SECRETS WE KEEP” each script read.
Larter has responded to Roberts’ piece via a statement from TV Line which can be seen below:
“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.”
Read Leonard Roberts’ full piece for Variety here.
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