While the “Heroes” cast was busy saving the cheerleader (and the world), actor Leonard Roberts said he was battling a racist and toxic work environment behind the scenes of the popular NBC sci-fi series.
At the time, he said executive producer Dennis Hammer told him not to “think of this as a situation where the Black man loses and the white woman wins.”
But, according to Roberts, Larter consistently mistreated him on-set and made filming unnecessarily difficult. He cited a particularly tense bedroom scene early in the show’s run as emblematic of the kinds of microaggressions he said he experienced working with Larter.
The actor, who was shirtless in the scene, recalled Larter refusing the director’s request to expose her shoulders, which resulted in an “intense and loud conversation in which she expressed she had never been so disrespected — as an actress, a woman or a human being.”
Taken aback by the blowup, Roberts consulted his co-star Adrian Pasdar, who is white, about a different scene in which Larter tries to seduce his character Nathan Petrelli. In striking contrast to his experience with Larter, he said Pasdar instead praised her “openness to collaboration and even improvisation.”
“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, disrespectful to her core,” Roberts wrote in the essay. “I couldn’t help wondering whether race was a factor.”
Roberts’ screen time on the series diminished as it went on, but he said he was assured he would return as a regular for the second season.
Instead, he was unceremoniously written off the show, with series creator Tim Kring informing him via a voicemail that he was fired due to the “Ali Larter situation.”
His character returned for a handful of episodes to wrap up his storyline in the second season. Robert said he was initially offered an “offensive” guest-star rate of pay, even though he’d been a regular.
Aside from his own experience with Larter, Roberts cited a lack of diversity behind the scenes, the frequency at which nonwhite characters were killed off on the show, and a photo shoot where all the Black adult series regulars were placed in the back.
“Were the people I worked with racists? Even now, my instinct is to hedge, and say that I met many great people while on ‘Heroes,’ some of whom I still call friends,” Roberts wrote. “Or to admit I can’t speak to what was in the hearts of the powers that be, especially when I was rarely afforded the opportunity to look them in the eye. But do those facts, however true, negate my belief that I worked in an environment in which whiteness was the default and ideal? Or that it was clear my sole purpose was to preserve that ideal, on or off camera, despite how it compromised me as an artist, a professional and a man? They do not.”
In a statement to TVLine on Wednesday, a “heartbroken” Larter addressed Roberts’ allegations.
“I am deeply saddened to hear about Leonard Roberts’s 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,” she said. “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.”
Kring said in his own statement that he should’ve been more committed to diversifying the show’s ranks.
“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.”