Harold Perrineau is one of those actors who just seems to careen from one solid project to the next. I first knew him as the unfortunate recipient of bear damage of the highest order in the mini-classic The Edge and then through high profile runs on Oz and Lost. But a peek through his resume yields no shortage of excellent choices, great performances, and a whole ‘lotta luck. He’s managed to not get pigeonholed and in this season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy (Tuesdays at 10 Eastern and Pacific) his character Damon Pope represents possibly the most ruthless adversary the show’s protagonists have yet to face.
First fueled by revenge of the death of his daughter at the end of Season 4 Pope is taking no prisoners in his war against the Sons, and if the first two episodes of this season are any indication there will be lots and lots of blood spilled.
I participated in a conference call with the man amidst a bevy of bloggers and whatnot. I’ve pulled my questions from the mix and at the bottom you’ll see a few more of the man’s responses. From my short time chatting with him, Mr. Perrineau not only came off as a class act but also a guy whose best work may still be ahead of him.
Nick Nunziata: Between Tom Fontana and Lindelof and J.J. Abrams and now Kurt Sutter, you’ve become kind of like the Kevin Bacon of great TV shows, like we could almost do the six degrees of Harold Perrineau now.
Harold Perrineau: My wife… jokes.
Nick Nunziata: You have a habit of being attached to very interesting and diverse projects and this was no different. I kind of want to get your vibe as to the dynamic on set. I mean Tom Fontana is notorious in the way that he runs a set and obviously Lost was the myriad tapestry that it was. What’s Sons of Anarchy like when you get into the mix? Is it a different kind of working experience for you?
Harold Perrineau: Well, without giving too much away, it is different in that with Lost and with Oz, there was such a huge cast of people and there was always tons of people and personalities around all the time and so, you’re negotiating that when you’re working and playing the role and stuff like that. The sort of luxury I’ve had with Sons of Anarchy is while there are lots of people on the show itself, “Damon Pope” is very specific and he’s very focused. And so, I’m really not around everybody as much. And so, for me, it doesn’t feel like there’s that much to negotiate. I feel like I can really focus in on what this one character has to do and who he has to do it to or with or whatever. So, in that sense, I don’t feel how big and broad like the rest of the cast is like I did in the other two shows.
Nick Nunziata: The other note is the other shows you had a chance to watch it to build the ground swell and rise to popularity. This show you’re riding in on the peak for now, the peak of its success. Did you have an idea from your previous experience what to expect with the fan base that this has and with how available Sutter is to his audience and the sheer passion that people have for this show? Did you feel a different kind of energy once you became a part of the mythos?
Yes. This all feels like new because I just sort of walked into this house that was already built. And so, yes, you’re right. Earlier on, you kind of get to feel it like growing and growing and growing and it’s really fun and exciting and watching it grow is pretty cool. But this, I was really shocked by like how passionate all the people are about the show, how, like you said, available Kurt is to his audience.
So, I feel like a little like I’m playing catch-up, like I don’t know what people expect or what they do and they’re already in there and they’re settled in.
They really love the show and they know everything about the show and I really am trying to like catch up as much as I can and do all of my homework and see the shows and know what the people are talking about because they really do seem to love the show and are passionate about it.
I am feeling the love. I’ve got to say that. They’re really loyal even if they don’t like “Damon Pope.”
Nick Nunziata: In Season 5 of Oz, you took the loss, but you returned to narrate the sixth season. Now, if you get popped this year I’d be very disappointed if you didn’t narrate next season of Sons of Anarchy.
Harold Perrineau: From a … in a wheelchair, right?
Nick Nunziata: Yes! But, there are two things that you mentioned in this interview that are astounding and they’re definitely problems that we’re facing or not problems, but parts of the business we’re facing now that we’ve never had to face before. You talked about being a brand and you talked about using social media. I don’t think De Niro had to deal with that when he was coming up. So, I kind of want to get your vibe as to how do you manage that where the artifice of being an actor is compromised all the time because of how available you are and because you’re right, you’re building a brand and people look at you that way. So, packaging is the entertainment industry. How do you kind of live in those worlds that kind of make the art a little bit more subdued than the business?
Harold Perrineau: Hopefully I won’t have a long answer for this, but the answer is … because it’s all happening like so fast. Some of it is really uncharted and some of it is very charted. I mean like building brands is very charted, but uncharted in the social media way because new things keep happening and stuff like that.
Anyway, what I keep saying to myself, what I keep saying to myself is I just keep really being true to what I like to do. If I just keep doing that, if I try my best not to make a bunch of compromises to who I am, not to what I can do, but to who I am then that will be my brand. There is only one me. There’s only me and if you buy it, cool. If you don’t, cool.
And so, while I like being able to make money and take care of my family, I really am able to do that now. I hope that that doesn’t change where I can’t take care of my family and stuff like that, but I don’t want to have to sell my soul so much that I’m suddenly not happy about who I am because then I feel like even if I did make the money then I wouldn’t be able to be the kind of person I am at home. That’s all theory. I don’t even know. That’s just what I’m doing right now. That’s the only way I know how to go about it right now, just keep trying to be like as true to Harold as I can if that make sense.
A few other interesting things from the conference call:
On creating Damian Pope:
I had talked to Kurt Sutter a bit about the character. We talked at length a bit about his ideas about “Damon Pope,” some of the people that “Damon Pope” reminded him of; one of them being Frank Lucas who was the movie American Gangster that Denzel Washington did, was based on his life. And then, I started doing a bunch of research on my own about a different guys who took their sort of street life and then turned them into more legit businesses and that’s kind of how I sort of setup “Damon Pope” and how he might think or the way he may act in retaliation to things that are very emotional for him like that. So, basically, I just sort of pulled on these different sorts of businessmen and gangsters who I thought had similar kinds of backgrounds.
On the show and his character’s drive:
I like the show Sons of Anarchy. I like Kurt Sutter. I like the idea of this guy who’s not just rolling in as some gangster to be tough, but he’s a guy who just lost his child. One of the things that I felt like might be really challenging and kind of fun is to see if the audience members just go like, “Oh, he’s just a terrible guy” or if someone can go, “Hey, if somebody had killed my daughter for a frivolous reason that ‘Tig’ killed his daughter, what would I do” and actually have some empathy for “Pope.” I’m really curious about whether that will ever play out, or if it’s just going to be like, “He’s just a bad dude.” So, for me I thought that was an interesting thing to try to spot and then try to bring to the character.
On the similarities between Pope and his Lost character, Michael:
Yes, I actually do think that they are very similar and being a parent myself, the question always becomes for me if someone were to hurt, kidnap, put in any way your child in danger, how far would you go? The answer for me is always I’d go as far as I had to. I’d go as far as I could and so, like I understand given each person’s world like what they would be.
“Michael” being stranded on this island and not really having any resources and only to collaborate with “Ben” … in order to get his son back, which means he had to do one heinous thing and one thing he fully regretted. What would you do in order to get your child back? The same with “Damon;” he lives in a really violent world where there’s not a lot of talking or negotiating or hand-holding or like, “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t really mean to kill your daughter. I meant to kill the guy next to her.” There’s none of that like kind of friendly banter even in a world where it really is survival of the fittest. It really feels like the fittest.
Having those kinds of means and having your daughter stripped away from you, all the years of work and love and care and having someone just take that away without regard, how far would I go? I’d probably go that far. I’d probably go further, you know what I mean? I’d be that mad and in that world, I’d understand, you know what I mean? Harold, I wouldn’t do it, but in that world, I get it.
On the beginning of Oz:
I called my mother. I said, “Hey, ma, I’m about to do this thing that’s a little crazy. I just want you to know that I love you. I don’t want to disrespect our family or anything.” So, when we first read the pilot script, I thought, “Whoa.” One, I couldn’t believe that we were going to do it on television and two, some of it was just so wild. There are things that didn’t even make the screen that were just so like outrageous that I was a little nervous. I really had that feeling of like, what does this do for me. Does it like help elevate my career or do I wind up going down as like, “Oh, he was part of that group of crazy people that tried to do that thing on HBO.” And so, luckily, HBO kept doing wilder stuff.
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