When was the last time you thought of NBC’s Heroes? For me, it had been years since the out of the gate hit the implored us that if we saved the cheerleader, we would save the world, crossed my mind but after reading a new essay featured in “Variety” that was written by Leonard Roberts, Heroes is back on everyone’s minds and it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Leonard Roberts played the series regular role of D.L. Hawkins on the show, which followed a group of everyday people, both good and bad, who suddenly develop strange powers. The series was created by Tim Kring and it became a massive hit for NBC pretty much overnight. Being on a huge show like Heroes should’ve been a blessing for Roberts but, according to the actor, it was littered with tension.
Roberts character was a blue-collar worker who gains the ability to pass through solid matter at will and despite being the husband of the main character Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) and father to young Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey), D.L. didn’t make his first appearance until Heroes‘ fifth episode, even though he was included initially in the pilot script. From there, he would go on to have a moderately sized role in the first season, despite also being a series regular. The reasons for this, according to what Roberts wrote in his essay for “Variety“, had a lot to do with his contentious relationship with Larter, which he says imitated fiction:
“The script suggested D.L. and Niki had a volatile relationship — and it wasn’t long before art was imitating life, with me on the receiving end of pushback from my co-star regarding the playing of a particularly tense scene.”
The scene that Roberts cites is a bedroom scene between the two where, according to Roberts, Larter refused to expose even just her shoulders, despite the fact that she was willing to do more in another intimate scene with her white co-star, Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli on Heroes). Larter allegedly threw a huge tantrum on set and ultimately got her way to play the scene as she saw fit. Despite this realization, Roberts says he remained professional, even as he came aware of other non-white characters being killed off on the show. It was after this that Roberts himself was informed of his character’s ultimate fate. Roberts says “in a short voicemail message, [Kring] said that due to ‘the Ali Larter situation,’ when the show returned for Season 2, audiences would learn that D.L. had died and that I was free to call him if I wanted to talk.” Upon meeting with Kring, Roberts explains he was told, “because of my co-star, he just couldn’t make my remaining on the show work story-wise.” This baffled the actor, as he didn’t understand how the actions of a co-star (who apparently was disliked by others on-set) resulted in his firing. At the time, executive producer Dennis Hammer told Roberts, “Don’t think of this as a situation where the Black man loses and the white woman wins.” This led Roberts to write in his essay, “And that was the first time my race was ever acknowledged while I was a part of the show: not for any creative contribution I could make, but for what I believed was the fear of me becoming litigious.”
Once the dust settled Roberts was able to return for two additional episodes to film D.L.’s demise but the situation is one that stayed with the actor. In the full “Variety” piece, it’s stated that “
Leonard Roberts first approached Variety about this essay in August through a mutual acquaintance. According to the 10 people who substantiated Roberts’ account, who did so anonymously due to their continued work in the industry, the first season of “Heroes” was often an arduous production, partly caused by the intensity of its immediate success." They go on to say that "the people Variety spoke with also confirmed that other series leads had conversations with the “Heroes” writers about their characters; that there were no Black writers on the Heroes staff in its first season; that Black actors were sidelined in cast photos; that Larter did not like working with Roberts; and that Larter was a divisive presence on set overall.” Roberts also revealed how his character was described in the pilot script and, at best, it’s not politically correct. The actor explained that an early draft of the pilot described D.L. as “a white man’s nightmare.” “Variety” obtained a copy of the draft and confirmed the description.
Creator Tim Kring and Ali Larter both responded to Roberts’ claims but Larter took much longer to give a response. There were off the record conversations with representatives for Larter, according to “Variety“, but Larter didn’t provide an on the record response until hours after the “Variety” story went live. Here is what the actress had to say:
“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.”
For his part, Kring acknowledges the lack of diversity at the upper levels of the show but seems to deny that Roberts was written out due to his race:
“In 2006, I set out to cast the most diverse show on television. Diversity, interconnectivity and inclusivity were groundbreaking hallmarks of ‘Heroes.’ So too was the huge, diverse cast that continually rotated off and onto the show, with none ever being written off based on their race. 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. I have been committed to improving upon this issue with every project I pursue. I remember Leonard fondly and wish him well.”
Roberts closes his essay by stating “So with the pain, there is resolve. By tearing away the boards I have put up and sharing my story, I make this experience valid. In doing so, I hope to be a part of a rebuilding that ensures my child a future in which she feels heard, seen, and valid. Where she need not demand, but simply expect the respect and equality she deserves. That would make me feel like a real hero.” I think no matter where you stand on this, his reasoning for coming forward is summed up in this quote and if this is why he needed to do this, I say more power to him.
What are YOUR thoughts on Roberts’ claims?