Harold Perrineau has leant his considerable talents to a plethora of memorable Hollywood hits ranging from “Romeo and Juliet” to “The Matrix Reloaded” to “28 Weeks Later”. His work in television is no less impressive, as he has received critical acclaim for his roles on HBO’s gritty prison drama “Oz” and the pop culture phenomenon that was ABC’s hit series”Lost”. Along the way, he has established himself as one of the most diversified actors in the business. For his latest film, “Seeking Justice”, he stars alongside Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, and Jennifer Carpenter in a unique story of vengeance and deception. Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently caught up with Harold Perrineau to discuss his unique career, the influences that shaped him as a performer, his experiences on the set of “Seeking Justice”, his musical side and much more!
We always like to start by giving everyone a little background. What can you tell us about how you got started on your journey in the entertainment industry?
Oh, wow! That is a big question, starting right off! [laughs] I am from New York. When I was in high school, I was in the orchestra, which means I wasn’t really cool! [laughs] At the time, my aunt was going to Long Island University. There was a program there focusing on theater for kids. She took my brothers, all my cousins and I there to check it out. I instantly fell in love with it and started right in on this journey. After high school, I went to a conservatory of music and I came back and got a scholarship for the Alvin Ailey School. Just keep going and going and going! Eventually, I started acting, which is my real passion, and it has led me to this point! That was the abridged version! How was that!? [laughs]
That works for me! I am curious to know the influences who helped shape the actor we see today, both on-screen and off?
I am influenced by so many things because there are so many parts of this business that I really love. I love performing and the way entertaining feels. I have influences from all over the place, ranging from musicians to actors to dancers. As a dancer, I loved to watch Baryshnikov back in the day. He was very, very influential for me stopping dancing, as one day I realized that I was never going to be that good and I need to hang it up! [laughs] Back in the day I loved old movies and I would sneak out of bed at night and watch old movies with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, all the dance and musical movies. Those films really made me want to do that. Later on, the stakes started getting higher as I discovered Denzel Washington, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. Those guys became like gods to me. I knew that if I wanted to act, I wanted to be just like them! My biggest influence musically was Miles Davis. He is obviously one of the all-time greats!
Your latest project is “Seeking Justice.” What can you tell us about the film and your character, for those unfamiliar with it?
“Seeking Justice” is an action/thriller which stars Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce and myself. The movie asks the question, “If you or a family member were a victim of a crime, how far would you go to get justice? Or would it be revenge?” Nicolas Cage plays a teacher whose wife is a victim of a crime. He then has the opportunity to get justice or revenge and he takes it, then we go on this journey with him. I play his good friend and the principal at the school where he teaches, who is an interesting character in the film.
What was it about the script or the character in particular that drew you to your role in the film?
Yeah. At the time, I was coming off of “Lost” and this role gave me the opportunity to play a guy in an ordinary circumstance, set in New Orleans. I really wanted to go there and work with Nic and director Roger Donaldson. I just thought, “Wow! This could be kind of a cool thing!” When the opportunity came my way, I jumped at it! It was great to be able to head down to New Orleans, work with a great cast and make a fun film.
Each project is a learning experience for an actor. What did you learn from your time on this film?
On this project, I learned a bunch of different things. One of those things is that New Orleans is a dangerous place to be! [laughs] I say that because you can have WAY too much fun and not pay attention to the work! [laughs] While I was there, I got the chance to hang out a lot with the crew and the director of this film. That is something that I didn’t always do. It wasn’t on purpose or anything, it was just I didn’t have the opportunity to do that very often. I got to see firsthand how that type of camaraderie helps bring more fun and interest when you are actually doing the filmmaking. As I got closer to those guys, I found myself discovering more interesting stuff to bring to my character and into the movie. That was a very intriguing and fun thing for me to learn. Quite often, I come in and it is a situation like, “I am the actor. This is the director. I am the student and that is the teacher.” There was always that weird separation. On this project I thought, “What happens if I move that barrier?” I really enjoyed the results!
Do you have a typical process when you set out to bring a character from script to screen?
I do have sort of a process. It is kind of a personal thing but if I can find a way to sympathize with my character or get into their head, I can spend days figuring it out. I think, “If this was me, how would I do that? What would make me do that? How would I get there?” I spend a lot of time, unfortunately by myself, daydreaming! [laughs] Or reading or things like that, spending time alone. Then I show up with all of the stuff that I have worked out and come up with and present it to the director. Hopefully, through all of that, we can find something to agree on.
Looking back on your career so far, how do you think you evolved in your craft since starting out?
Ya know, I feel that it is a process. I think I have had some moments when the roles are difficult, I have really stepped up, figured it out and have been able to rise to the occasion. The role of Mercutio in “Romeo & Juliet” is a good example but then there are other times, in the films I have been in, when I realized, “Oh, I just didn’t work hard enough to make that happen.” It has been quite a journey and I am coming along quite well, if I do say so myself! [laughs]
You played a diverse range of characters in your career. Is there a role or genre you haven’t tackled yet that you would like to take a stab at in the future?
I have been able to do a lot of stuff. Honestly, I like the journey that I am on. I think of all the tough stuff that I have done, I would like to do more romantic comedies. I don’t know why but there is just something that is fun for me about them and, at the end of the day, I find sticking in my head. I love the romance and comedy of it all. We have this thing coming out on TBS called “The Wedding Band.” It isn’t a romantic comedy, it is more of a musical comedy, but I haven’t had as much fun in quite a long time as I did working on that project. It is myself, Brian Austin Green, Peter Cambor and Derek Miller playing in this band called Mother of The Bride. It is hysterical! [laughs] We have a great cast that features Melora Hardi, Jenny Wade, Kathryn Fiore — it is a terrific cast of people! Nobody dies, nobody gets beat up or hurt! We just laugh, play and sing! It is nice to be in that space for a bit!
There is nothin’ wrong with that!
Nothing at all! [laughs]
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to someone just starting out on their journey in the entertainment industry?
It feels almost clique but you really do have to love it. There are so many ups and downs. There is an old saying, “Today a peacock, tomorrow a feather duster.” For some reason, that always rings in my mind because of those ups and downs, the ins and outs and the many things that you have to figure out along the way. You really have to love it because it is a real honor and a gift to be able to do it, so it would be a shame to not enjoy it and to be miserable throughout that journey. I would really evaluate if it is truly something that you wish to pursue, then pursue it. Go forward to learn as much as you can, do as much as you can and enjoy it as it comes.
You also have a musical side. What can you tell us about that and how fans can learn a little more about it!
My musical side, as I said early, started when I grew up playing music. It has always been a passion of mine and something that is fun for me. For a couple of years, we have been working on this album called “Seeker.” Instead of releasing a big album, we have been releasing a song here and there when we have time and have put some stuff together. You can go to my website, www.haroldperrineau.com, which we always update with new stuff that we have come up with. That is where we have been, I don’t even know if I want to call it a fan base, but a group of people who we can play music for and have a good time. I have music videos on there and silly little short films and things we are having fun with. You can learn more about the music from there.
It has been a pleasure talking with you today, Harold. We look forward to spreading the word on all of you projects and will talk to you again in the future!
Alright, Jason! Thank you very much!
Synopsis: Directed by Roger Donaldson, “Seeking Justice” is an action-packed thriller focuses on Will Gerard (Nicolas Cage), a happily married family man whose quiet life is turned upside-down when his wife, Laura (January Jones), is brutally attacked one night while leaving work. At the hospital, waiting for news about his wife’s condition, Will is approached by Simon, (Guy Pearce) who proposes an intriguing offer: Simon will arrange to have a complete stranger exact vengeance on Laura’s attacker, in exchange for a favor from Will in the near future. Distraught and grief-stricken, Will consents to the deal, unwittingly pulling himself into a dangerous underground vigilante operation. While continuing to protect his wife from the truth, he quickly discovers that his quest for justice could lead to frightening and deadly consequences.
“Seeking Justice” hits theaters nationwide on March 16th, 2012!