Heroes Star Leonard Roberts Alleges Toxic Environment Led to His Firing
Thirteen years after an unceremonious exit from the NBC drama Heroes, actor Leonard Roberts explained in a first-person essay published by Variety on Wednesday that the set’s toxic environment culminated in his firing.
“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 his piece, Roberts specifically called out his co-star Ali Larter for a series of microaggressions. In one instance, he recalled, Larter blanched at having to perform an intimate scene with Roberts, but seemed to have no misgivings about filming a similar scene with their costar Adrian Pasdar, who is white.
“After watching the episode, I asked Pasdar if there had been any concerns similar to what I witnessed during my episode,” Roberts wrote. “He replied to the contrary, and mentioned 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. I couldn’t help wondering whether race was a factor.”
According to Variety, Larter was given ample time to reply to Roberts’s piece. Larter, however, did not respond to the trade publication on the record. Instead, she released a statement to the Variety sister site, TVLine.
“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,” she said to TVLine. “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.”
In his piece, Roberts wrote that while his character was initially supposed to factor in the hit show’s second season, he was later told by showrunner Tim Kring that his character was being written off because of “the Ali Larter situation.”
“Kring said he felt my character had been painted into a corner, due to the fact that ‘we’ didn’t have ‘chemistry,’ and that any attempt to create a new storyline for D.L. [Roberts’s character] just felt like ‘the tail wagging the dog,’” Roberts wrote. “I replied that I found it interesting he had created a world where people flew, painted the future, bent time and space, read minds, erased minds and were indestructible, yet somehow the potential story solution of my character getting divorced left him utterly confounded. I also questioned how a ‘we’ issue could be cited as justification for the firing of ‘me.’”
As Roberts noted, despite a cast that included people of color, including three Black actors, there were no Black writers on the show’s staff.
Said Kring in a statement to Variety: “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.”