Heroes Actor Leonard Roberts Claims Racism, Co-Star Led to Series Exit

Heroes actor Leonard Roberts (Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is going public with accusations of racism and on-set tension with series co-star Ali Larter (The Rookie) in a personal essay published by Variety– and how that friction led to his exiting the series after one season. Premiering in the fifth episode of the first season, Roberts' D.L. Hawkins was the husband of Ali Larter's Niki Sanders and father of Micah Sanders (Noah Gray-Cabey). He had the power to phase through solid objects- we use "had" because his powers weren't enough to save him from the writers. Hawkins was killed by a gunshot to the chest in the eighth episode of the second season (again, a little odd all things considered- especially when Roberts was brought back to offer his character that anti-climactic ending?).

Heroes (Image: NBCU)
Heroes (Image: NBCU)

In his published account (which you can read in its entirety here, along with statements from some of those mentioned), Roberts notes a number of examples of the tense, volatile atmosphere on the Heroes set. In one instance, the actor revealed that an early draft of the pilot described his character as "a white man's nightmare" (a claim that Variety was able to confirm after obtaining an original copy of the script). One alleged incident of particular note took place during a bedroom scene between Larter and Roberts, where Larter pushed back from exposing her shoulders in the scene. As you'll see in the following excerpt, Roberts began to sense that there was something much bigger at play when he learned that she was willing to do more in intimate scenes with her white co-stars.

"On another occasion, during the staging of a bedroom scene, my co-star took umbrage with the level of intimacy being suggested between our characters. In a private rehearsal, Greg Beeman, our director, asked if she was willing to lower the straps of the top she was wearing and expose her bare shoulders only above the sheet that covered her, in order to give the visual impression she was in the same state of undress as me, as I was shirtless. My co-star refused Beeman's request, and I was instantly aware of the tension on the set. I remember instinctively checking to make sure both my hands were visible to everyone who was there, as not to have my intentions or actions misconstrued," Roberts wrote. "Despite Beeman's clear description of what he was looking for visually, my co-star insisted she was, indeed, being asked to remove her top completely, and rehearsal was cut. She then demanded a meeting with Beeman and the producers who were on set and proceeded to have an intense and loud conversation in which she expressed she had never been so disrespected — as an actress, a woman or a human being."

Roberts continued, "Later, she found me and said she hoped the "discussion" could stay between us. I didn't know how that was possible, given said "discussion" was had at elevated levels on a soundstage in front of the crew. Also, my co-star never once thought to include me, her scene partner, in any part of a "discussion," in which I would have gladly participated. So I found the appeal to my sense of solidarity after the fact strange and somewhat hollow. Nonetheless, I assured her I was fine with getting the work done in any way she and Beeman could agree on. We completed the scene with the straps of my co-star's top clearly visible, resolving the matter to what I believed was her satisfaction."

"While that was my first episode, my co-star had been working on "Heroes" for over a month, and she'd shot another scene that called for Niki to seduce Nathan Petrelli, played by Adrian Pasdar. After watching the episode, I asked Pasdar if there had been any concerns similar to what I witnessed during my episode. He replied to the contrary, and mentioned her openness to collaboration and even improvisation," Roberts writes. "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."

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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