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In His Broadway Acting Debut, The Cherry Orchard's Harold Perrineau Is Anything but Lost

Perrineau takes on the role of Lopakhin in the Anton Chekhov classic.

Twenty-nine years ago, Harold Perrineau made his Broadway debut as a dancer in a 1987 return engagement of the iconic musical Dreamgirls. At the time, he was pursuing dancing as a career, but had dreams of being an actor.

Over the years, Perrineau has made his dream a reality through a series of iconic roles: Link in The Matrix, Augustus Hill on Oz, and Damon Pope in Sons of Anarchy. Perhaps his most enduring character remains Michael Dawson on the hit drama Lost.

Now, Perrineau is taking the stage at the American Airlines Theatre as another beloved character, Lopakhin in Simon Godwin's production of The Cherry Orchard. It's an opportunity for the actor to do what he's always desired: a play on Broadway. And Perrineau jumped at it.

Harold Perrineau makes his Broadway acting debut in The Cherry Orchard.
(© David Gordon)

The cast of The Cherry Orchard is a nice mix of rising young actors and old pros. How has this experience been for you so far?
I can't tell you what a great time I'm having. You really do have that mix of a bunch of us who are like, "Oh my god, I'm working with Joel Grey, this is crazy." And Joel is really, really giving backstage. You get all these different points of view. Some of the younger actors are saying to me, "What's it like when you're doing those films?" and I get to talk to them about it. I think it really helps us create this unit. Everybody is really invested in creating this family, and that's what The Cherry Orchard is about.

How did this role come about for you?
I've always wanted to do a play on Broadway. For a long time, I pursued just dancing. The first time I was ever on Broadway, I replaced someone in the [1987] revival of Dreamgirls. But I always wanted to be an actor, and a play wasn't coming up at all. One day I got a call that said, "Would you consider coming back to Broadway?" Would I consider it? Could you stop me? I had a call with [director] Simon [Godwin] and he offered me this job.

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, and John Glover in The Cherry Orchard at the American Airlines Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Did you know The Cherry Orchard going in?
I had read it before, and I've seen Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya. There was a bit of trepidation, but if someone's going to offer me a role on Broadway in a classic play, I kind of have to take it. But I was a little worried. When you read it, it's really hard to get behind unless you understand all the characters. You can see it as, "This could be one of those boring things but I can't turn it down." Meeting Simon and hearing all of his ideas was another godsend. And once you get into the text, you realize why it's such an enduring piece. And once you start doing the work, it becomes really hard.

What was the most challenging part of transitioning from screen work to the stage?
The hardest part is, when I'm doing a film and I'm making a lot of money, I can fly back and forth. I don't have to disrupt my family's routine. When you're doing a play and your time commitment is so strong and you're not making enough money to fly back and forth, I have to gather my entire family and bring them along, and get home-school and tutors. Luckily, my family is amazing and they're having a great time here.

How are you feeling now that the show is open and you can settle into a routine?
I'm still on a little bit of a high. I was saying that to my wife, I was like, "If I got hit by a bus right now, I'm good. I opened a Broadway show." Not that I want to get hit by a bus. [laughs]

Do people still recognize you in the street as having been on Lost?
Literally, I walk down the street and they scream "Michael," and when I don't turn around, they're really surprised. People run up to me and go, "Michael, I was just calling you!" and I go, "I hear you. My name's Harold, but I totally get you." So yeah. They still scream "Walt!" at me. If I tweet something about anything, someone will write "WALLLT" in response.

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, and Joel Grey celebrate opening night in The Cherry Orchard.
(© David Gordon)