Skip to main content
Select Source:

Perrineau, Harold, Jr.

Harold Perrineau, Jr.

1968

Actor

Whether playing a character from Shakespeare or a contemporary felon, actor Harold Perrineau, Jr., has demonstrated a wide-ranging talent over the course of his two-decade career. With recent prominent roles in the Matrix films as well as the 2005 TV series Lost, Perrineau has achieved recognition as one of the country's new generation of important African-American actors.

Began as a Dancer

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Perrineau studied music and theater at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia, and later worked at a variety of odd jobsincluding bartending and busing tableswhile trying to establish himself as a performer. He began his professional career dancing with the prestigious Alvin Ailey Company, with which he performed for a year and a half. But his interests gradually shifted to acting, and by the late 1980s Perrineau started to appear on stage. Among his early credits were performances in Godspell and Avenue X.

At the same time, the young actor had begun to land small roles in television, making appearances on The Cosby Show, Law & Order, and I'll Fly Away. He also obtained minor roles in films, including Shakedown and King of New York. His first important screen role came in 1995, when he appeared in Wayne Wang's acclaimed drama Smoke. Perrineau played Rashid Cole, a young man searching for his absent father, played by Forest Whitaker. The performance earned Perrineau an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

In 1996 Perrineau was cast as Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann's idiosyncratic film adaptation, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes as the star-crossed young lovers. The film included many shocking elementsincluding Perrineau's portrayal of Mercutio as a black drag queen. "Mercutio was just buggin' out, you know what I mean?" the actor responded when asked about the role in a SPLICEDwire interview. "He was just high, crazy, stoned. In a society where macho is the thing, for Mercutio to come out in a dress, that's ballsy. Mercutio is just off his...rocker and doesn't care. Then there was that thing about him maybe loving Romeo or not, well I guess that changes things."

Perrineau next appeared in The Edge, opposite Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Though the role was not large, he appreciated the opportunity to work with these acclaimed actors. In 1999 Perrineau's performance in The Best Man earned him an Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. He went on to take increasingly prominent roles, including another drag queen (in the 2000 film Woman on Top, co-starring Penelope Cruz) and the character Link in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

Played Paraplegic Prisoner in Oz

Perrineau's television career also expanded. His breakthrough role came in 1997 when he was cast as August Hill, a wheelchair-bound prisoner whose monologue introduced each episode of the gritty dramatic series Oz. The series, set in the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison, presented a world in which everyone is "on edge," according to Boston Globe writer Jim Sullivan. "It's a world of competing cliques and warring ethnic factions, tribe against tribe. Black thugs, black Muslims, neo-Nazis, the Italians, the Latinos, a couple of Irish, a couple of old-guy lifers."

Oz attracted significant critical attention for its uncompromising approach to the subject of incarceration. Caryn James in the New York Times described the series as "intelligent, ambitious and determined to shock," but also "gruesome and claustrophobic." Though the series had many stars, Perrineau earned much recognition for the role of Augustus Hill. He parodied the character on a Saturday Night Live episode in 1999, and the character even provided the basis for a spin-off book. In 2003 HBO published a volume purporting to be the character's "secret journal" of prison life: Oz: Behind These Walls: The Journal of Augustus Hill. Containing plot synopses and other information about the series, the book is held together by Hill's thoughts and observations about freedom, violence, responsibility, and other issues.

Perrineau's next major television project, after Oz completed its run in 2003, was a starring role in the ABC series Lost. Hailed as "one of the best new series" of the fall 2004 season by Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert, Lost followed the experiences of the 48 survivors of a plane crash on a remote tropical island. Perrineau played Michael, a father who had just obtained custody of his estranged son; other characters included a doctor, a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard, a Korean couple who speak no English, and an aging rock star. "We needed a huge cast," explained a series executive to Thelma Adams in the New York Times. "It's like a petri dish. You need as many protozoa as you can to begin with." The premise, as another executive commented, allowed for an intelligent treatment of a several important themes. "Certainly, race is an issue of the show," he noted, "as well as issues of society, leadership, trust, responsibility and personal destiny. You're on an islandhow do you live, how do you survive?"

As Perrineau noted to Zap2It writer Daniel Fienberg, playing Michael has again made him a familiar face to audiencesthough they may not remember his name. "I'm one of those guys that whenever I'm doing a project, people will notice me then," he said. "People will walk up to me and go 'Oh my God, you're the guy from Oz or 'Oh my God, The Matrix' or something like that, so now it's just 'Oh, Lost. ' It stays the same, which is fortunate for me, because I guess I'm working." Explaining that he enjoys choosing unusual roles, Perrineau explained that "it's really the thing I set out to do" but that such choices can also create difficulties because he resists any type-casting. "Clearly I can do many things, but because I do so many things, I always have to prove I can do the next thing as well."

Perrineau, who has one daughter, is married to actress and model Brittany Robinson. Among his non-acting interests is the sport of motorcycle racing.

At a Glance...

Born Harold Williams on August 7, 1968 in Brooklyn, New York; married Brittany Robinson; children: Aurora Robinson.

Career: Alvin Ailey Company, New York, NY, dancer, early 1980s; actor in stage, film, and television productions, 1988.

Awards: Independent Spirit Award, for Best Supporting Actor, 1995.

Addresses: Agent Larry Taube, Gersh Agency, 232 North Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Selected works

Films

Shakedown, 1988.

King of New York, 1990.

Smoke, 1995.

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, 1996.

The Edge, 1997.

The Best Man, 1999.

Woman on Top, 2000.

Prison Song, 2001.

On-Line, 2003.

The Matrix Reloaded, 2003.

The Matrix Revolutions, 2003.

Television

The Cosby Show, NBC, 1989.

Law & Order, NBC, 1990.

I'll Fly Away, NBC, 1992-1993.

Oz, HBO, 1997-2003.

ER, NBC, 1997.

Lost, ABC, 2004-2005.

Theater

Godspell, Lambs Theatre, New York, NY, 1988.

Avenue X, Playwrights Horizons Theatre, 1994.

Joe Fearless, Atlantic Theatre Company, New York, NY, 2000.

Blue/Orange, Atlantic Theatre Company, 2002-2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Boston Globe, July 11, 1999, p. N1; February 5, 2002, p. E1; September 22, 2004, p. E1.

Entertainment Weekly, November 8, 1996, p. 46; November 14, 2003, p. 31.

New York Times, September 19, 2004.

Newsweek, November 4, 1996, p. 73.

People Weekly, July 14, 1997, p. 15.

Variety, July 14, 1997, p. 34; December 14, 1998, p. 42.

On-line

"From Prison Blues to High-Heeled Shoes," SPLICE Dwire, www.splicedonline.com (February 4, 2005).

"Lost Helps Viewers Find Perrineau," Zap2It, http://tv.zap2it.com (February 4, 2005).

E. M. Shostak

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Perrineau, Harold, Jr.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Perrineau, Harold, Jr.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/perrineau-harold-jr

"Perrineau, Harold, Jr.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/perrineau-harold-jr

Perrineau, Harold, Jr. (Harold Perrineau)

PERRINEAU, Harold, Jr.
(Harold Perrineau)

PERSONAL

Original name, Harold Williams; born in Brooklyn, NY; married Brittany Robinson (an actress and model), August 27, 2002; children: Aurora Robinson. Education: Studied music and theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory, Winchester, VA. Avocational Interests: Martial arts, including kung fu wusu.

Addresses: Agent Larry Taube, Gersh Agency, 232 North Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Manager Stacy Abrams, Abrams Entertainment, 5225 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 515, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Publicist Jodi Gottlieb, I/D Public Relations, 8409 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069.

Career: Actor, singer, and dancer. Performed as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Company. Also worked as messenger, bartender, and bus person.

Member: Screen Actors Guild.

Awards, Honors: Independent Spirit Award nomination, best supporting male, 1995, for Smoke; Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor in a motion picture, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2000, for The Best Man.

CREDITS

Film Appearances:

Tommie, Shakedown (also known as Blue Jean Cop ), Universal, 1988.

Thug leader, King of New York, 1990.

First man, Flirt, Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1995.

Rashid Cole, Thomas Jefferson Cole, and Paul Benjamin, Smoke (also known as SmokeRaucher unter sich ), Miramax, 1995.

(As Harold Perrineau) Mercutio, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (also known as Romeo and Juliet and Romeo + Juliet ), Twentieth CenturyFox, 1996.

(As Harold Perrineau) Stephen, The Edge, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1997.

Henry, Blood and Wine, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1997.

(As Harold Perrineau) Bobby Perez, Lulu on the Bridge, Trimark Pictures, 1998.

Joseph, Come To (short film), Janey Pictures, 1998.

Member of chorus, Macbeth in Manhattan, Asylum, 1999.

A Day in Black and White, Box Drinks Film Production, 1999.

Julian Murch, The Best Man, Universal, 1999.

Experienced PA, Overnight Sensation, Lantern Lane Entertainment/Vanguard Releasing, 2000.

Monica Jones, Woman on Top, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2000.

(Uncredited) Tour guide in fantasy sequence, Someone Like You (also known as Animal Attraction ), Twentieth CenturyFox, 2001.

(As Harold Perrineau) Uncle Steve, Prison Song, New Line Cinema, 2001.

(As Harold Perrineau) Moe Curley, On_Line, Indican Pictures, 2003.

(As Harold Perrineau) Link, The Matrix Reloaded (also known as The Matrix Reloaded: The IMAX Experience ), Warner Bros., 2003.

(As Harold Perrineau) Link, The Matrix Revolutions (also known as The Matrix Revolutions: The IMAX Experience ), Warner Bros., 2003.

Television Appearances; Series:

Robert Evans, a recurring role, I'll Fly Away, NBC, 19921993.

(As Harold Perrineau) Prisoner "95H522/Augustus Hill, Oz, HBO, 19972003.

Television Appearances; Movies:

(As Harold Perrineau) Ariel, The Tempest, NBC, 1998.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Scott, "The Dead End Kids Meet Dr. Lotus," The Cosby Show, NBC, 1989.

Jordan Hill, "Out of the HalfLight," Law & Order, NBC, 1990.

Kenny Rinker, "Virus" (also known as "Computer Virus"), Law & Order, NBC, 1993.

(As Harold Perrineau) Junior Lanson (some sources cite Junior Vansen), "Camouflage," The Cosby Mysteries, NBC, 1994.

Benny, "Broadway Joe," New York News, CBS, 1995.

(As Harold Perrineau) Issac Price, "Freak Show," ER, NBC, 1997.

Walter Jackson, "Forgive Us Our Trespasses," Living Single, Fox, 1997.

(Uncredited) Augustus Hill, Saturday Night Live, NBC, 1999.

Himself, "Enter the Playtrix," Player$, 2003.

Aroun Levert, "Rest in Peace," Dead Like Me, Show-time, 2003.

Voices of Turbo Jet and Wyler, "Heroes and Villains," SpiderMan (animated), 2003.

Guest, The Wayne Brady Show, syndicated, 2003.

Also appeared in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Curtis, Flour Babies, CBS, 1990.

Stage Appearances:

Godspell, Lambs Theatre, New York City, 1988.

Evan, "Mutterschaft," The 1990 Young Playwrights Festival, Playwrights Horizons Theatre, New York City, 1990.

Eugene, Betsey Brown, McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ, 19901991.

Born Guilty, Arena Stage, Washington, DC, 1991.

The soldier, Hello Again, Lincoln Center Theater, New York City, 19931994.

Milton, Avenue X, Playwrights Horizons Theatre, 1994.

Darius, "The Love of Bullets," The 1994 Young Playwrights Festival, LuEsther Hall, Public Theatre, New York City, 1994.

Joe Fearless, Atlantic Theatre Company, New York City, 2000.

Christopher, Blue/Orange, Atlantic Theatre Company, 20022003.

Also appeared in productions of I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Saw the Sky (musical), Lincoln Center Theatre, and American Dream.

Major Tours:

Member of Little Albert and the True Tones, Dream-girls, U.S. cities, 19851987.

Toured in I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Saw the Sky (musical), international cities.

RECORDINGS

Video Games:

(As Harold Perrineau) Voice of Link, Enter the Matrix, Atari/Infogrames Entertainment, 2003.

OTHER SOURCES

Periodicals:

Entertainment Weekly, November 14, 2002, p. 31.

Essence, November, 2000, p. 84.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Perrineau, Harold, Jr. (Harold Perrineau)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Perrineau, Harold, Jr. (Harold Perrineau)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/perrineau-harold-jr-harold-perrineau

"Perrineau, Harold, Jr. (Harold Perrineau)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/perrineau-harold-jr-harold-perrineau