When it comes to Lost, it's never easy distinguishing between rumor and fact, so despite fans' claims that Michael Dawson was returning to the show, it was mere speculation until the official announcement at the TCA press tour last month. Actor Harold Perrineau says he knew he'd be called back one day, but because the producers never reveal any plot details even to the cast he had no idea when exactly that might be.
Now that he knows he's heading back to the Island for Lost's upcoming fourth season, Perrineau talked to EW.com about the level of secrecy at the show, who he thinks was in the coffin in last season's finale, and how suddenly landing on TV's A-List was a bonding experience for the cast.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You did the pilot for CBS's Demons rather than come back for the Lost season 3 finale, and then the show didn't get picked up. Was it your choice to do it like that?
HAROLD PERRINEAU: That wasn't necessarily my choice. They hadn't worked out what was going on at the end of last season or for next year not that they didn't know what they wanted to do, but they still had to write the scripts for it. I'd waited around for a while, but I have a family so I went out [to Los Angeles] to get a job just in case. Then I got a job, and then [Lost] wanted me for the [finale], and I was like, Ugh. I always knew the character would do something, but I didn't know when. So while they couldn't answer any questions too early, I couldn't wait too long, and that's how that got juggled around. Then Demons didn't get picked up, so I was available for the next season [of Lost].
So the show keeps everything a real secret, even to the cast?
That's what I was telling everyone during the first two years: We really don't know until it happens. I think people thought we were lying, but that's the total truth. We just don't know. Most of the time it works out for them. Most people are available; we all want to be on the show, but in that instance it didn't work out.
Did you know since you left that you would come back?
The idea was [Michael] was coming back, because he didn't die. [He and his son] jumped on a boat. So the question was always how and/or when he'd come back.
Have you ever worked on another project with this level of secrecy?
Never. And while it was really fun in the beginning, it gets a little like, Uhh, what am I doing? You really have to stay on your feet creatively, so when the scripts come you can find some way to make it as interesting and current and filled with as much stuff as you can, having just read it a week earlier. So, because I've been gone for a year and have no idea what has happened, I'm already gearing up to make a bunch of choices so I can fit all of that into whatever they have him do. You have to be really creative, and that's kind of fun, figuring stuff out.
Is it just that they don't want to chance having any leaks so they don't even tell you guys what's going on?
That's exactly what it is. I understand they have enough people who leak information and put it online, so when stuff happens, it's not such a big surprise, and if it's not such a big surprise, the show isn't as interesting. I think that's part of the reason they don't talk about it too much.
I guess it makes it easier on you, because you can't even slip up and accidentally say too much given that you really don't know.
Listen, the first year? Pressure, pressure, pressure, from my family and friends. ''What is going on?'' ''I really don't know.'' ''COME ON!'' Screaming at me. So yeah, I'm glad I don't know, because Jeez...I'd just be like, ''It's a black smoke monster, OK?!'' [Laughs]
So you kind of left your agenda semi-open, but not completely because you had to work.
Exactly. I came [to L.A.] and did a bunch of movies, and then when that slowed down because I like to keep working that's when I went and got the [pilot].
What movies were you working on?
I did 28 Weeks Later and two other movies that haven't come out yet: One called Your Name Here and another one called The Gardens of the Night. I did those earlier in the year, and then I did a voiceover for the Garfield cartoon. They're doing an all-animated Garfield movie. Then, recently, I just finished one called Ball Don't Lie. One or two of those will probably hit Sundance. They're all pretty small indie movies.
At Comic-Con, you said you thought there was a good chance Michael was in the coffin in the season finale
I actually didn't say that. People asked, ''Who's in the coffin?'' So [producers] Carlton [Cuse] and Damon [Lindelof] looked at me and said, ''Well, Harold, who do you think is in the coffin? So I made a joke about how the whole time I actually thought Michael was in the coffin. But my wife told me how online [she read] about how Jack showed Kate the article in the newspaper about the person who died, and it says that the person in the coffin who died was from New York and that the only person he left alive was his teenage son, which led me to believe, and I guess led many other people to believe, that it was Michael who died. He's from New York, he has a teenaged son depending on how far forward that is. That whole flash-forward thing, we don't fully understand yet.
NEXT PAGE: ''[Ending the show] is a much better idea than the show being a really big hit and then they have to keep it on for 10 years and suddenly we see episodes about Sawyer and, like, the spoon he made''