Leonard Roberts Breaks Decade-Plus Silence on Heroes Firing, Says 'Tension' With On-Screen Love Interest Ali Larter Led to His 2007 Dismissal

Leonard Roberts and Ali Larter Tension Heroes

Former Heroes star Leonard Roberts says friction with on-screen love interest Ali Larter, coupled with a lack of diversity behind-the-scenes at NBC’s superhero smash, led to him being fired after just one season.

In a lengthy essay published by our sister pub Variety, the actor recounts the instant friction he experienced in Season 1 with Larter, who played Niki Sanders, the wife of his D.L. Hawkins character. “The script suggested D.L. and Niki had a volatile relationship — and it wasn’t long before art was imitating life,” Roberts writes, before describing two instances where the pair clashed. After one of the dustups, “I later gave her a bottle of wine with a note affirming what I believed to be mutual respect and a shared commitment to doing exceptional work,” he explains. “Neither the gift nor the note was ever acknowledged.”

The second incident involved Larter allegedly refusing to bare her shoulders during a bedroom scene between their married alter egos. She “expressed she had never been so disrespected — as an actress, a woman or a human being,” Roberts writes. However, just prior to that Larter apparently had no issue shooting a scene that called for Niki to seduce Adrian Pasdar’s character, Nathan Petrelli. Roberts says he “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.” (Read Larter’s response to Roberts’ accusations here.)

Roberts says a subsequent TVGuide.com blind item (penned by yours truly) about feuding co-stars on an unnamed hit series led to him being summoned to exec producer Dennis Hammer’s office. “Hammer told me not to worry, as the matter was ‘being handled internally,’ and to continue being the professional I had proven myself to be,” Roberts writes. “I quickly learned, though, that while the acting was the vacation, the vocation was being a team player and towing the positive party line in press interviews and media events. I was only interested in dealing with drama that was on the page, but that goal would prove to be elusive.”

Following the conclusion of Season 1 in Spring 2007, Roberts says series creator Tim Kring informed him that, “due to ‘the Ali Larter situation,'” he was being killed off at the start of Season 2. In a follow-up meeting with Kring and Hammer, “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. just felt like ‘the tail wagging the dog.’ 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.'”

Roberts says Hammer then urged him, “Don’t think of this as a situation where the Black man loses and the white woman wins.” And that, the actor notes, “was the first time my race was ever acknowledged while I was a part of the show: not for any creative contribution I could make, but for what I believed was the fear of me becoming litigious.”

Despite having three Black series regulars, “There were no Black writers on staff,” Roberts points out. He also recalls a “particularly odd promotional photoshoot” in which “all the Black adult series regulars were relegated to the back and sides of photo after photo because, we were told, we were ‘tall.'”

In a statement to Variety, Kring said, “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.”

Hammer, meanwhile, said in his own statement, “Fourteen years is a long time ago, but I remember clearly that Leonard was a great guy and a total pro.”