How Desna's brother is striking out on his own
In TNT's vigorously entertaining crime dramedy Claws, no one rides harder for each other than Desna (Niecy Nash) and her brother Dean (Harold Perrineau), who happens to be autistic. Desna is Dean's lifeline, calming him down with he gets overwhelmed and protecting him from the nefarious criminal world she can't seem to escape. Meanwhile, Dean is her tether to morality, often keeping her in check with his unfiltered commentary.
Over the course of the show's first three seasons, Dean slowly inched his way towards independence. In Season 2, he found employment as an exotic dancer, killed Zlata (Franka Potente) to protect his sister, and moved into a separate space with his fiance Virginia (Karrueche Tran) to get away from Desna's continuous criminal activities. Season 3 saw him break even further away from Desna, who was seduced by the power and influence that came with being a crime boss and slipped further into the criminal world she once fought to escape. After spending less time with his sister, Dean came under the wing of Mac (Michael Horse), the crooked co-owner of Desna's casino, and developed a love for the game Mahjong. He was soon engulfed by a gambling addiction and split from Virginia to spend more time at the casino.
But even as his own life spiraled out of control, Dean still acted as a moral compass of sorts for his sister. When Desna told him she had no choice but to kill Melba (Rebecca Creskoff) in order to protect her loved ones, Dean quickly called her out for not weighing other, non-murderous options. This is not the same Dean we met in Season 1, who, while opinionated, was still timid when expressing his opinions. He's more confident now, even dressing in bold colors and patterns, and making decisions for himself—even if they aren't always the right ones.
In a conversation with TV Guide, Perrineau spoke about Dean's fascinating journey this season including his role as Desna's moral compass and how he's begun to strike out on his own.
How important was it for you to explore who Dean is apart from Desna this season?
Harold Perrineau: That's always been an important journey for him so that he doesn't remain a character who is just always in need of something. He has his own facility to try to generate the life that he wants, his own motivations. And it's really important to show, especially for characters who are autistic or who have some sort of social challenge. We knew the importance to show that not only are they able and capable of manifesting their own destiny, but that's also their desire, like anybody else's desire, to fashion the world as you see it for yourself. So it was really important for him to do that and not always be successful so not just like, 'Oh, here it is. He's on his own. Great.' No, it's hard. You have to fail. You have to try again.
Dean has become sort of her moral compass as she descends into more of the criminal side of things. What was it like to have Dean check Desna when she needed to be checked?
Perrineau: I think it's really great to have this really close moral compass right behind you that whispers in your ear like, 'Hey, you should check yourself.' So I think it's a really good dramatic tool to have. Being able to play that is actually quite fun. It's really interesting for him to do things well and to also fail so while he's saying all of these really moral things to Desna that are actually true, he's also diving deeper into his own addiction—Mahjong and neglecting his girl and all this other stuff. It's a really interesting dichotomy.
We learned at the end of the season that Mac and Melba (Rebecca Creskoff) were just using Dean for that million-dollar prize in the Mahjong tournament. Can you speak to why he's able to move past their betrayal so quickly and focus on his sister?
Perrineau: He needs to be able to focus on Desna because Desna is his person. At the end of the day, even though he gets mad at her and these other people adopt him and he's trying this other life, Desna's his road dog. He's always going to ride on her side even though he's quite disappointed by it… Dean was really focused on Mac. Mac was the person who really pulled him in and he tried hard with Melba. So at the end, when he sees how really horrible she is, I think it's really easy to go back like, 'Oh, I got to go back to my person who always rides for me. Even though we've been fighting, she would never do what Melba does.' I think once you get betrayed like that it's like, 'Alright man, I just got to move on, keep moving.'
Dean's had a taste of the criminal underworld, not in the way that Desna has, but he's been around it. Do you think that as Desna continues down this path that maybe Dean will follow along with her? Or do you think he'll push back from that?Perrineau: He's so very specific and he's so very committed quite often to the things he believes, especially things he's believed for a long time. I think he'll always push back. Something really terrible would have to happen for him to flip to that. It's enough that he had to deal with sort of revenge in his brain the whole time and feeling like he had to protect his sister again. I think he struggles with it the whole season. I can't see him actually becoming criminal-minded, but we have some amazing writers so you never know.
This show is so wild. What has been your favorite scene of this season and why?
Perrineau: I love that Quiet Ann gets pregnant at a sex party over a politician. One of my favorites [as Harold], even though it's heartbreaking is when he doesn't realize what's happening with Virginia and she [tells him], 'I have to be on my own' and he finds himself completely heartbroken. While it's heartbreaking, I love actually playing it. And I also thought that when Mac and Melba decide to have this total ritual and have him coming down a slide like he's being birthed out of her giant vagina... Who comes up with that? That was one of my favorites.
The fashion on this show is something to behold and with Dean, it's so bold and colorful. What do you remember from conversations about his look and why he chooses to dress that way?
Perrineau: Originally, we had to pick some very specific things because autism is a very sensory... Your sensory perception is a little skewed. So the way you feel them, the way you perceive, need them, they're sensory. He protected himself quite a bit which is why I always get tucked in shirts. For a while, it was always long, long pants [and] pulled up socks. But once we got our new costume designer [Dolores Ybarra], she just comes with her own sense of fashion and so those colors were really her brainchild. She just thought that he wants to try to be seen a little bit without being too over the top and so, we have this idea of fashion and function for him because he still has to keep it together because he needs order. But he's tried to branch out a bit with fancier socks and he's always got sort of really tropical shirts. They may say something that's really important or fun or interesting or just have a lot of colors on them.
Virginia and Dean have been through a lot over the years and were tested in new ways this season, breaking up over Dean's gambling addiction. What was your reaction when you found out that they wouldn't be getting back together?
Perrineau: I was actually heartbroken for him because I thought they really did make a really great couple. They were so aspirational in this non-judgment of each other and their ability just to love each other and support each other. Virginia is a beautiful woman but she's got her issues and none of that matters. He just loved her. Dean is an interesting looking dude but she just loved the way that he loved her and then fell in love with him and supported him no matter what. It was really aspirational. But, like in life, people have to move on and take care of themselves.
What would you like to explore with Dean next season?
Perrineau: [Dean] trying to navigate the world really on his own, no Virginia, no Desna, I thought it was going to be pretty interesting. But with all of the recent events in our country, I can't wait to see what comes out of the writer's room now because I know that they've pivoted from what everything they were thinking before to make it a really, really topical now. So I don't know where it's going [but] I'm sure it's going to be really poignant and interesting.
Fans recognize you now as Dean from Claws but many also regard you as the best on-screen Mercutio in Baz Lurhman's Romeo + Juliet. How do you feel about that legacy and what do you remember from playing that role?
Perrineau: The one thing I feel really, really happy about is that as an African American man, I got to play this very classical character in a way that resonated with everyone who watched it. For me, there's always this constant flag like, 'Oh, he's Black, can he play that?' 'Can he do this?' But I was so happy that Baz cast me in it. I was so happy about Baz's brilliant sort of artistic mind and his ideas. It was one of my career highs. I'm proud of the fact that my kids will get a chance to see it at some point and that it's one of those characters. Shakespeare is always, as far as I can tell, going to be around. The stories are always going to be poignant because they're always about human beings in whatever situation they're in. And to be able to do that in this country where race can be so polarizing and you get to see these humans interact, these boys who love each other to death and fight to the death for each other… I'm really happy that I got to play it. And to get to work with Baz Luhrmann is just a dream come true. It was awesome.
Seasons 1-3 of Claws are currently streaming on Hulu. The series has also been renewed for a fourth and final season.