Harold Perrineau, <EM>Lost</EM> Harold Perrineau, Lost
Harold Perrineau is back on the island — and ready to talk about why he left.

"It only goes about five feet deep," Harold Perrineau says, nodding in the direction of the swimming pool in his backyard. "If I stand in it, part of me's still above water."

From the hint of relief in his voice, you'd think a shallow pool was a major selling point when Perrineau bought the unassuming Los Angeles home more than a year ago. You wouldn't be entirely wrong.

As the T-shirt- and jeans-clad actor, 44, settles onto a sofa in the family room, he admits he's not a big water guy. He doesn't swim and he's prone to seasickness. So it's not hard to imagine Perrineau's anxiety when he found out his hotly anticipated return to Lost (Thursdays at 9 pm/ET, ABC) would take place on a ship in the vast Pacific. "My first day it was like, jump in a speedboat, drive 20 minutes out in the rain, step on the freighter," Perrineau says with a laugh. "I was sick all day."

Nausea aside, the actor is relieved to once again be part of the Lost crew. His character, Michael, hadn't been seen or heard from since motoring off the island in the Others' boat with son Walt at the end of Season 2, leaving fans to wonder what the holy smoke monster had happened to them. "It was time to come back," Perrineau says. "Even if Michael was going to die, I [wanted] him to finish, as opposed to just disappearing."

When the character finally resurfaced, pushing a mop aboard the mystery freighter in the March 13 episode, he was very much alive — if very much pretending to be someone else. The March 20 episode finds Sayid (Naveen Andrews) demanding to know why his former comrade is posing as deckhand Kevin Johnson, a question answered by a series of darkly revelatory flashbacks that involve Michael at home in Manhattan post-island, the music of Mama Cass and a pivotal Friendly encounter. (Walt pops up only briefly, and four dead characters reappear.) Executive producer Carlton Cuse teases, "It's safe to say Michael's return to the outside world did not work out in any way he hoped or planned."

Perrineau's off-screen Lost journey has been nearly as dramatic. By the time Michael — desperate to get his son back from the Others —  shot and killed Ana Lucia and Libby near the end of Season 2, Perrineau wasn't hiding his displeasure with the evolution of his character. "Michael's been such a decent guy," he told TV Guide at the time. "To suddenly be the executioner, I don't know how happy I am about that." Still, when he ultimately left, Perrineau says now, "I was a little bummed out. I'd put my heart and soul into the show."

From the start, Cuse and fellow exec producer Damon Lindelof insisted Michael would eventually return. "He was always coming back on the freighter," Lindelof says. "It was just a matter of [when] we were gonna reveal the freighter." The initial plan was the third-season finale, but Perrineau chose to sign on to the CBS pilot Demons instead.

Reports at the time blamed the lack of a Lost deal on Perrineau's outrageous salary demands, something the actor —  who starred in the horror flick 28 Weeks Later and wrote and recorded a song called "Stay Strong" in support of the U.S. troops in Iraq last year — denies. "They were not throwing money at me," he says. Instead, he claims he didn't want to again uproot wife Brittany and daughter Aurora, 13, to Hawaii, where the ABC drama shoots. (Demons shot in L.A.) "I was actually making less money on Demons [than Lost]," Perrineau says. "I just needed some stability for my family."

When Demons didn't make CBS' fall '07 lineup, Perrineau was once again available and, this time, the Lost deal came together quickly. Regardless of what came before, "I'm really happy to be back," he says. "It's been like going home to family."

His immediate family, meanwhile, will stay in L.A. while Perrineau returns to Hawaii to shoot the rest of Season 4. His wife is pregnant with the couple's second child and due in less than two months. "We're gonna have a little girl," he says quietly, "and I'm looking forward to meeting her."

To make sure he doesn't miss the blessed event, he's got a plan: "When I have downtime from the show, [I'll] get on a plane. Fly back and forth to make sure the baby hasn't come. It's gonna be crazy."

But at least there won't be any boats.

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