When half of NYC saw Harold Perrineau naked

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“The Best Man” came out in 1999 and became an instant classic. The sequel, “The Best Man Holiday,” arrived in 2013, and now it’s been adapted into a streaming series for Peacock called “The Best Man: The Final Chapters.” The original cast is back, including Harold Perrineau as Julian Murch.

“The first two episodes pick up a year or so after ‘The Best Man Holiday,’ and then we flash forward to the present time,” said Perrineau. “Whenever we (as an ensemble) get back together, it’s like we never left. In the first film, we were all just getting to know each other and we really liked each other. By the time we did the next film, we were all a little further in our careers, but we were still basically who we are — there was nobody who was acting a particular way because they had been nominated for this award or that award. We’re all just still really close friends, and that’s mirrored in the series as well. When you watch it you’re like, oh I know these people — I want to hang out with them.”

Perrineau has one of those careers where it seems like he’s been in just about everything, from Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” to “The Matrix” sequels on the film side, to shows including “Lost” and “Claws” on the TV side. And of course an early major role: The HBO prison drama “Oz.”

When asked about a worst moment in his career, it was the making of an episode for “Oz” — one that exposed more than he expected — that came to mind.

My worst moment …

“‘Oz’ was one of the first hourlong shows on cable and it was really experimental. Everybody in this show, at some point, had to get naked. We all heard it, knew it — it was going down. Cool.

Harold Perrineau in "The Best Man Holiday."

“Early on in the first season, we meet my character Augustus Hill and find out how he wound up in the wheelchair and all that: He gets thrown off a roof, but before that he’s with his wife, they’re making love, and that’s when the cops eventually catch him. And I remember reading that there’s a love scene and thinking: Oh, snap! Here is my chance to be Wesley Snipes in ‘Mo’ Better Blues.’ He’s so hot and all the women are like, yup, he can get it (laughs). So I was like: I’m gonna be like Wesley Snipes!

“I meet the young lady who is going to play my wife and she’s beautiful and so nice. She’s just starting out and this is her first time being on set and she’s really nervous. And me? I’ve never actually done a love scene before. Or a sex scene. So I’m really nervous. This was probably around 1996 and they didn’t have people like they do now to be intimacy coordinators. There was none of that. Just me and her — and the crew — in our bathrobes.

“So I get nervous suddenly because I don’t want to get aroused. I want to be a professional. And I don’t want her to be nervous. So my whole ‘I’m gonna be like Wesley Snipes’ turns into ‘I’m gonna make this as funny as I can!’ I’m just gonna do all the jokes that I can so she’s not nervous and that’s what we’re gonna do.

“So we shoot the scene and it goes OK.

“After that, I have to run out — because I’m shooting a gun — and I climb up these stairs. And I’m fully naked except for my socks on my feet — which is really embarrassing, you’re having sex with just your socks on?

“So I’m running out to the roof and there’s all types of debris. And I go up this fire escape and there’s a cameraman right in front of me, and he’s backing up and I’m running toward him but he falls down, so I have to run over the camera. I think you can see everything (laughs).

“Then we’re on the roof. This is in New York City. And suddenly there are people catcalling from their apartments! They’re like: ‘Hey, why is that dude naked out there?’

“This feels really humiliating. I’m the only one naked (laughs)! We shot the scene at night and you’d think that would have made it less obvious, but New York is lit up at night so there were people with binoculars. And the buildings are really close, so they can see everything! People are leaning out their windows! I’m right there.

“And it was pretty cold, and I’m not saying that for any male reason, but it was a little cold! We finished at 3 o’clock in the morning, we were up there for a good four hours. I would put a robe on between takes — I wasn’t like, I’m just gonna roll around here with no clothes on. No — 100% I put on a robe.

“But I had never done any nudity before. And for me, it felt scarier than I expected. I’m pretty open, but I really had never done this before. I just had so many questions — especially when the scene involved another person. I really wanted to protect her and I wanted to protect myself. So the only way I could think to do it at the time was to be funny. Even if you’re not funny, keep going for funny! I was constantly like, ‘I’m just gonna be funny, that’s what I’m gonna do.’

 Harold Perrineau in the ABC drama "Lost."

“And I remember finishing that night and just feeling like, man, I gotta go figure out how to explain this to my mother (laughs). I told her I wouldn’t do anything embarrassing and she’s going to be humiliated when she sees this: ‘Look at my son running naked!’

“All of that to say, when I finally saw the episode, I knew I blew my Wesley Snipes moment. And I really did. To me, it looks like I’m making jokes. Like, it’s the least sexy scene I’ve ever seen — argh, Harold!

“So first it was awkward doing that love scene. Then it was awkward being on that roof standing naked in front of half of New York. And then it was awkward watching the episode realizing that it didn’t go the way I wanted (laughs). So for me, it all feels cringey.

“But you know what I didn’t blow? My scene partner was really comfortable and we were able to be friends afterward. That was really great. But there was no Wesley Snipes happening (laughs).”

Was Perrineau able to shake off the cringey feeling after filming that night?

“I remember sitting on the A train going: What did I just do? I fully went to a bar that was in my neighborhood at last call and ordered as much as I could (laughs) because I was a little shaky. It was just so raw.

“I was a little freaked out about the whole thing. I didn’t think I would be, but I really was. And suddenly I had all these body issues that I never had before — and why would I, I’m not taking my clothes off normally on camera. So I was hyper-aware of what I looked like.

“Yeah. I learned a lot that day. I learned a lot.”

What was the conversation like with his mother — and did she watch the episode?

“Didn’t watch it (laughs). I said to her: ‘Hey ma, I want to talk to you about this show I’m doing. We had to do this thing — and I don’t know if you want to see this or not — where I’m simulating having sex with a woman and then I’m running around naked.’ And she’s like: ‘Nah, I want to see that, boy!’ I was like, ‘Great! You don’t have to see it!’

“But of course, people called her up: ‘Sylvia! Did you see your son on that show?’”

The takeaway …

“One, I realized that experience is the best teacher. So that was the big thing. Having that experience and feeling all those things really did give me more confidence. Like: Oh, you can do this. It gives you a freedom in a way — throw it at me, what do you want to try?

“And also I was really glad — even though I’m not Wesley Snipes sexy in that scene — I thought I handled myself in a way that didn’t make her uncomfortable.”

The "Best Man" guys are back together. From left Taye Diggs as Harper Stewart, Terrence Howard as Quentin, Harold Perrineau as Julian Murch, Morris Chestnut as Lance Sullivan in “The Best Man: The Final Chapters.”

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic

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