Wentworth Miller – star of Fox’s Prison Break – is poised to lead his posse into another tumultuous season wrought with betrayal, conspiracy, revenge, and perhaps ultimately redemption. Miller checked in from the set to answer a bevy of questions about the series’ upcoming fourth season, and waxed philosophical about the big topics (Is there any place left to go but down – at least six feet under – for his character? And what’s with the amazing powers of physical regeneration that all of the show’s characters seem to enjoy?) as well as lesser – but no less intriguing – concerns (like that standard regulation prison coiffure, and of course, The Tattoo).
[Watch Miller talk about the show on Fancast]
Following are some highlights from the particularly arresting Q & A session:
So, this is the fourth season, and each of the seasons has pretty much rebooted its premise to some degree. For you as an actor, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of doing a show that from one season to the next can be something completely different?
Well, it keeps it interesting. First and foremost I think most other TV shows are in the habit of figuring out their winning formula and then beating it into the ground. Whereas we take what we already know works, and toss it out the window every season, which I think is very bold and ambitious. And it sort of provides a new playground for the actors. That said, I’m more comfortable with some seasons than others – my favorites so far have been one and three. I actually think that my character works best behind bars with very real, physical, deadly obstacles to surmount. Whereas second season was a total change and a real downshift, and it was one of my least favorite seasons, because it felt as though my character was literally and figuratively riding shotgun – much more reactive than active – and that can be frustrating. But it’s important for a show that’s running 60-70 episodes at this point to keep it as fresh and exciting for the actors as possible.
Obviously the season finale was about the whole scenario of Michael being on this great vengeance quest. At what point did you guys realize that Sara might be coming back?
I think it was at one point during the strike that I started hearing rumors that Sara was returning, that fans were organizing letters and petitions, and I think that’s emblematic of where we are in terms of television and the media. It’s very much a back and forth communication between the fans and the writers, between the fans and the powers that be. And their opinions, especially when expressed online or via correspondence, are important, and are taken into consideration.
Your writers are fantastic, but obviously re-attaching someone’s head is a bit of a tall order. What can you tell us about how this comes about in the first couple of episodes?
I think we address it as plausibly as possible. It helps that the show is kind of fantastical. I feel like we’ve gotten away with worse. But at the same time, we do provide an explanation, and we don’t tease the audience. It’s not a flash of Sara’s ponytail disappearing down an alley for the first eight episodes, everyone wondering when she’ll actually make a face to face with Michael. She’s back, Michael and Sara are reunited, and then they hit the ground running, because they have work to do.
As an actor, your role is consistently so intense, how do you balance that out? On your hiatus, with other projects outside of Prison Break, are you always looking for something lighter? Or is this something that you just really love doing?
I have loved doing this. I think once Prison Break comes to an end, I’m not going to jump into the next Bourne Supremacy franchise….I should be so lucky, actually….it is important to kind of balance out the intensity of the work we that we do with some humor, and we do try to keep things on the set as light as possible. I’ve also become a big fan of The Family Guy, American Dad, Reno 911, The Office (the British version and the American version) …because at the end of the day………[after] I literally have a gun to my head, it’s important to come home and unwind with something that’s the polar opposite of where you’ve just come from. As far as projects post Prison Break, I’d love to be involved in like a romantic comedy or something…really change it up, if possible.
How’s Michael Rappaport working out? He seems to fit in from the first time you see him.
Yeah, Michael’s great. He oozes character. There’s character to spare where he’s concerned. His role is a pivotal one this season, because he is my boss in effect, he is sympathetic, and yet there’s supposed to be something a little off about him, and that of course comes to a head I think later in the season. I think Michael pulls that off beautifully.
So are we ever going to see the tattoo again?
The tattoo is addressed pretty definitely in the very first episode [of the new season]. It’s funny …[following season one] they escaped – mission accomplished – and suddenly it was something that had to be borne rather than something used as a plot device. And that resulted in me in Dallas in hundred and twenty degrees wearing long sleeved shirts, because we’re still pretending that I have the damn thing on. It’s something that was emblematic of Michael’s experience. This is an experience that has left its mark, not something that can be easily washed off, and it speaks to the fact that Michael is now a changed man, inside and out.
Regarding the tattoo being lasered off – did you have a say in that? Were you just sick of the sleeves? And is it possible that somewhere along the way somebody is going to slap Michael on the back, and you’ll just scream in agony……?
[Laughs.] That’s a good question. The good news is that characters on Prison Break tend to heal very, very quickly…..it’s quite possible to be shot in one scene and sprinting across a cornfield in the very next. So the precedent has been established. I did have my concerns about the tattoo – it was a laborious process putting that thing on throughout season one and parts of two. I was interested in sort of addressing it. I knew it was an open ended question. The fans were interested in where it would come back, how it would come back – I knew that it probably wouldn’t really fit into the plot at this point. So I went and asked, how can we address this in a way that feels satisfying and that gives some closure to people who were constantly on the lookout?
Your hairstyle – was it imposed on you, or was that your choice?
No, I actually had this before I was cast, and then they made Dominic shave his head. Actually I’m glad they did because it really goes a long way toward selling these two actors as brothers….
When you’re no longer on the show, are you going to grow it out?
We’ll see – I really like it this short, it’s pretty low maintenance, but the good news is, if I ever had any concerns about being typecast……..because the shaved head is such an iconic part of the character, distancing myself from it might be easier than it otherwise would be, because all I have to do is let my hair grow out.
At the end of the day, do you think it’s possible for Michael be happy, and do you feel he is worthy of redemption?
That’s a very good question. The interesting wrinkle that Sara’s return signified is when Michael thought Sara was dead, he crossed certain lines he might not otherwise have crossed. At the end of season three, he was actively involved in arranging the death of another inmate – the henchman who is killed in cave-in that Michael manipulated. So when Sara reappears, Michael is very much a changed man – perhaps one that she doesn’t recognize, perhaps one that is not really worthy of the relationship that she has to offer. I think that Michael is still a good man, but at this point, I think it would take something really quite extreme to even the score…because in order for his brother to go free, so many people have died in the process. I think that weighs terribly on Michael’s conscience. And once this experience is over – once, say, they basically destroy the conspiracy, there is no returning to his white collar existence as a structural engineer…..I think the only thing that Michael is kind of qualified for at this point is as a hired gun, which actually dovetails quite nicely with the direction season four takes.
What in this season brings out the best in Michael’s character?
I think it’s finally time to take on the puppetmaster. I think at this point we’ve battled many serious adversaries – Agent Kellerman, etc.. Michael in season two had that great face to face with the President of the United States, and you really thought that this was going to be the end of the journey, but someone else was pulling the strings. In many ways, they had to go back to square one. I think what the team realizes – Michael, Linc, and Sara, etc. – is that they can no longer flee – it’s time to stay and fight. It’s time to take on the puppetmaster and really put this whole conspiracy thing to bed, if possible.
What do you like about Michael?
His sense of loyalty….that it’s always about others. What I said to the writers at the start of season three was, do not make this about Michael fighting to survive. Michael’s not particularly interested in his own survival. Michael is interested in self-sacrifice. I think Michael has a touch of the martyr about him and he’s only motivated to act, and act aggressively, when other people’s lives are on the line – when those that he loves have guns to their heads.
I noticed you said you told writers several times X or Y – I was wondering if they listen?
[Laughs] At the end of the day, it is me in front of the camera, isn’t it? I’m kidding. At this point, it’s very much a collaborative effort between the writers and the actors. The writers have a lot to think about. We’ve come far enough, and the writers trust us enough that…….the actors have really become the watchdogs, so that when we get the script, I consider it to be a really good blueprint and a place to start from. It’s my job to really kind of color in the lines as I see fit.
How does the relationship between Lincoln and Michael evolve this season?
I think there’s been a lot of push-pull in these characters, a lot of swinging of the pendulum where the little brother is suddenly the big brother, and the big brother is suddenly the little brother and so on and so forth. This season is kind of about settling their mutual debts. At the top of the season, we see Lincoln in Panama….he’s got a potential love interest, he’s reunited with his son for the first time, it’s possible that he’d [start] a life for himself, but he knows that his brother, who sacrificed everything so that Lincoln could go free in season one, is back in the States on this revenge quest. And I think out of allegiance and a sense of indebtedness he follows his brother to the States so they can stand together and take on the conspiracy. But I think when all is said and done, I think the brothers will be able to part as equals.
I was curious about Michael and Mahone’s relationship in season four – how is that going to change?
In a strange way, I feel like they have resolved their issues throughout the course of season three. They did in fact have to work together. Yes, Mahone is still the man who killed Michael’s father, but in a way I think Mahone is the latest in a series of surrogate fathers for Michael. We had the character of Wes Mooreland, we also had the warden, and Mahone is a reflection, whether Michael realizes it or not, of what he could one day be if he continues to walk down this very dark road, Michael might wind up very much what Mahone is today. Mahone started out as a good man doing good things, and then became a good man doing questionable things, and then became a questionable man doing evil things.
I was curious about the other characters coming into the new season, like Bellick and T-Bag and Sucre – will they also end up in Los Angeles?
Yes, we do have an assemblage of old friends and foes standing together to take on The Company. I think if anything, that’s what remains the same about Prison Break, season in and season out. We do change the playing field, but at its core, the show is about six or seven alpha dogs shoved in a cage, fighting together, at each other’s throats, but still having to work together to achieve some common goal.
There’s actually been some talk lately about the way the series will end…..the producers have talked about how they know where it will end. That it might end with Michael dying, kind of like a Greek tragedy type of feel to it. Is that something that you’d be comfortable with, if it came to be?
Maybe, if it came to that. I think there’s definitely a price to be paid for this little adventure. Michael’s hands are pretty filthy by this point in the series, it’s become harder and harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and the question becomes, can there by any sort of redemption for Michael? What would that look like? What would it take? And perhaps laying down his life, so that someone else can live, might be an answer to that question.
Are you only [on board for] five years, or beyond…?
Well, it’s not CSI, it’s not Law & Order – it can’t run forever. I do feel we may be on one of our final laps around the track. It is something that weighs on my mind from time to time. Telling a story correctly necessitates knowing when to end it. At this point in the series, Michael and Lincoln between them have, intentionally or unintentionally, killed so many people…and yet they’re still running around with T-Bag…….eventually you have to wonder, when is enough enough? Because it really makes the character look bad! These are the questions we eventually have to ask, otherwise we suffer a drop-off in terms of believability and quality.
Believability goes back to the old “jump the shark” idea – do you think you’re walking a fine line this season?
Oh, I think we not only jumped the shark long ago, I think we’re inventing new sharks. We’re taking it to a whole new level – fasten your seatbelts.
The new season of Prison Break premieres on Fox this coming Monday, Sept. 1st in a special two hour episode, airing from 8 – 10 p.m.