The actor talks about the upcoming fourth season of this hit Fox series.
Wentworth Miller is ready to make another break... a Prison Break, that is, when the fourth season of the popular Fox series returns to the airwaves on Monday, September 1 at 8 PM ET. I was in on a conference call with Miller and here's what he had to say about this exciting new season.
The big scene, the first scene where Michael reunites with Sara, was it everything you hoped it would be?
Wentworth Miller: Absolutely. I was just happy to see Sara back. I really felt her absence Season Three. I felt that her return was important not only to my character, but also to the show in general. What can I say; the fans have spoken. Sara returns.
There has actually been some talk lately that maybe the way the series will end; the producers have talked about where they want it to end, that it might end with Michael actually dying, almost like a Greek tragedy type of feel to it. Is that something you'd be comfortable with at the end of the day?
Wentworth Miller: Maybe, if it came to that. I think that there's definitely a price to be paid for this little adventure. Michael's hands are pretty fifthly at 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 be any sort of redemption for Michael? What would that look like? What would that take? Perhaps laying down his life so that someone else can live might be one answer to that question.
This is the fourth season and each of the seasons, the show has pretty much rebooted its premise to some degree. For you as an actor, what are sort of the advantages and disadvantages of doing a show that from one season to the next can be something completely different?
Wentworth Miller: Well, it keeps it interesting. First and foremost, 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 at the start of every season, which I think is very bold and ambitious and it certainly provides a new playground for the actors. That said, I've been more comfortable with some seasons than others. My favorites so far has been one and three because 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 of pace and a real downshift for me and 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. That can be frustrating. But like I said, it's most important for a show that's running 67 episodes at this point to keep it as fresh and as exciting for the actors as possible.
What in this season brings out, I guess, the best in Michael's character?
Wentworth Miller: It's finally time to take on the puppet master. I think at this point, we've battled may serious advisories - Gretchen B., Agent Kellerman, etc., 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. It turns out someone else was pulling the strings. In many ways, they had to go back to square one. I think what the team realizes, Michael, Lincoln and Sara, etc., is that they can no longer flee. It's time to stand and fight. It's time to take on the puppet master and really put this whole conspiracy thing to bed if possible.
So, obviously, the Season Finale set up the whole scenario of Michael being on this great vengeance quest. At what point did you guys realize that Sarah Wayne might be coming back?
Wentworth Miller: I think it was at some point during the strike that I started hearing rumors that Sarah was returning, that the fans were organizing write-ins 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 conversation between the fans and the writers, between the writers and the powers that be. Their opinions, especially when expressed online or via correspondence, are important and are taken into consideration.
I think your writers are pretty fantastic, but obviously reattaching someone's head is a bit of a tall order. What can you tell us about how this comes off in the first couple of episodes?
Wentworth Miller: I think that we address it as plausibly as possible. It helps that the show is kind of fantastic and 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 ally for the first episodes, everyone wondering when she'll actually make a face-to-face with Michael. She's back first episode. Michael and Sara reunited, and then the gang hits the ground running because there's work to do.
So, are we ever going to see hints of the tattoo again?
Wentworth Miller: The tattoo is addressed pretty definitively in the very first episode. It's funny; it was a fan favorite the first season, but then Michael escaped - mission accomplished. Suddenly, it was just something that kind of had to be born rather than be something that could be used as a plot device. That resulted in me in Dallas in 120 degree heat wearing long sleeve shirts because we're still pretending that I actually have the damn thing on. I appreciated the tattoo and I think it's addressed in the first episode of Season Four as something that's kind of emblematic of Michael's experience, that this is an experience that has left its mark. It's not something that can be easily washed off and it speaks to the fact that Michael is now a changed man inside and out.
Your role is consistently so intense. How do you balance that out like on your hiatus or your other jobs outside of Prison Break? Are you always looking for something lighter, or is this kind of what you love doing?
Wentworth Miller: I have loved doing it. I think once Prison Break comes to an end, I'm not going to jump into the next Bourne Supremacy franchise, and I should be so lucky actually. It is important to kind of balance out the intensity of the work that we do with some humor and we try to keep the mood on the set as light as possible. I've also become a big fan of the Family Guy and American Dad!, Reno 911!, The Office, the British version and the American version just because at the end of the day, after shooting all these scenes where I literally have a gun pointed at my head, it's important to come home and unwind with something that is 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 is Michael Rapaport working out? I mean he seemed to really fit in from the first time you see him?
Wentworth Miller: Yes, Michael is great. I mean he oozes character. There's character to spare where he's concerned. His role is a pivotal one this season because he is upper boss, in effect; he is sympathetic and yet, there is supposed to be something a little bit off about him. That, of course, comes to a head, I think, later in the season. I think Michael pulls that off beautifully.
At the end of the day, do you think it's possible for Michael to be happy and do you feel that he's worthy of redemption?
Wentworth Miller: That's a very good question. I think the interesting wrinkle that Sara's return signifies is when Michael thought she was dead he crossed certain lines that 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 was killed in the cave in that Michael manipulated. So when Sara suddenly reappears, Michael is a very much changed man, perhaps one that she doesn't recognize, perhaps one that's 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 quite extreme for him to really even the score because in order for his brother to go free, so many people have died in the process and I think that weighs terribly on Michael's conscience. Once this experience is over, once say they successfully destroy the conspiracy, there is no returning to his white collar existence as a structural engineer. I mean I think the only thing that Michael is kind of fit for at this point is as a hired gun, which actually dovetails quite nicely with the directions he takes.
What personality trait do you like most about Michael?
Wentworth Miller: His sense of loyalty, that it's always about others. What I told the writers at the start of Season Three was please do not make this about Michael fighting to survive because 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 lines, when those that he loves have guns to their heads.
I noticed you said several times that you told the writers X and Y. I was wondering if they listen?
Wentworth Miller: 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. This is a very complicated show. There are a lot of balls that they have to keep in the air. And I think we've come far enough and the writers trust us enough that the actors have become really the watchdogs so that when we get script, I consider it to be a really good blueprint and a place to start from. It's my job to kind of color in the lines as I see fit.
I was wondering how the relationship between Lincoln and Michael evolved this season?
Wentworth Miller: That's a great question. I think there's been a lot of push-pull between 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, so on and so forth. I think this season is about kind of settling their mutual debts. At the top of the season, we see Lincoln in Panama. He has a potential love interest. He's reunited with his son for the first time. It's possible that he can make a life for himself, but he knows that his brother, who sacrificed everything so that Lincoln could go free, Season One, is back in the States on this revenge quest. I think out of allegiance and a sense of indebtedness, Lincoln follows his brother to the States so that they can stand together and take on the conspiracy. But I think when all is said and done the brothers will be able to part as equals.
Can you talk a little bit about the new characters this season? I think there are a few.
Wentworth Miller: Well, we have Michael Rapaport playing Agent Don Self, who the Charlie to our "Angels," if you will. Who else do we have? We have James Liao who plays a character named Roland who is part of our A-Team and we have Cress Williams who plays a character named Wyatt who is something of a deadly assassin, tracking down the bothers, Mahone and Sara. We see the return of some old favorites, Padman in particular, the General. This is someone with whom I have never worked, so you'll forgive me if I can't remember his name right now. But, the Padman/the General, who is the head of the company conspiracy, whom we've seen flashes of for the last couple of seasons; we'll be seeing a lot more him this time around. I dearly hope that he and Michael come face-to-face at some point.
I was just curious about Michael and Mahone's relationship going into Season Four. How is that going to change?
Wentworth Miller: Well, in a strange way, I feel like they kind of resolved their issues throughout the course of Season Three because 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. The first season we had the character of Westmoreland. We also have the Warden and I think 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 the man that Mahone is today; someone who 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.
Now that Sara is returning, I was just wondering is there a chance that we'll see C-Note coming back again.
Wentworth Miller: C-Note, the one character in Prison Break who got a happy ending. I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't be surprised. We do love the unexpected twist and turns on this show and I think Rodman would be a great addition. I always thought that his contribution to the show was a very cool one.
I was curious about the state of the other characters coming into the new season like Bellick and T-Bag and Sucray. Will they also end up in Los Angeles?
Wentworth Miller: 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.
If you could bring back one character, who would it be and why?
Wentworth Miller: I think I'd bring back Paul Adelstein. I thought he was a fantastic Agent Kellerman and I thought was symbolic of the kind of character that the show does best, which is someone living within the shades of gray. Not entirely black, not entirely white, not entirely good, not entirely evil, but someone who is complicated as we all are in real live. I think Paul really did a beautiful job of defining a character who could be vicious one minute and entirely sympathetic the next. He's very much missed.
While shooting over the last four years, has it gotten easier to do this really intense character and then at the end of the day walk off the set and leave him behind, or is still difficult as day one?
Wentworth Miller: I never quite leave the character behind. I am a workaholic, have always been. I'm always thinking about the character, even when I'm not on set. So, it has become part of the air that I breathe. That said, I'm so used to his ways and his relationships with the other characters that I don't have to do the kind of homework that I once did. All I have to do is show up on set, stand in front of Robert Knepper and I get instinctively what Michael's relationship is with T-Bag because they have this great rich, fully flushed out history. Now that we've established all this beautiful mythology, we're really free to play.
I wanted to ask you; going back to day one with Paul, where in the universe of Prison Break are we at now? Did he see the fourth season playing out like this, or is a change from the mater plan or what?
Wentworth Miller: That's a very good question. I've heard so many variations on the show was conceived as six episodes or 22 episodes or one season or two seasons. I'm not sure what the real answer is, and I honestly can't say I'm totally sure what Paul Scheuring's involvement is at this point, but I think we've done a pretty good job of taking that initial concept and running with it.
Is there any talk, anything on the horizon saying, "Well, this is as far as we can take this?" Are you only at five years or beyond, or what?
Wentworth Miller: Well, it's not CSI. It's not Law & Order. It can't run forever. I do feel as though 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. It's really a testament to Robert Knepper that his character has survived through four whole seasons, but the man is a maniac, a psychopath and a child killer and a rapist. And yet, he and the boys are still digging ditches together. Eventually, you have to wonder when is enough enough because it really makes my character look bad. These are the questions that I think eventually we have to answer or else suffer a fall off in terms of believability and quality.
It's funny; the last thing there about when you say believability always falls back to the old jump the shark idea. Do you think there's potential here for fans to say-- I mean after all, it's prison. It's either in prison or on the run and now, they're becoming this, as I think one questioner said earlier, this IMF-type unit. Are you walking a fine line with this season?
Wentworth Miller: 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.
Prison Break premieres its fourth season on Monday, September 1 at 8 PM ET on Fox.