It had been just over five years since actors Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell last saw each other when they reunited in 2015 on the set of “The Flash” as a duo of sinister villains.
Before reconnecting on the CW superhero drama as Captain Cold (Miller) and Heat Wave (Purcell), the actors had viewers hooked with their turn as incarcerated brothers — Michael Scofield (Miller) and Lincoln Burrows (Purcell) — on Fox’s “Prison Break” from 2005 to 2009.
“It was like not a day had passed,” Miller, now 44, recalled of their reunion on a recent weekday on the Fox lot in Century City.
“Until I looked in the mirror,” he added.
“Yeah, we had texted and emailed and what have you, all these years,” Purcell, 47, chimed in, “but then when we were on set and looked at each other, it was like, ‘Wow, we’re bleepin’ old.’”
“Time had definitely passed,” Miller said. “But we were discussing old times, what we remembered and loved about ‘Prison Break,’ and things evolved from there.”
Now, eight years since the Fox prison drama went off the air, “Prison Break” is back Tuesday for a special nine-episode run. It’s the latest series to join the reboot mania sweeping the small screen, which has also ushered in the returns of such series as “Gilmore Girls,” “Full House,” “One Day at a Time,” and, soon, “Will & Grace.”
Last we saw them, Michael was presumed dead after breaking his brother, his wife, Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), and himself out of prison. The revival picks up seven years after the series finale. Michael is alive but, he’s back in prison — in Yemen.
Callies returns as Sara, who has since remarried. Other law-breaking favorites are also on hand including “T-Bag” Bagwell (Robert Knepper), “C-Note” Franklin (Rockmond Dunbar) and Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco).
We spoke to Miller and Purcell about their homecoming, the show’s Middle East setting and the chance for more episodes beyond these nine.
What has this ride been like — returning to “Prison Break” after all these years? Did you approach your characters any differently?
Purcell: A lot of water has passed under the bridge. We’ve all grown up. We all have different views on things. I think one of the great things about doing this show was watching how we’ve all evolved as human beings and as actors. Finding Lincoln wasn’t hard, but I felt different playing him. I was a boy, basically, the first time around.
Miller: For me, it was like riding a bicycle. Michael Scofield lives in me, somewhere. How could he not? So it wasn’t difficult finding him. But it was different playing him at 43 — we shot the show last year. When we shot the original, I was like 33. It’s a very physical show. Very intense. Michael is always scaling the wall or climbing through a drain pipe. That felt different this time around — I was a lot more sore. But I just put that into the scene, into the work of the character. We’re meant to believe he’s been through it, that he has some wear and tear about him. I think that’s what makes him compelling and a mystery: Where has Michael been all this time? What has been up to? We can see something in his face. He’s changed. He’s not the man we remember. What is the story? That’s where the show, for me, lives and breathes.
When we left off, Michael had died, Lincoln lived, Sara was living her life with her son. It seemed like there was enough closure. But had you felt otherwise then?
Miller: When we shot the finale, that felt complete to me. I know that some fans were hoping for a different ending, but it made sense to me that Michael, having caused all of this mayhem so his brother could be saved — it made sense to me, story-wise, that he would pay the ultimate price. Death was the only way for him to achieve redemption. (Laughs)
But Dominic and I were reunited on the set of “The Flash,” playing completely different characters. We enjoy spending time in each other’s company, yes, but we also started reminiscing and talking about whether there was more story to tell. Not only that, but I’m constantly running into fans. And they’re new fans. They’re coming to the show for the first time. They just started watching last week. So the appetite for the show has never really diminished and we thought, well, what if there’s a way to honor that fan base that we know is there and is present tense, by giving them a new chapter to stand alongside what came before?
Purcell: Yeah, the fact that we garnered another audience through Netflix, that gave us the impetus to see what we could come up with.
Because “Prison Break” is a drama and Michael has gotten himself out of gnarly situations before, did it seem all the more feasible that a return was possible with Michael alive?
Miller: We take it very seriously. These are human characters. But, yeah, there is a graphic novel element as well, so there’s room to play. If we could bring Sara back from the dead, we could potentially bring Michael back from the dead. To get to go back and revisit these characters and reinvent them, from a certain perspective, was a gift.
As an actor, what is it like being in the middle of this era where a series finale isn’t really the end, where revisiting a character is a possibility?
Purcell: I think it’s rare. It only happens for shows that have been very successful and that have the potential to have a reboot.
Miller: It’s certainly to our advantage story-wise and character-wise because for most of the people tuning in to watch the show next week, they know who Michael Scofield is. I don’t have to paint that picture, we can just get down to business.
And for those that didn’t watch the original, can they come in seamlessly?
Miller: I think they can and I think they’ll be inspired to go back and watch the original.
What did you think of what creator Paul Scheuring cooked up for this special run — the prison is in Yemen and the show will deal with ISIS?
Purcell: It was intriguing. We’re dealing with a hotbed issue that has infected the world and so we had to be very sensitive about it. Certainly, speaking to the media, we have to be sensitive to how we talk about it. There is a relevance to it. Putting these two heroes — superheroes, if you like, that’s essentially what these guys are; they keep coming back from all kinds of stuff — putting them in that kind of universe, it’s compelling storytelling.
When it launched, people wondered how long the premise could really stretch. Four seasons and a reboot later — how do you feel about the lifespan this show has had?
Miller: The prison is the set piece and the tattoos are a great hook, story-wise. But underneath all of that, you have some timeless themes of family, brotherhood, loyalty and sacrificing. That is what resonates internationally. It’s Shakespearean from a certain angle.
Purcell: At the heart it’s about: How far would you go for a loved one?
You come back with nine episodes. But is this really the end or could there be more?
Purcell: Yes, I’d be open to more. Again, the concept has to be unique. We don’t want to do the show a disservice either. It’s much like my friend Hugh Jackman and his character Wolverine. I remember talking to him a few years ago and he said, “I want to do my character, which I’ve played with for the last 20 years, I want to do him justice. I don’t want him to keep going and petering out. I want him to go out like a champion.” Hugh brought an end to it. We feel the same for the show. It has to have a shelf life. If it were to go another season, my feeling would be that that would definitely be the end of it. We would make sure that both our heads are blown off so there’s no question that they’re ever coming back.
Miller: Wow. I feel like you’ve thought about this. (Laughs)
Do you feel the same, Wentworth?
Miller: I think the door is open for me, if the story is worth telling. I have such a fondness for these characters. If we can continue to hit the same high standard, then that is something I’d be open to.
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