Venturing into its fourth season, FOX's "Prison Break" has clearly made being on the run a compelling television art form. Furthermore, with the rollercoaster of a season premiere airing tonight, the series shows no signs of putting on the brakes. Starring as Michael Scofield, Wentworth Miller stepped off the set for a few minutes to talk to our Jim Halterman about reattaching decapitated heads, tattoo removals and whether the show has jumped the shark yet.
The first question easily was concerning the surprise return of Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), who was last seen as only a head in a box delivered to Scofield's brother, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell). Not only did Sara's death rock Michael's world but it also propelled much of his actions during season three. Miller explained, "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 alley 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 are reunited and then the gang hits the ground running because there's work to do."
Personally, Miller admitted having Callies back on the show was everything he'd hoped it would be. "I was just happy to see her back. I really felt Sarah's absence [during] 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."
One thing that is making a long overdue exit, according to Miller, is the body tattoo that the character of Michael has sported since the first season. Initially used as a map of sorts to escape the prison that held Linc in the first season, the need for it had diminished once the characters left the prison walls. Miller said that "the tattoo is addressed pretty definitively in the very first episode [of the new season]. 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." The tattoo, Miller added, will always be with the character in a deeper sense since it is "emblematic of Michael's experience...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."
Also appearing in the season premiere are a few new cast additions. Michael Rapaport ("My Name Is Earl" "The War At Home") joins as what Miller jokingly refers to as the "Charlie to our Angels." Miller gives Rapaport credit for falling right into place with the rest of the cast. "Michael is great," he stated. "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 the 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 later in the season. I think Michael pulls that off beautifully." Besides Rapaport, Miller also said, "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 brothers, Mahone and Sara."
Besides the newbies, existing characters will continue to evolve as well, Miller promised. As for the Scofield/Burrows brothers, he offered, "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... but I think when all is said and done the brothers will be able to part as equals."
The character of Michael Scofield also has had a difficult relationship with Alex Mahone (William Fichtner) but it's deeper than what is seen on the surface. Miller feels that the characters have "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... and I think Mahone is a reflection, whether Michael realizes it or not, of what he could one day be... 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."
The rest of the crew (Bellick, T-Bag and Sucre) also return to bring down the Company once and for all in Los Angeles. In talking about the mix of characters that have been there pretty much from day one, Miller thought that, "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."
Asked how long he thinks "Prison Break" can continue to churn out adventures that find the guys being on the run, Miller definitely sees an end in sight. "[The show] 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 and unintentionally killed so many people and yet they're still running around with T-Bag." Speaking of the dastardly character of T-Bag, Miller added that, "it's really testament to Robert Knepper [the actor who plays him] that his character has survived through four whole seasons, but the man is maniac, a psychopath and a child killer and a rapist. And, yet, he and the boys are still digging ditches together."
Finally, Miller is fully aware of the dramatic lengths that the show has gone in the past and present, including the now un-decapitated head of Sara. Is it possible that "Prison Break" may have jumped the shark? Miller laughs but is also quick to point out that, "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" begins tonight with a special two-hour premiere on FOX at 8:00/7:00c.