"'Alcatraz' is like a cop, detective, FBI drama of hunting down bad guys. The catch is though that these are bad guys who have resurfaced after disappearing off of Alcatraz. Resurfacing in present day and still committing their heinous crimes," explained "Alcatraz" series regular Jorge Garcia from the set of the new series last fall. On a set visit to Vancouver sponsored by Warner Bros., our Jim Halterman was able to not only walk the set that recreates the island of Alcatraz including the infamous jail cells but also spent time chatting with Garcia, his co-star Sarah Jones and Executive Producer Jack Bender about the new series, which bows tonight on FOX.
In the ambitious series, Garcia plays Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto, a comic book enthusiast who is also an expert on Alcatraz so when inmates who had disappeared years ago start reappearing in present day, Doc gets pulled into the mystery by San Francisco homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Jones). The adventures will follow not only where the prisoners disappeared to but also how to stop them from committing more crimes in present day along with a healthy dose of conspiracy to keep things interesting.
Garcia, who will probably always be known as Hurley, is happy that, like his famous character on "Lost," he doesn't know much about Doc or what is to come. "I've kind of enjoyed and gotten used to working this way from having done a show with these people before," he explained on a rainy day of filming. "I kind of enjoy having to fill in my own blanks at the beginning. If stuff gets revealed later, even if it seems contradictory in anyway, I always feel that contradiction is what makes us people. So when you behave in a way that's not how people would have expected, it's a very human way to behave, so I've always kind of enjoyed those moments myself as an actor."
Bender said that Garcia has definitely created a new character here and that Doc is not a carbon copy for Hurley. "The minute I saw the pilot, which I couldn't do because of schedules, but the minute I saw the pilot and what I didn't remember from the script [was] he was a comic book guy, but somehow making him a comic book guy and Jorge's performance so far has enough of Jorge in it and certainly has a little bit of Hurley in because he was Hurley, but you accept him as a totally different guy and he's doing a brilliant job acting in this and he just is a different guy. And so that's really a relief to me and if any of our other 'Losties' want to show up on our show down the road, that would be great."
Since the comparisons to "Lost" are inevitable with both Bender and JJ Abrams involved in "Alcatraz," Bender was not surprised when one of his first questions was about one big parallel between the two series - mythology. Just how will the "Alcatraz" mythology unfold? "Slowly," he said, sitting in the middle of the Alcatraz jail set. In terms of "Lost," he explained, "everybody says we reached our maximum audience and then people didn't join into the party if they weren't involved after a couple of seasons because it was a very dense novel and story and I think the networks are certainly afraid of the mythology of the show overpowering an audiences potential to come aboard the train if they've missed a few... I think that ['Alcatraz'] is going to walk that fine line hopefully because each week there is going to be a story unfolding that begins and end and there's still this overreaching 'what happened? How the hell did this happen?'"
Garcia added, "It's a mix. I mean there's definitely like a goon a week to go after for sure... it's like we're trying to catch them before they do something or before they do something again, as opposed to having one person died [and] who killed them? It's like this person's out there. It's more manhunt rather than it is like solving a crime. But there're still these unanswered questions as to what happened. How come this is happening? Because there's this very odd kind of tear in the fabric of what we think is reality to have people suddenly resurface after disappearing and having not aged at all."
While casting Garcia made sense with their past history, Bender saw something in Jones that made her perfect for the role of Rebecca Madsen. "Sarah brings, and I thought this when I first saw the pilot, she brings a lot of unique freshness to this role," Bender said. "Mariska Hargitay, who's one of my dearest friends, has certainly paved the way for this kind of character, the woman cop investigative thing and done it brilliantly. And all the other women on all the other procedural shows who play this part also do a really good part, but what I love about what Sarah's bringing to it is there's a youthfulness and vitality and a slightly off-center funkiness to her version of this cop, which you know at times I have to remind her that she can't look like she's going to a Pearl Jam concert because you know, she's a cop."
Jones is pleased that her character has layers and isn't merely a stereotypical cop but Madsen also has a personal connection - her Grandfather - to Alcatraz that keeps her deeply immersed in the mystery. "The closer she gets to solving these crimes, regardless if she believes them or not," said Jones, "the closer she gets to her grandfather, the closer she gets to her past and unlocking some things of her family history and trying to figure out who she is."
Once Madsen and Doc team up in the pilot, Garcia revealed that audiences will see what the dynamic will be between the two characters and who their main adversary may be. "It's kind of us against [government agent] Hauser (Sam Neill) sometimes, very much," he explained. "I think we have this kind of relationship of we look out for each other. She does the ass kicking stuff. I do the vagrant but we also try to watch each other's back. We kind of know that we have to deal with Hauser and Hauser's not going to always give us a lot of information, which there are sometimes moments where we just find ourselves having to just be in cahoots with each other."
Bender also explained that with Alcatraz being at the center of the series, a lot of care was taking in how the iconic place - and the entire series for that matter - would look. "Danny Cannon directed [the pilot] and it's beautifully photographed by David Stockton but I think I wanted the world of 'Alcatraz' to be a little more foreboding... when you think of Alcatraz I think of it has a cool, dank, dark, creepy world and I think that the pilot at times made it look rather rich and beautiful. Not that it attracted you to it but that it was warmer that I wanted it to be. So one of the things that we've tried to do is differentiate between [and] make it all one show and all one movie visually and at the same time make the world of 'Alcatraz' a little grittier and a little scarier."
"Alcatraz" bows tonight with a two-hour premiere at 8:00/7:00c before settling into its regular Monday, 9:00/8:00c slot on January 23 on FOX.