When Prison Break ended after five seasons in 2009, Michael Scofield was dead and buried, his story of escape, redemption and sacrifice at a definitive end. But in television death isn’t always final, and that’s the case with the return of the iconic Fox series. Billed as a nine-episode event, the reboot brings back the original stars and ups the ante with a heart stopper of an escape from a Yemeni prison--and all the intrigue, betrayals, and surprise twists you’d expect.
As the story begins, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) has returned to a life of petty crime, Michael’s widow Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) is raising their seven-year-old son with her new husband Jacob (Mark Feuerstein) and T-Bag (Robert Knepper), newly released from Fox River prison, has received a blurry photo that looks like Michael. He shows it to Lincoln, who takes it to Sara, which in short order launches a plot involving ISIL terrorists, homegrown assassins, and a seemingly impossible prison break in the middle of a war.
The unlikely revival came about in the first place thanks to Miller and Purcell, who have continued their work collaboration as partners in crime Captain Cold and Heat Wave (a.k.a Leonard Snart and Mick Rory) in the CW series The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.
“We hadn't seen each other for about five years, and suddenly, we are back on set, talking about old times, and out of that conversation came the possibility of revisiting Prison Break,” relates Miller. “We were the ones making the calls originally and then we found out that Fox was having a similar conversation on their end.” He called series creator/writer/executive producer Paul Scheuring, and they agreed that it was worth doing if they could meet several criteria.
“How do I come back in a way that’s honoring what’s come before, the existing mythology?” Miller wondered. “If we can tell a very tight, close ended story as to why Michael might possibly still be alive, I'm open to that,” Scheuring thought, and began mapping out the arc of the plot.
“Obviously, you have to have a prison you've got to get out of, and then you have to have an emotional reason, an emotional endgame at the end of that escape that the audience can embrace,” he says. But it’s a different Michael Scofield this time around. “Michael doesn't just come out of the gates the noble hero. The question is, who is this guy? Has he been compromised? Is he even Michael? Is he the Michael that we knew all along? And that's one of the central things that runs through the course of the season,” Scheuring notes. “That's fun, when your protagonist is maybe not even the good guy.”
The fact that it’s a closed-ended limited run this time made sense to Scheuring. “TV has changed so much since we initially premiered,” he notes. “When you put a show on network TV in 2005, you had to have 22 episodes,” which meant “flapping your wings” on filler episodes that didn’t advance the story. In contrast, he says, “This is constant thriller, cliffhanger, revelation--one after another and another. It feels very dense, and I think it's for the better for the audience.”
Getting Sarah Wayne Callies and Robert Knepper on board was also an essential part of the picture for Scheuring. Without them, “I wouldn’t have done it,” he says. Rockmund Dunbar (C-Note), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre) and Paul Adelstein (Paul Kellerman) also return in smaller capacities. Wrangling all of them was a challenge.
“It was really amazing that this production came together at all because all of these actors have gone on to varied careers. They are in demand everywhere, and they are all working on different shows, but somehow Fox pulled it off,” says Scheuring. “We had maybe 15 or 16 weeks to shoot the whole thing. We had simultaneous crews shooting in Morocco and in Vancouver at the same time. It was just absolutely a million plates in the air and a massive headache, but at the end of the day, it all came up aces.”
So how was it to reunite and revisit Prison Break after seven years? “For me, it was like a high school reunion. You know these people. There’s a shorthand, a degree of familiarity, and yet they're different now so there's also newness and awkwardness and discovery. And that speaks very specifically to the story that we address in the reboot,” says Wentworth Miller, noting one significant difference in playing his role. “It’s a very physical part, a very emotionally intense part and to play him at 43 or 44 is different than to play him at 33 or 34 for sure. But I just brought my level of interest and enthusiasm and my complete trust in Paul.”
He was eager to team up with Purcell again. “We have an ease and a shorthand with each other and a level of comfort I haven’t found with many other actors,” says Miller. “The fact that we’ve been walking this road as actors, brothers, and friends for some time is unique. We have nothing in common. We don’t spend any time together off set. But when we’re together we’re like brothers, like family.”
Miller was less thrilled by the prospect of hours in the makeup trailer having his enigmatic tattoos applied. “I had flashbacks to long mornings outside Joliet State Prison at four a.m., but it’s such a cool part of the story that it’s always felt worth the effort,” Miller says. “The new tattoo took maybe 40 minutes to apply but that was every day, as opposed to the old tattoo, which was 21/2 hours once an episode.” This time, “It's a different set of tattoos, and they serve a slightly different purpose. That's all I can say.”
Although she went on to star in The Walking Dead and currently, Colony, Sarah Wayne Callies calls Prison Break “The single most incredible thing that has ever happened to me or ever will in my career” and was excited about continuing to tell the story.
“We’ve all been down this road before, and there was such a confidence and comfortableness with each other,” adds Robert Knepper. “This wasn't a reboot. This was a rebirth, and it was great to be discovering things all over again.”
New characters key to the story include a Yemenite woman named Sheeba, played by Imposters star Inbar Lavi, and Mark Feuerstein’s Jacob, who is involved in a major twist in episode four. After eight seasons of Royal Pains, “It was great to spread my wings and come to a new set. Sarah and I clicked right away, and it was great to work with her and tell a different kind of story. I was a big fan of the show in the beginning, and I'm thrilled to be on it now,” says Feuerstein.
But what does Jacob’s presence mean for the relationship between his wife Sara and Michael? “Obviously, the audience wants to see Michael and Sara together, but there are a lot of complexities,” says Scheuring. “Sara,” adds Sarah Wayne Callies, “has so many questions--Where have you been? What about our son?—that make it unlikely to be a reunion where two people run at each other from opposite sides of the field full of butterflies and fall into each other's arms.”
Nevertheless, their danger-fraught romance has, among other factors, contributed to Prison Break’s popularity. “I’ve been asked many times what the appeal of the show is, and I’ve always said ‘family and loyalty and sacrifice,’” Miller reflects. “Michael suffers and he endures. I think there’s something about him enduring and coming out the other side that people find relevant and very human, something that they can relate to.”
Honoring longtime viewers’ loyalty was very important to everyone involved. “When people stop me to talk about work I've been in, two out of three times, it's probably Prison Break,” Callies comments. “This is a show that seems to have a longevity in people's imagination, and when they talk to me about it, it really means something to them. So to return to that and try and take care of it was a big motivation on our end.”
Paul Scheuring recalls walking out of a café after a meeting with Miller, when suddenly a car stopped in the street and two guys jumped out and ran up to Miller and asked to take a photo. “That's the kind of hunger that's out there for the show,” he says.
Miller tells another story. “I was on an airplane recently and a woman told me she watched Prison Break during her chemo. It was one of the few things she had to look forward to. I hear those things all the time and it reaffirms for me the importance of what we’re doing.”
Miller, who went through a lot of personal upheaval over the last few years, feels like he is “a stronger actor now, having come out as gay and having talked publicly about my mental health issues. I can focus on the job I’m getting paid to do, the role I’m getting paid to perform.”
He’s still making appearances on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, and doesn’t rule out more Prison Break seasons. “There could be, but I can see age50 from where I’m sitting,” says the 45-year-old actor. “I have to ask myself, ‘Do I have it in me to play such an intense part?’ I do like to bring my all. So as long as that seems possible and there’s a great story to tell that isn’t going to be letting down fans or lessening the existing mythology, then it’s something to consider for sure.”