'Prison Break' role reversals energize Wentworth Miller

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Actor Wentworth Miller, a 1990 graduate of Quaker Valley High School, is back behind bars in the third-season premiere of Fox's "Prison Break" (8 p.m. tomorrow, WPGH).

It's a turnabout from the first season, which found Michael (Miller) trying to free imprisoned brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell). Now, Michael's in a Panamanian prison and Lincoln is trying to free him.

'Prison Break'
  • When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, Fox.
  • Starring: Wentworth Miller.

Miller talked about the show's new season in a recent call with reporters.

Q: Did you know you were going to end up back in prison so soon?

A: Well, I thought to myself, it's there in the title, so chances are things will come full circle. What I'm most appreciative of is that there is a reversal in that chain of events where you have Michael on the inside and Lincoln now, the brother, on the outside. I think that's goosed things up considerably.

Q: This year is the first time Michael doesn't have a plan. Is that going to change the way you're going to play the character this year?

A: Well, that's the good news about a show like "Prison Break" is that it's not a procedural drama. It's not a show where the only thing different from episode to episode is how the victim was murdered, and that's good news for the actor because it means that your character is constantly changing, constantly evolving. I still believe that Michael is a good man on a hero's journey, but his hands are filthy.

And the question becomes how far across the line can a good man go before you can no longer call him good? And that's really rich, exciting territory for me to claim. Plus, you have this dangerous new facility. Michael does not have a tattoo [with hidden diagrams to help him]. He does not have a good brother [in prison with him] to help him out of a jam, and I'd like to think that over the course of the past two seasons Michael has become someone to be reckoned with, not only from the neck up, but now, finally, from the neck down.

Q: You mentioned the tattoo; don't you still have the tattoo at the start of the season?

A: I certainly do. And it's meant wearing a long-sleeved shirt while we're shooting here in 120-degree Dallas. Michael does have the tattoo, but it is now useless unless he has more foresight than I gave him credit for. And it's a shame, because I think it was a great special effect and one of the cornerstones of our show's success early on, but I think it's necessary to the development of my character. It happens to dovetail nicely with the story that he can no longer rely on just his wits, just his cleverness, just his planning and preparation. He has to be someone who can now not only think on his feet, but defend himself and those he loves with his fists.

Q: Will we see you get the tattoo removed or will it play into the story at all?

A: Does Michael stop off in a Mexican clinic and get it lasered off over the course of four or five episodes? I'm not sure that's in the works. I'd like to think that after they've leapt this particular hurdle, if Michael and Lincoln have managed to escape Sona in Panama with their lives that maybe there are one or two treasures still buried in that, too; one or two things that Michael can reference as far as allowing them to set up the rest of our lives. But, of course, that's up to the writers.

Q: Was there a pivotal moment in your life that compelled you to become an actor or was it something you always wanted to do?

A: I had always wanted to be an actor. As a kid I participated in every play and musical that my parents would allow me to. But then in college I fell off that path. Suddenly acting seemed very risky. I wasn't sure how I'd be able to make a go of it. I heard stories about how 99.9 percent of the Screen Actors Guild cannot afford to live by acting alone and that frightened me.

But I still loved entertainment and after graduating with a degree in English I moved out to Los Angeles to get a job behind the scenes. I was working in development in a company that made movies for television and was promoted at one point and actually got a job offer to move over to the networks, which was the brass ring, everything that I had been working towards.

And I suddenly realized that I was not going to be content sitting behind a desk for the rest of my life. I thought I could make a success of it, but it wasn't something that made my heart beat faster. And that realization is not only what prompted me to make the leap into acting in a serious way, but also forced me to stay the course. Because it was a long time in the coming and there were a lot of upsets and a lot of failures and roadblocks, but because I couldn't walk away from it, because I needed it like I knew I needed air, it was just something I had to do. And as luck would have it it's worked out pretty well so far.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv .


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