Escapist television: ‘Prison Break’ stars savor the show’s reboot

Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller reprise their old roles in “Prison Break.”
Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller reprise their old roles in “Prison Break.”

It all started with a masterstroke of stunt casting.

Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller, best friends and former co-stars, were re-teamed in 2015 as guest villains on “The Flash.”

Naturally, they spent some of their down time on the set reminiscing about their four seasons as brothers Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield on “Prison Break” (2005-2009).

“At one point,” Purcell remembers, “one of us said, ‘Why don’t we visit the idea of doing the show again? Why not bring it out of mothballs?’ It was just us having a conversation. It was the kind of thing people say all the time. Usually, that kind of talk never goes anywhere.

“But this time, before we knew it, we were meeting with Paul Scheuring (creator/executive producer of ‘Prison Break’) and a roomful of executives. And everybody was on board straight away.”

So “Prison Break” is back, not just with Purcell and Miller but with other key cast members also returning from the original.

The nine-episode continuation series premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox.

It’s not absolutely necessary for viewers to be familiar with the original series (two seasons of which, the second and third, were filmed in Dallas). But to get the most out of the experience, it certainly would help to know at least some of what happened in the old days.

The characters have been through a lot since the 2005 premiere, in which Michael deliberately got himself sent to Fox River State Penitentiary so he could help Lincoln, who had ben framed for murder, escape.

Subsequent seasons were all about the two living as fugitives, becoming embroiled in a variety of crazy conspiracies and masterminding more impossible prison breaks.

“It’s spooky looking at the original ‘Prison Break,’ ” Purcell says, “because Wentworth and I were just kids at the time. We were babies! Now we’re men and life has beaten us down. You can see it in our faces and, I hope, in our performances.”

This time, Michael (still covered in tattoos) is the one behind bars. For seven years, everyone has been under the mistaken impression that he is dead. It turns out he’s locked away in a prison in Yemen.

When Lincoln finds out, he reconnects with Michael’s wife, Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies). Meanwhile, three other notorious Fox River escapees — Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell (Robert Knepper), Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) — are pulled into Lincoln’s rescue efforts.

It promises to be the most elaborate breakout of all.

When Knepper was first approached about reprising his former role as T-Bag, a manipulative psychopath and fan favorite, he was a little reluctant. “I’m a character actor, a chameleon,” he says. “It’s not especially good for me to have people see me and say, ‘Oh, look, it’s T-Bag.’ 

But the strength of the new story and his fondness for the old cast ended his resistance.

“It’s a real honor getting to work with this cast again,” Knepper says. “And it’s nothing short of a logistical miracle that they got us all together for this. I haven’t stopped working since we did the show years ago. I was working on David Lynch’s reboot of ‘Twin Peaks’ when this came up.

“Most of the other actors, they’re working nonstop, too. So for everything to line up, some of us getting time away from other shows to do this, that was huge.”

Purcell and Miller, for example, were in the CW superhero show “D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow,” playing the same characters they introduced on “The Flash.” (Miller is the pragmatic criminal Leonard Snart, a.k.a. Captain Cold. Purcell is Snart’s muscle-bound partner in crime, Mick Rory/Heat Wave.)

These two men met shortly before they filmed the “Prison Break” pilot and they’ve been the best of friends ever since.

“It’s one of those things where the planets aligned,” Purcell says. “We respect each other not just as actors, but as human beings. We understand each other’s rhythms completely. And there’s no competitiveness, no ego, between us. That comes from a deep trust.

“If Wentworth were to say to me, ‘I think you should try this,’ I do it without question. The only reason I don’t throw acting advice to Wentworth is because he’s smarter than I am.

“We’re more than fellow actors and more than great friends. We truly are like brothers.”

Purcell says he likes to believe that the bond offscreen seeps into everything they do onscreen.

“I think the main reason the audience fell in love with ‘Prison Break’ is the bond between these brothers,” he says. “They have each other’s back, no matter what, and that’s very appealing.

“The love between the brothers is so compelling and strong that it captures people’s hearts.”

Prison Break

  • 8 p.m. Tuesday
  • KDFW/Channel 4