It’s rare to hear a network television star sing the praises of jumping the shark, but Wentworth Miller of Prison Break does just that.
"I think we not only jumped the shark long ago, I think we’re inventing new sharks," Miller says proudly. "We’re taking it to a whole new level. Fasten your seatbelts."
Few shows flaunt their gaffes in logic and plausibility as proudly as Prison Break, which is now in its fourth season of shocking character deaths, unexpected resurrections, gaping legal loopholes and jaw-dropping cliffhangers. The show has spent two years living up to its title and forcing its core group of characters to escape from a pair of prisons and another season with them on the run from the law. This year, Michael Scofield (Miller) and his Injustice League will spend the season trying to bring down The Company, the shady organization responsible for so many of their problems.
Talking to reporters in advance of the show’s Monday, Sept. 1 premiere, Miller says he sees the positives and negatives of being on a show that so regularly has to reboot its premise.
"[I]t keeps it interesting. First and foremost, most other TV shows are in the habit of figuring out their winning formula and then beating it into the ground whereas we take what we already know works and toss it out the window at the start of every season, which I think is very bold and ambitious and it certainly provides a new playground for the actors," he says, continuing, "That said, I’ve been more comfortable with some seasons than others. My favorites so far has been one and three because I actually think that my character works best behind bars with very real, physical, deadly obstacles to surmount whereas second season was a total change of pace and a real downshift for me and was one of my least favorite seasons because it felt as though my character was literally and figuratively riding shotgun, much more reactive than active. That can be frustrating. But like I said, it’s most important for a show that’s running 67 episodes at this point to keep it as fresh and as exciting for the actors as possible."
When the show began, the premise focused on an innocent man getting himself thrown in jail to save his somewhat-less-innocent (but still wrongfully accused) brother (Dominic Purcell). But as the seasons have passed, Michael’s quest for exoneration has actually caused him to commit more than a few major crimes, violates that would, under normal circumstances, carry decades in jail as a penalty.
"I think that Michael is still a good man. But at this point, I think it would take something quite extreme for him to really even the score because in order for his brother to go free, so many people have died in the process and I think that weighs terribly on Michael’s conscience," Miller acknowledges. "Once this experience is over, once say they successfully destroy the conspiracy, there is no returning to his white collar existence as a structural engineer. I mean I think the only thing that Michael is kind of fit for at this point is as a hired gun, which actually dovetails quite nicely with the directions he takes."
That’s why Miller knows that Prison Break can’t last forever.
"Well, it’s not CSI. It’s not Law & Order. It can’t run forever," he says. "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 or unintentionally killed so many people and yet, they’re still running around with T-Bag. It’s really a testament to Robert Knepper that his character has survived through four whole seasons, but the man is a maniac, a psychopath and a child killer and a rapist. And yet, he and the boys are still digging ditches together. Eventually, you have to wonder when is enough enough because it really makes my character look bad. These are the questions that I think eventually we have to answer or else suffer a fall off in terms of believability and quality."
A few other highlights from Miller’s chat with the press:
On the return of Sarah Wayne Callies’ Sara Tancredi: "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 ally 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 reunited, and then the gang hits the ground running because there’s work to do."
On Michael’s tattoos, which also return in the premiere: "The tattoo is addressed pretty definitively in the very first episode. 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. I appreciated the tattoo and I think it’s addressed in the first episode of Season Four as something that’s kind of emblematic of Michael’s experience, that this is an experience that has left its mark. 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."
On which departed character he’d most like to have back: "I think I’d bring back Paul Adelstein. I thought he was a fantastic Agent Kellerman and I thought was symbolic of the kind of character that the show does best, which is someone living within the shades of gray. Not entirely black, not entirely white, not entirely good, not entirely evil, but someone who is complicated as we all are in real live. I think Paul really did a beautiful job of defining a character who could be vicious one minute and entirely sympathetic the next. He’s very much missed."