EXCLUSIVE: 'Prison Break' Boss Says Revival Recaptures Show's Early 'Magic': We Want 'Fans to Go Nuts'
By Philiana Ng
Nearly a decade after Prison Break went off the air, the beloved prison drama returns for a brand new chapter on Tuesday, marking the returns of series stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell. Though a lot has happened since 2009 -- when Prison Break wrapped up its original run with Michael Scofield’s supposed death -- there was a deep desire to go back to basics and lean into what made the show's early seasons successful.
“That was the intention. If we’re going to bring it back, let’s try to recapture some of that vibe and magic of that first season,” creator Paul T. Scheuring told ET ahead of Tuesday’s premiere, citing J.J. Abrams’ 2015 blockbuster, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as an unlikely inspiration. “What he did so wonderfully was he evoked that original feel of the first Star Wars movies and brought back a lot of the original characters and supplemented them with new [ones]. I thought that was a good model, so we emulated that with this season.”
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How Prison Break addresses the aftermath of Michael’s apparent demise -- the biggest unanswered question from that final episode -- is a plot point that fuels the entire nine-episode revival, which also welcomes back old favorites like Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar), and lovable baddies like Kellerman (Paul Adelstein).
If viewers feel the need for a refresher course before tuning in, there’s no need. The first episode fills in the gaps of what everyone’s been up to in the past seven years, and for many, their lives are drastically different. But as the story unravels, the action takes Lincoln and company all around the world.
Before Prison Break's long-awaited return, Scheuring talked to ET about why now was the time to resurrect the series, what lessons he's learned since the show's 2005 debut and why he's wrapping everything up at the end of the new season.
ET: Aside from getting the chance to reunite Wentworth, Dominic and the original gang, why now?
Paul T. Scheuring: It had been long enough. In this new binge-watching environment of TV with limited runs, I thought that was a great opportunity to come back and tell a very lean, focused version of the story. Because we only had to do nine [episodes], it was like, “OK, we can do that and we can tell a very good close-ended story that way.”
You mentioned that it’s a “close-ended story.” Does the end of the new season leave room to potentially continue the story?
It does, but that was not the intention. There’s no cliffhanger at the end. There’s no hanging chad. It’s a close-ended story and it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to feel like a nine-hour movie, and then you leave and then it’s done. Having said that, there’s already a lot of hunger from fans and even some of the actors to go into another season. There’s the possibility of doing that but that was not the intention and that’s not what’s on my mind right now.
Is this the original ending that you had envisioned when you first started the show?
No, there’s so much water under the bridge since the show started. In launching this particular season, you had to look at where the characters had gone the last four seasons and where they ended up. In the case of Wentworth’s character, he was dead. (Laughs.) That was not the intention that I had at the beginning of the series for his end game, but then the show went off the air for seven years and one of the fun things was to explore what happened to each of those characters in the intervening seven years.
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The TV landscape has changed dramatically in the last seven years. How has the world of Prison Break evolved since it’s been off the air?
Our goal this year was to make it epic, something that spans the world. We’re out in the ocean. We’re in the deserts. We’re everywhere. On one level, that is something that’s changed where they’re really opening their pockets -- to be fair, they opened their pockets for the first season too. The second part of that question is the actors themselves. You have to remember, a lot of these actors took these roles a decade ago when they were young, hungry actors who maybe didn’t have families, didn’t know themselves, didn’t have bruises and scars. And now they come back and they’ve lived life. They’ve gone through hardships. They’ve had their ups and downs. They have more mileage on them and more wisdom. That’s reflected in the show as well. They’re not just bright-eyed, bushy-tailed characters, if they ever were that. (Laughs.)
The plot is set in war-torn Yemen and a lot of the filming took place in Morocco. Does setting the show in an Arabic country hold any new significance now, in terms of what’s happening in the real world?
Yeah. The choice to set it in the Middle East was not an attempt to make a political comment or to capture that particular zeitgeist. But in abstract, when I was considering the new season, I thought, we can’t just have a new prison where Michael’s gotta get the yellow key to unlock the blue door to get out of the pink prison. If it’s just an entire tale about getting out of a prison, we’ve been there and done that. I wanted to make escaping the prison really the beginning and make it that they have to escape the country and subsequent to that, escaping a world where they can’t escape their antagonist. What better place for a Westerner to be a stranger in a strange land than in a Middle Eastern prison, and send Lincoln and C-Note and try to extract them? That was really the intention, to create an environment where everything was [set] against them. I was trying to satisfy a creative abstract more so than making a political commentary.
Technology has never played a significant role in the show. Was that a big point for you to have Michael continuing to MacGyver his way out of situations?
You’re right in identifying that. It was always the intention to have characters who had to rely on their wits because that makes them more intelligent and more resourceful. There are so many shortcuts creatively now in terms of cellphones and eyes in the sky, so generally speaking, I don’t like those characters to even carry guns. I don’t like Michael to be a guy overcoming bad guys by pulling a trigger.
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Do you consider Michael’s death part of Prison Break canon?
I know that at the end [of season four], the choice was made to kill him and I wasn’t really a part of that process and everybody made the creative choice they did and everybody was happy with it. I just never happened to see it. For me, the only thing that I felt very specifically had to be addressed [in the new season] was the fact that we said the character’s dead and as such, it’s incumbent that in this season, here’s why, incredibly, he might still be alive. Anything we film has to be a part of the canon, you know?
Wentworth and Dominic are producers on the new season. How involved were they creatively?
It was a healthy collaboration. They were very much invested, and it was fast and furious. We only shot the thing in three and a half months but they were engaged the whole time. They were not mailing it in. They were not just getting a paycheck. They were invested in their characters and where their characters went.
There are a couple of characters who don’t appear to have a presence in the new season. How did you decide who to include and exclude? Is Lincoln’s son, L.J. (played by Marshall Allman in the original series), in the world still?
He’s still in the world, absolutely. His character is seven years older, [but] he is not in this season. He may come back, should there be another season. In bringing back characters, obviously we want to bring them all back, but they have to be relevant to the narrative, otherwise you have the “superfriends” running around with eight people in one room because we want L.J. in this scene and we want Mahone (William Fichtner) in this scene. But they really don’t serve a purpose except standing in the back. We made sure every single character that’s involved in the narrative has a very specific role they can serve in it. Some of them, like L.J. and Mahone, just didn’t have specific roles that they could serve that were creatively genuine.
Will there be a payoff for fans?
Oh yeah. We’re trying to hit it out of the park and hopefully the fans will go nuts in the last episode.
Prison Break premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.