Behind The "Prison Break" Reunion On "The Flash"
Actors Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell talk to BuzzFeed News about the show that brought them together, reuniting as villains on The CW's superhero series, and their plan for more Prison Break.
The CW's The Flash has tapped one of the most popular television pairings in recent memory to play a duo of sinister villains. Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell, who starred as incarcerated brothers Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows on Fox's Prison Break from 2005 to 2009, will reunite as Captain Cold and Heat Wave, beginning with the Jan. 20 episode of The Flash.
Miller already made his debut on The CW's freshman superhero series last year, playing Leonard Snart (aka Captain Cold). But next week, he'll officially be joined by Purcell, who takes on the role of Snart's cohort, Mick Rory aka Heat Wave. While fans are looking forward to seeing Miller and Purcell team up once more, the actors themselves are even more excited, considering they had not seen one another since Prison Break ended more than five years ago.
At the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California, following a recent joint panel for The Flash and Arrow, Miller and Purcell sat down with BuzzFeed News to look back on the four seasons they spent behind (fictional) bars. They also talked about the hard lessons they learned about typecasting, how they came to love their inextricable association with those characters, what it felt like to work together again, and why we may not have seen the last of Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows just yet.
It's been more than five years since the Prison Break series finale. With that distance, how do you feel about your time on the series?
Wentworth Miller: Working on a one-hour drama is like throwing down track right in front of the train. We were in the business of cranking out great material for 81 episodes and it took everything I had. Then, the show was done and I was ready to move forward and put it behind me. Recently, I did a Q&A at a college campus and I showed up expecting the crowd to be interested in what I'm up to — my writing, various things that are present tense. But the only thing they wanted to talk about was Prison Break. And everyone in the room was 17, 18 years old, so they were just coming to it. For them, the show is present tense. And that hammered home for me that, because of technology and social media, this stuff has a second life.
Dominic, do you find that to be true as well?
Dominic Purcell: The films I have done are completely redundant. I am Lincoln Burrows forever.
How do you feel about that?
DP: After the show, I had a problem with it. But now I embrace it because I realize what a wonderful opportunity it was and what a great thing is was to be part of that great show, a show that people really loved and still do, you know? There's not a day that goes by where I don't hear, "You're the guy from Prison Break! I love that show." You just have to embrace it. I'm very humbled by Prison Break's success.
Do you get similar reactions, Wentworth?
WM: I have people calling me Michael left and right. As an actor, I had, naturally, I think, some concerns. How do I distance myself from this iconic character? And it's one of the beautiful things about our current situation — it didn't really factor into my thinking at all that by signing on to play Captain Cold, by him signing on to play Heat Wave, this will move us farther away from Michael and Lincoln than a million legal procedurals ever would.
DP: Ever. It's also very unique that two actors get an opportunity to play characters, like Michael and Lincoln, who become iconic, and now we're playing two iconic roles again. We're very fortunate. It's wonderful.
Miller as Captain Cold, Purcell as Heat Wave on The Flash.
How did the Captain Cold role on The Flash come about for you, Wentworth?
WM: I hadn't acted in a while. I was focusing on my writing. But I was missing the community that happens on set when a cast and crew are putting a TV show together week in and week out. So I told my reps I was interested in getting back into the acting game. Suddenly, there was a call from [executive producer] Greg Berlanti's office. They wanted to meet me, there was the role, there was the offer, and it was just the right role at the right time.
During my first episode, in a conversation with [DC Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns, he said, "We're trying to cast this Heat Wave character. He's this hothead, aggressive, unpredictable, force of nature. Are there any actors you can think of?" I said. "Dominic Purcell." I was 90% serious, 10% joking, because I didn't think they could pull it off or that they would even be interested in such a pairing — not knowing they were huge Prison Break fans. They must have made the call that afternoon.
DP: They did.
What did they say?
DP: Wentworth dropped me an email and asked if I would be interested and I said, "Fuck yeah!" To work with Wentworth again? Yes. I was just excited to see Wentworth. It wasn't about The Flash; it was about reconnecting with him and having a blast. Now that I'm on the show, I'm very thankful that the show is the success that it is. I'm humbled by it, I appreciate it, I love the cast, and it allows us to be operatic. As actors, that's all you ever really want to do: You want to go big!
WM: My training ground was Prison Break. That was a show that was not unlike a comic book. The challenge every episode was, We've got explosions, we've got stunts, we've got gunfights, but we have to care about you as a character at the same time, so can you ground this in something that feels real and honest and true? And that's what we're doing here — we have the opportunities to play these larger-than-life characters and do something operatic at the same time. As an actor, I want to make sure that it also feels human on some level.
How much had you kept in touch over the last five years?
DP: The unique thing about Wentworth and I is we have profound respect for one another. Wentworth is a dear friend, very, very close, but I think one of the reasons our relationship works so well is because we're not in each other's faces. It's like having a brother — you don't need to see him every fucking day. So we didn't see each other for four or five years. We kept in touch via email or whatever, so, again, when the opportunity came to be on set with Wentworth again, I jumped at it.
Was that time apart necessary after working together so closely for five years?
WM: After Prison Break was over, it occurred to me that Dominic and I had a drink in the hotel bar when we shot the pilot. And that was the last time we ever saw each other out socially for the next four years.
WM: I spent 14 hours a day with this man, five days a week (laughs).
DP: We didn't need to fucking hang out with each other (laughs).
What do you think it is about your chemistry that audiences respond to?
WM: I think it's that we are so different. We come from different universes, we have very different temperaments. Dominic is his own model of manhood, I'm my own model of manhood. And yet, there is love there. There is respect there. There is camaraderie there.
DP: Very much.
WM: For me, it's been satisfying and affirmative and fulfilling. For fans tuning in, they get a taste of that.
What about as actors? What do you get from one another in that regard?
DP: Comfort. Ease. There's no ego with Wentworth and I. None whatsoever. There's no jousting.
WM: Dominic could tell me, "You're not standing where you're supposed to be standing. Go over there," and I'll do that. If another actor says that to me in that way, maybe there's an issue.
DP: And vice versa. If Went says, "Dom, we need to do this." Cool. All right.
Was that immediately there again when you reconnected for The Flash?
WM: It's intuitive at this point.
DP: Exactly. It's intuition and instinct. It's like a married couple, the couple that fucking lasts 80 years together. When I look at an old lady and an old man holding hands, I'm like, How the fuck did you do that? And they can't explain it. It's just an innate thing and that's the same with Wentworth and I. I will always work with Wentworth in anything he wants to do.
WM: Likewise. It's about a level of respect and trust. I've been on sets where the actor you're working opposite isn't interested in letting you have a moment. They're not on your side, they want all the moments for themselves. If Dominic wants a moment, I'm happy to be of service to that and that current runs both ways.
What was it actually like when you were back on set together after five years apart?
DP: Exciting! It was like seeing a long-lost brother. And it was also like we just stepped away one day ago from Prison Break. There was no awkwardness. It was just fucking what we did on Prison Break.
WM: I remember really looking forward to it. This is a man I hadn't seen in the flesh for five years and to be working alongside him on this new show, playing this new character, deepened the experience for me.
Do you feel like you've re-rung the Prison Break call-to-arms bell for fans by reuniting on The Flash? Are you expecting questions about a reunion movie now?
WM: I would welcome it. I remember being on the set of Resident Evil ... behind bars (laughs). I thought, Well, I could either fight this or I could go with it. Cut to me, first week on the set of The Flash, getting my mugshot taken. Never in a million years would I have imagined that would be part of my casting, but it is and I'm happy to serve what's on the stove.
DP: Exactly. I mean, I went through a period there where, after Prison Break, it was very important for me to go out there and explore different character roles. I'm not even sure it's necessary for me to say, but, I trained at drama school for three years and did Shakespeare and Chekov, but when I came to the States and got Prison Break, people began to see me in a certain way, and I've embraced that because it's affording me opportunities in life I wouldn't normally get. I'm running with my brand, if you will.
Is that a realization actors often have to reconcile, that you will be typecast, and fighting against it can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth?
DP: I think it comes with maturity. I think, as a young actor, you're naive to a certain extent and being in the industry as long as I have, you understand how the business actually fucking works. I'm always going to be seen as the tough, brooding guy. There's a sensitive side to my brutality, so I don't get cast as the psychopath, but I do get cast as the man's man, the tough guy. That's fine with me, man. I'm totally cool with it.
Wentworth, did you get a lot of offers that were similar to Michael after Prison Break ended?
WM: I remember getting offered a lot of parts where the character was either fresh from prison or on his way to prison (laughs) and it just wasn't interesting to me. That's why I took a break and went off and started writing again. I wanted to be my own boss and create my own universe. For me, it's important to recognize the gift in every opportunity. Michael Scofield was a gift, Captain Cold is a gift. If I'm handed a part that feels familiar, I say yes and even if it's not on the page, I find something in there that's new and fresh and surprising.
DP: Yes! And that also comes with life experience, with maturity. As a 25-year-old, you probably wouldn't be making those choices.
WM: You don't have the perspective.
DP: Or life experience.
What appealed to you about your characters on The Flash?
WM: One of the things I like and respect about Snart is that, yes, he's a villain, he's up to no good, but he's not wearing a mask. He's not pretending to be anything. He's always Leonard Snart as opposed to his adversary, who is wearing half a mask and has identity issues and secrets that need to be kept. Snart is a fully integrated and assimilated man who is always speaking his truth whether you like it or not and that's something I really dug.
DP: Very similar to what Wentworth said, I like that Mick Rory is what he is: He's a firebrand, he's a force of nature, he doesn't give a fuck. He's out there to fucking cause havoc. He's not apologizing for anything and I respond to that because I'm kind of the same.
What are you looking to do next?
DP: We want to work together again. We want to come up with a TV concept [where] we can work together. If we can come up with something brilliant, we'll make it happen.
WM: I'm looking to do a bit of both. Maybe I'm working on a show as an actor and I'm writing the odd episode. I've had the experience of working in Hollywood as a feature film writer. Unfortunately, I did not encounter a lot of respect there, but in TV, the writer is king. That's the fountainhead, that's the source.
DP: And I've said to Wentworth, "You're a fucking brilliant writer, so why not be the executive producer, the guy that writes the fucking pilot, and the guy that chooses to act in five episodes rather than 15?" We're also exploring the possibility of doing a Prison Break reunion, end of chapter or whatever it is.
WM: A hidden chapter, a limited series, something. That model of [24: Live Another Day] and either flash back, like, This is what you didn't see, or Where are they now? in a reunion set-up.
What excites you about the idea of playing these men again?
DP: Just to discover what's happened to them, how far they've journeyed. I don't see it being another series; I see it being a standalone movie or a miniseries. But, again, I want to work with Wentworth on something completely separate from all that and make that work.
WM: I'm also excited by the possibility, or the potential of going back and taking a look at Michael Scofield as a man who is now 43, as opposed to when I was starting out at 33, because I will come at it from a different angle. I have a different set of skills and experiences to bring to the table.
DP: Fuck. Has it been that long?
DP: Jesus Christ.
WM: (Laughs) A lifetime.
Is a reunion movie something you're exploring in a legitimate way with Fox or is it just an idea for now?
WM: We were shooting the breeze on set of The Flash and having a good time being back together and reminiscing and out of that came this, "Wouldn't it be cool..." The wheels are in motion, but things take time.
DP: That's the other thing about Prison Break: It never stops. That's the thing about new media. It's like we have a new generation of Prison Break fans, thanks to Netflix.
WM: Although I noticed when I get off a plane now, and there's a fan waiting for me with a picture to sign, chances are it's not Michael Scofield; chances are it's Captain Cold, which is gratifying.
This interview has been edited and condensed.