With the breakout success of Fox's penitentiary drama "Prison Break" having cemented Wentworth Miller's status as the "it" actor of the fall TV season, one might assume the hunky thespian would be tempted to buy into his own hype. But Miller says he is not the type to let sudden fame go to his shaven head: All he has to do is think back to his "Prison" screen test to remember his days as a struggling performer.
"I had been a temp for studios, agencies and production companies for a while-that was plan B, in case the acting thing didn't work out," Miller says. "There I was, doing my test in a room full of Fox executives, and I realized that I had temped in the offices of probably half of them. I'm there to test for the lead role in this big primetime drama series, and a lot of the people I'm trying to impress remembered me from the copy machine- it was insane."
Miller conquered his nervees, though, because he loved the part too much to let anxiety get the better of him. "This business is ruled by fear," he says. "The people in charge can smell desperation, and they're not going to sink millions of dollars into you if you're tentative. I had to get past that."
It was a good strategy: Miller landed the lead role of Michael Scofield, a man who robs a bank in order to be sentenced to the same prison as his wrongly convicted brother. The idea is to help his innocent sibling break out of the facility, which Scofield happened to have designed.
If the series' premise seems far-fetched, its audience doesn't seem to have noticed: "Prison" has become a bona fide hit.
Miller, a Princeton graduate, is enjoying his newfound celebrity, but he is happy to have a steady job after years of uncertainty. He had a part in the 2002 miniseries "Dinotopia" and portrayed the younger version of Anthony Hopkins' character Coleman Silk in the 2003 feature-film flop "The Human Stain." There also were guest spots on such TV series as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Popular" and NBC's "ER," but Miller's resume is not a long one.
The actor suffered through lean times after moving to Los Angeles 10 years ago. "I heard an awful lot of noes," Miller says. "It was a valuable education: I can take rejection. Once 'no' stopped meaning anything, I started to hear a few yeses."
Now, Miller works long days on the "Prison" set, which happens to be an actual prison: the Joliet Correctional Center outside of Chicago, far away from Hollywood. "That means no paparazzi or any of that nonsense, which I'm grateful for," he says.
Miller is already fielding other job offers, one of which-a project about two brothers, one of whom has been to jail-rings more than a few bells. "Typecasting," he says with a laugh. "I guess I should have anticipated that."