You've got to hand it to Prison Break star Robert Knepper. He manages to invest Theodore 'T-Bag' Bagwell - a deeply disturbed individual who's committed murder and rape - with eloquence and an unsettling but inescapable charm. We caught up with Robert to discuss life on the Prison Break set, what we can expect from the season two DVD and how on earth he gets inside T-Bag's very, very messed up head.
How are you finding it in the UK?
"It's great to come back with a show that everybody knows. As a test, I was driving this weekend and I rolled down my window and said, 'Let's see what percentage of the people on the street know Prison Break'. It was like every other person. It was like a parade."
When you first read the scripts, did you ever think the show would become as successful as it is?
"No. You know, as an actor you always dream about it. Every actor I know says, 'I love acting. I do it 'cause I love it', but you always hope you'll work on something that has the power that this show does. I tell you, in the States when it first came out...people would call me up and say, 'Oh my god, I love you on this show'. I literally would well up crying: 'Oh my god, I've worked for 22 years and supported myself and gone from one gig to the next and played all these different fun characters, but to work on something of this magnitude, it's so overwhelming'. Eventually I started realising that this is going to stick for a while. It's been a great ride - really great.
T-Bag's a deeply disturbed man - a murderer and a rapist. How on earth do you approach playing a character like that?
"From the get go, I always tried to play the opposite. I just had the word charming in my head. I tried to make him as charming as possible, 'cause I figured that the snarly stuff, the negative stuff, when he turns on you, that's going to be easy. That's what's going to be expected. The other sides of him - the humorous sides, the way he uses words, the way he can go musically through a sentence, that's going to be the fun part. Playing a baddie is always great anyway, 'cause they're these deviant characters that do things we wish we could do or get away with, and you add on top of that this badass guy who nobody really knows. Now, through the show, the audience knows a lot of the back-story of this guy: what terrible things happened to him as a kid that made him the man he is today, which is a man full of rage and wanting love in his life and wanting to have a family. It's interesting playing a character that none of the characters like! They all want him dead. People say to me, 'I hate you so much, I want you dead, but I don't really want you dead, because if you were dead we wouldn't have T-Bag any more'. It's just great. It's a really good feeling."
How much of what's to come on the show do you know in advance?
"Honestly, I don't know and I don't really care. I just try to stay right in the moment. I get the scripts like everybody else does, and I practice carpe diem right there and then."
What's the atmosphere like on set? Does everyone get on?
"Yeah, we're really blessed. Everybody likes each other. We all joke and play practical jokes with each other, on each other. Other actors on other hit shows know what this is like, but they each have their own specific experiences, and we have ours. We look at each other and go, 'Wow, this is happening to us'. We're just riding the wave, you know, it's really fun."
When do you start to shoot season three?
"June 20th or 21st. I'm shooting a film in Bulgaria right now called Hitman which comes out in September in the States. That finishes right before I start Prison Break. I'll finish that and go back to Dallas to film."
What can you tell us about Hitman?
"It's based on a video game, which I don't know! I didn't care because the script from the bottom of page one on is amazing. It's about a good guy who works as a cop for Interpol: Dougray Scott is playing him. He's trying to find this notorious hitman called Agent 47 who is like a ghost: he's like mercury; you can't put your finger on him. What we realise is that Agent 47 wants to give this up - he wants to redeem himself, and change, which is very hard to do. Once it gets out that he's trying to change, everybody wants him. The character I play is the head of the Russian FSB, who seemingly is a great guy. He works for the government and he wants the old Russia to come back. It all centres around this one particular hit, which is knocking off this Russian politician. There are all these nice twists and turns and lots of James Bond kind of action."
Have you found time to film any behind the scenes interviews for the Prison Break season two DVD?
"Yes, that's right, I did one in Dallas. You sit down on a chair and talk about it, and then the other actor comes up. It's always fun to interrupt those kind of interviews. It's a lot of fun."
Season two of Prison Break is out on DVD now.