Matt Olmstead is one of the executive producers and writers of the hit FOX series Prison Break. He is credited with penning the scripts for the penultimate episodes of both the first and second seasons. Season 3 begins tonight at 8pm, and though the first 17 minutes of the episode, titled “Orientation,” have been online for several weeks, this will be audiences first chance to see what else is in store for Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) and his fellow Sona inmates.
Matt spoke to BuddyTV about the process of coming up with a season-long story arc, the details on all the major new Prison Break cast members, and the fate of beloved Agent Kellerman. Below you will find a transcript as well as the mp3 audio file of the interview.
Hi, this is John from Buddy TV, and we’re talking to Matt Olmstead, one of the executive producers and writers on Prison Break. How you doing, Matt?
Doing great, thank you.
Outstanding. Now for a season like season 3, how do the writers break the story? Do you plan out the entire season in advance, or is it kind of “make it up as you go along”?
We basically have…well it depends. Season 2, we had the first kind of six episodes in mind, and knew kind of generally where we wanted to end up. But we didn’t have the whole thing structured, so we kind of figured it out as we went along. Season 3, we pretty much, after we kind of arrived at the right concept with the network, we knew the structure for the whole season, and it’s held true. Even where we’re at right now, we’re in the room on episode 10 right now, and it’s exactly as we had essentially conceived it. Of course with additions along the way and subtractions, but I guess it depends on the season. But in this particular season 3, we really had the framework for the beginning, middle and end and the characters, the payoff, that kind of thing from the beginning.
So for something like season 2, then early on you knew that everything would be ending up in Panama? They’d be in Sona, you knew about that early on?
No. We knew they’d be on the run, and that they’d had to kind of clear their name, everybody had their personal storylines, we really kind of figured that out along the way. Then we got about midway through the season, and the ratings were good, and the network was asking us for our ideas for season 3. We began to have meetings with them as far as pitching our ideas for what season 3 would be. And it started out, we went through probably about three or four pitches, and ultimately arriving at Sona, a Panamanian prison. We went through a couple of ideas of what tha macguffin would be, what the kind of overarcing kind of B-story mystery would be to season 3. And so once we got that done, we were basically off to the races.
And with this, a lot of people are saying that it’s kind of a return to form, back to season 1 where Michael’s in prison trying to break out. Is that kind of the idea or main theme you went with when going into it?
Yeah. Again about midseason last year, where we knew that we had to, there was a kind of creative liability to the show. We’re all very enthusiastic and we wanted to do a season 3, because keep in mind, when the show first aired, people were skeptical whether the show had legs. Justifiably, because it’s a prison break, seemingly a finite concept. Even we internally didn’t know what season 3 would be. So once we kind of started throwing ideas around, as far as what we could do, that’s when, about midseason again, we started generating ideas of where we plan on going with the whole thing. We knew that the endpoint would be essentially Sona and which characters we’d keep around, and the rest of it kind of all fell into place.
And is there anything where, going back, if you could go back to the beginning of the series, and you knew that it would be going into its third season now, is there anything that you would have changed, or just situations where you got stuck into a “now this becomes part of the show that we have to carry on”?
Not really, but then when we were in season 2, we really had a lot of fun exploring the characters, their individual storylines. But one thing we found out was that we were trying to juggle eight separate storylines, we missed our characters crossing, we missed kind of that prison stuff, so when you asked about the idea of kind of resetting the show, we internally kind of missed that prison life. That prison dynamic brings that kind of constant threat, and as importantly all the characters in one spot so there’s a lot of crossing going on, and so we ended up back in prison, we knew creatively this is the right move to make. That’s been verified by how easy the stories have been coming to us. Internally the room’s really been moved quickly, and the stories have been coming very easily. Which I think is a reflection of the fact that we’re in the right place at the right time with the right idea. And so looking back on it, there was nothing that we, there’s no trail to be followed that ended up in a dead end like, how the hell do you get out of this? It’s pretty artful in being able to kind of…getting out of.
OK, and will season 3 be set up like season 2 where you have a certain number of episodes, and then a cliffhanger, and then you return in the spring. Do you know how it’s gonna be scheduled?
Yeah, it’s scheduled a little differently in that we used to have two breaks. One of them was for baseball, which was after like episode six or seven, for three weeks or four weeks. And then we’d come back then, after episode 13, we’re off for a number of months. This time we’re simply out for one week, and then we’re still gonna have that episode 13 cliffhanger, and then we come back like two or three months later.
And I’m wondering, what can you tell us about any…because you added a lot of new cast members this year. I’m wondering, what can you tell us about any of the new actors, and what their roles will be this season?
We basically cast four new actors for four roles. One of them is this character named Lechero, who is kind of the godfather of Sona penitentiary. As we explain in the show, the dynamic of Sona is somewhat unique, in that there was a riot a year ago. Guards were killed, inmates were killed, and the military came in ans assessed the situation,essentially pulled all the guards, all administration out, sealed the place up with razor wire and guard towers. And essentially said, “You know, the inmates inside, have at it. We’re not gonna risk anybody’s lives inside of there, you bunch of animals. So we’ll drop off food and water everyday, we’ll haul off dead bodies, and that’s it. Other than that, you guys are on your own.
So it’s a prisoner rule, but one would think with that kind of dynamic there’d be anarchy, but it’s not because there’s this guy in charge portrayed by Robert Wisdom, who really runs. And there is a prisoner code, and there are some very kind of sacred rules. No random attacks, all beefs have to be settled inside this ring where it’s man against man essentially in a fight. No escape because then everybody suffers. It’s just some basic rules, and amidst this, what would normally be kind of a very chaotic environment, there’s order, and not to say that there isn’t any violence around the corner if you make a wrong turn, so to speak, but this guy runs it. He’s very formidable, as the actor is very formidable.
We also have a character who is named James Whistler, portrayed by Chris Vance, an Australian actor. He’s kind of the mystery man of the series, which is Michael realized, he’s kind of leveraged in having to get this guy out. We’re having a lot of fun with kind of turning cards over on that character, which is essentially, is he good or is he bad? What’s his story, what’s his agenda, why is he down here, why do they want Michael to get him out? So he’s the mystery character of this series.
We also have a character Sofia, which is the Whistler character’s girlfriend, a Panamanian woman portrayed by Danay Garcia. She is Panamanian, and also in a way, she’s the audience surrogate in that we’re kind of experiencing through her eyes because she’s completely innocent. And all of a sudden she starts to get all this information about her boyfriend, about Scofield. A couple of weeks ago she was just hanging out with her boyfriend, who is a fisherman who just charters up and travels up to the Pacific Northwest to do charters every once in a while. The rug’s completely pulled on her world, and she’s trying to catch up and figure out what’s going on.
The other character is this Susan character portrayed by Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, and she takes over for Kim, who was portrayed by Reggie Lee last year who did a really great job, and so she comes in and is hired essentially to oversee what’s going on. Clearly Scofield was ushered and guided down to Panama for reasons, and she’s there to make sure that agenda’s fulfilled, so she’s kind of the heavy of season 3.
So we’ll still get more of the company throughout the season. I’m imagining you’ll reveal more about what’s going on in the giant conspiracy.
And is that, and how does, could obviously link in Sara, Sucre. They’re still on the outside. I imagine we’re still following those characters and what they’re doing.
Yeah. One of the cool twists of season 3 is that you have Michael locked up with T-Bag, Mahone and Bellick, his adversaries. On the outside is Lincoln, now a free man, he’s exonerated. And then he hooks up with Sucre, and the Sofia character also helps, and so it’s upside down in the sense that Lincoln, who we’ve come to know as the guy on death row, now he’s free on the outside. Michael is the one locked up, and Lincoln is the one who has to try to get his brother out.
Definitely. And as a fan, I just have really one more question, and I’m not sure if you can answer it. But is Agent Kellerman dead?
We don’t know.
You don’t know?
We don’t know. There’s a reason we had that final gunshot in a wide shot, so to speak, so anything’s possible on Prison Break.
Anything. So there was a reason, because I think a lot of TV viewers know as a rule, unless you see someone get killed, people are very suspicious. Especially when they watch a show like Prison Break, you need to see the person die.
So it was completely intentional, and whether or not you bring him back, you’ve pretty much just left yourselves the possibility.
-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of FOX)