You know you love to hate him. Robert Knepper has proven himself to be great at being horrible as Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell, the psychopathic murderer on FOX’s Prison Break. This season T-Bag finds himself stuck in prison with nemesis Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) once again, only this time it’s the lawless Sona, run by the ruthless Lechero (Robert Wisdom). Thus far in the third season, T-Bag is aligning himself with Lechero, becoming the boss’ right-hand man.
At FOX’s fall press junket, BuddyTV had the opportunity to sit down with the face of evil, and was taken aback by how damn nice he is. Robert Knepper is charming and instantly you forget all about the nefarious character he plays on Prison Break. He spoke about playing the seedy character, comparing T-Bag’s role in season 3 to that of Iago in William Shakespeare’s Othello, and then got sidetracked by an amusing on-set anecdote about how darn pretty Wentworth Miller, or Went as he’s called, is. Below you will find the transcript as well as the mp3 audio fie of the interview.
Hi, this is John from Buddy TV, and I’m here with Robert Knepper from the hit FOX show Prison Break. Hi, Robert.
That was easy. Now, do you enjoy playing such a bad character, just a complete villain?
I do. I enjoy the response I get from when I finish a take, and I see the camera guy, Billy Nielsen go, “Yeah, OK.” I crack ’em up or I scare ’em or something. But I gotta tell you, I don’t set out to play him being a villainous character, I set out to just fulfill the objective that the character’s trying to do in the moment. If he’s, say now in the third season, if he’s trying to figure out how he’s gonna climb up the ladder in Lechero’s world here at Sona prison, that’s his objective. He’s gonna do anything and everything to make Lechero trust him, and make him realize that he can be a confidant. I mean he’s basically going to be an Iago for Bob Wisdom’s Othello, so he’s gotta get Othello to believe that he’s trustworthy. That’s what I play, I don’t play, “Hmm, I’m gonna snarl and I’m gonna do these things.”
You don’t play him good?
No, I’m trying to play him bad. Although you know, I think T-Bag is smart enough to know that he’s doing something really dastardly. So the audience is kind of in on the whole thing of watching the machinations of this guy’s mind, so that’s kind of crazy to watch.
And in the second season, your character, when everyone was freed from prison they kind of got away. And you were off doing, and your character was doing your own thing. Do you enjoy the third season, kind of coming back to a prison setting and getting to work with like, the core group of actors all the time?
Two things: I love being back with my buddies, it’s reminiscent of that first season when we were all, two things were happening. We were discovering these characters, and we were celebrating the newfound success of this show. And that was great, to be able to share with fellow actors. “Hey, I got this letter. Oh, did you hear about our numbers last night? Can’t you wait to go to the People’s Choice Awards?”
I mean, all this stuff was happening the first year, it was really great. And the third year now, to sort of say, “Oh man, we’re back together.” I mean not all of us are together, some guys are still on the outside. Like Amaury is on the out, Sucre’s character or Sucre is on the outside, and I miss him. But luckily I get to see him at night a lot of the time.
But yeah, I also think the second level is good storytelling to have us all come back in that kind of environment we’re at in the first season. It’s not a safe environment, it’s not a clean environment. But it’s a prison and it’s a grittier reality than that first year’s prison, it’s also good that it’s not the same thing.
And how is the cast done? Because they’ve been constantly kind of adding in the new characters in the second season, you’ve got William Fichtner, now you have Robert Wisdom. How do all of these additions mesh in with that original group?
I think very well. I think that it enhances the story, and again it’s just Writing 101, Acting 101. You have a hero, and you’ve got to step in his way every chance you can get so that he cannot accomplish his goal. Which is in the first season to free his brother, and the second season to clear his name, and now in the third season to get himself out of prison.
People love these characters that they’ve known, that were established, that they also… I think it’s good to bring in new ones. You’ve got more people in the way of this guy accomplishing his goal, and they’re colorful characters. And in T-Bag’s case, they’re monsters of characters. But we don’t care, we’re following the objective of the story. At the same time, we’re discovering these really rich, complex characters.
And on the set, if you’re not filming or you have some downtime, how do you fill up that time on the set? What do you do to relax?
You know that’s funny, the third season is even more a sense of family. Second season I’d hang out in my trailer a lot, if I didn’t have the chance to read or pay bills, I would hang out in the trailer. Now I gotta tell you that I love hanging out with my bros. Not just the acting bros, but the camera bros, the sound people, the hair and makeup department. We are all, we’ve known each other now, some of us for almost three years.
And it’s a great feeling to just be able to hang out, even if we’re just sitting in video village behind the monitors with the directors, who also again we know, because most of them have been there now for the second, third, sometimes fourth time around. You know, so, “Hey man, how you’ve been? What’ve you been doing the last several months that we haven’t seen each other?”
And talk with the camera guys, we have parties weekend. Willie is one of our favorite focus pullers shows up at the party, he’s got this white hat on, this kind of little gangster hat. He’s wearing sunglasses and one of the waitresses at this restaurant up on the lake says, “Hey everybody look, it’s Wentworth. Wentworth showed up at the party.” And it’s not Wentworth, it’s Willie, who is… we’re all great buddies.
Willie like Amaury is also Puerto Rican, just got this beautiful color of his skin, but he looks a little like Wentworth. And the lady there, the waitress turns to Billy Nielsen, the camera operator who’s helped throw the party and says, “You know, he looks a lot cuter on television, he looks a lot better.”
And I just know when we go to the set, when I get back on the set, everybody’s gonna rib Willie about this. And Willie’s a stud, man, he’s a gorgeous man to be compared to. And Went is amazing, beautiful on camera. So that kind of joking and that camaraderie, that’s gonna be fodder for several days.
-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of FOX)