The ride that delivered the A&E network drama “Breakout Kings” to a downtown Baton Rouge rooftop on a recent morning has been, in the words of cast member Domenick Lombardozzi, “a rollercoaster.” “Tortuous, I would say, filled with twists and turns,” added fellow actor Jimmi Simpson, between takes of a scene with Lombardozzi that will appear in the season-two finale. “And that’s tortuous, not torturous.”
“Breakout Kings,” which makes its season-two premiere at 9 p.m. Sunday, began life as a pilot for the Fox broadcast network.
To co-creators Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, both “Prison Break” production veterans, the pilot’s performance for test audiences was highly encouraging, its numbers “through the roof,” Santora said.
The concept – a task force of convicts, minded by cops, chase prison escapees – seemed to click.
The characters were quirky and unique, their chemistry tangible.
“We were thinking, ‘Where’s our office space going to be?’” Santora said. “Then we got the phone call that they’re not picking up the show. It was the same day I was moving into a new house.
“We thought the show was over. I’d fallen in love with the characters and really wanted to write them.”
Salvation came from an unlikely platform, A&E, its brand built on un- or semi-scripted reality fare like “Billy the Exterminator,” “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” “Storage Wars,” “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” and reruns of “CSI Miami” and “The Sopranos.”
“We had lined the characters up on a wall, blindfolded them, and shot them in the head,” Santora said. “And then it was alive again.”
Season one was shot in Toronto, subbing -- as Baton Rouge has done for season two -- for New York City and its surrounding region.
Santora said he was skeptical of the move to Louisiana at first.
“I had my doubts that it could work,” he said. “But when we came to the city, I saw its rich history, its older buildings with character. You have faded brick. You have back alleys. You have older fire escapes with patina on the metal. If you shoot this close and don’t get too wide, there’s no reason that that alley can’t be Brooklyn. There’s no reason that that alley can’t be Queens. I know. I’m from there. I’ve been so pleased how this city has doubled for the five boroughs of New York.”
One big benefit of the move has been the milder climate, Santora added.
“Toronto was wonderful,” he said. “The people are wonderful. But the people can’t control the 7 pounds of snow that’s dumped on you constantly in the negative-20 degrees.
“We would have situations where the actors’ eyes would be tearing and freezing on their face. We’d have to scrape the ice off with our fingernails.”
Baton Rouge, even on an exposed rooftop in mid-winter, has been “a million more times easier to shoot,” Santora added. “The weather is much more cooperative.”
Santora’s cast echoed his approval of their new location.
“It’s the greatest place to shoot, ever,” said Simpson (the FX comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the upcoming New Orleans-shot film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), who plays Lloyd Lowry, an errant genius who’s a member of the show’s convict core. “We’re over the moon. The local crews are amazing.”
“I was telling my wife I could live here,” said Malcolm Goodwin (the film “American Gangster” and the TV series “Law & Order” and “Detroit 187”), who plays former gang kingpin Shea Daniels. “I really made some lifelong friends on the set and in this city.”
“You always hear about Southern hospitality, then you come here and the people couldn’t have been any nicer,” said Lombardozzi (“A Bronx Tale,” “The Wire”), who plays Ray Zancanelli, half of the duo of cops (the other played by Laz Alonso) that rides herd over the temporary-trustee deputies. “You’re almost like, ‘What’s the catch?’”
The change of location scenery for the cast and crew is mirrored in a slightly different approach to how the “Breakout Kings” story will be told in season two.
The escape-and-pursuit-of-the-week will remain at the show’s core, but a season-long story arc will be dramatically introduced in Sunday’s return premiere.
“The show is set up as a procedural, but now has a serial aspect,” Lombardozzi said. “Each character has his own storyline. We learned about the characters last season, but didn’t really dig deep into the characters.
“I love that we’re digging deeper in trying to make the characters flourish, make them breath. It’s not just thugs catching runners. These are people that have things at stake.”
The serial storyline “peeks in – it’s not in every episode,” Lombardozzi added. “It’s like this mist in the air.”
OOMMGGG I just started watching this show and I love iitttttttttt!!!!!!