The season two premier airs on Monday, August 21 8/7c!
The cast and crew get a break from shooting in Chicago; Their new location is Dallas.
By CARY DARLING
STAR-TELEGRAM POP CULTURE CRITIC
ROCKWALL – Wentworth Miller is the calm in the midst of what feels like a desert storm.
The thermometer is pushing into the mid-90s in this secluded area just east of Lake Ray Hubbard, and stunt men, technicians and guys in baseball caps and shades are working out the details of how his character, Michael Scofield, will run out of the bushes to leap aboard a passing freight train.
But the 34-year-old star of the hit Fox television series Prison Break isn’t even breaking a sweat as he calmly sits under a tree, having found scarce shade from the blazing North Texas sun. Never mind that he’s sporting his “prison-issue” sweat shirt, blue slacks and black hard-soled shoes. It’s not exactly summer attire.
The last time viewers saw Scofield, at the close of season one, he and a few of his closest friends — er, inmates with names like C-Note and T-Bag — had just bolted out of Fox River State Penitentiary in Joliet, Ill., thus putting the “break” in Prison Break . On Aug. 21, the second season will pick up exactly where the previous left off — but with one major difference. Instead of being filmed in the Land of Lincoln, the production has moved lock, stock and jailhouse tattoo to Dallas-Fort Worth.
This is what has got Miller perplexed. “We ended last season running across frozen cornfields outside Chicago, where it was zero degrees and our breath was steaming in the air,” he recollects. “The first episode back, second season, and we’re stripping off our layers and the sweat is running down our spines.”
“Well, in the world of Prison Break , we can get away with pretty much anything,” he says. “I think we’ll give a nod to the abrupt change of scenery and then go about our business.”
That “business” is producing a series that has been a decent-size hit since its debut last August, averaging about 9 million viewers. And it’s business that may mean an infusion of around $30 million into the local economy, according to Dallas Film Commission director Janis Burkland, as the show began shooting the first of 20 to 22 episodes here last month; it’ll wrap up around spring.
It’s taking the sting out of losing the upcoming movie based on the TV show Dallas , the bulk of which will be filmed in Shreveport, La. (though about four weeks of the three-month shoot will take place in Dallas).
“A TV series is way better. They stay longer and employ more people,” explains Burkland. “Television is the golden goose.”
Break from Chicago
When plotting out the first season of Prison Break — in which Scofield got himself sent to prison in order to engineer the escape of his brother, Lincoln, who’d been wrongly convicted of killing the vice president’s brother — producer Garry Brown didn’t really need to overly concern himself with the location. Much of the show was to take place inside the confines of Fox River, where Lincoln, Michael and his loyal cellmate Fernando navigated prison dangers and intrigues while hatching their plan.
But when it came time for season two, when the boys would be on the lam, Brown wanted a change of setting. Shooting in Chicago had gone well, but he needed the show to be in a place that could easily pass for urban or rural, desert or plains; had local crews; and had access to cultural amenities for a cast that would be living there for several months. (From pre- to post-production, each episode takes 16 days to complete.)
The production staff came up with a handful of places: New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana and, within Texas, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth. While New Mexico may get some spillover when a desert locale is required, Brown — who’d worked in Dallas before on Walker, Texas Ranger — said it wasn’t too tough a decision. They visited the other states, but when it came to Texas, they scrapped their planned visit to Austin altogether after touring the Metroplex.
“We needed to shoot in a place where locations are more accessible [than Chicago],” Brown says. “You can find a small town within a 10- to 30-mile radius of Dallas. And we have two cities we can shoot — as Dallas and Fort Worth or anywhere else — as [the prisoners] make their way across middle America.”
Texas does not have as extensive a tax-incentive program for filmmaking as its surrounding states — a factor that drove Dallas to Shreveport — but Barry says that didn’t deter him too much. “We were able to move to Dallas and economically match or beat the cost of doing business in Chicago,” he says. “It’s great to have tax breaks, but for us, economically and creatively, this works. And there’s a solid crew here in Dallas.”
While there are no concrete plans to shoot in Tarrant County, Barry says we shouldn’t feel left out. “Fort Worth was one of our principal stops when we scouted the area,” he says.
Back on the set, the actors appear excited about the change in locale. In fact, for some it’s like coming home — literally. Lane Garrison, who plays the young inmate nicknamed “Tweener,” grew up in Richardson and went to J.J. Pearce High School, once the academic home to the scholarly Jessica Simpson.
“It’s very odd coming back home after leaving and people thinking I was crazy for going off to do what I did and then come back,” says Garrison, 26, in his trailer. “After high school, when I graduated, I packed up my car and had, like, $400 to my name, and drove out west.”
He landed commercials, small parts and a major role in the 2004 indie film Quality of Life . But Prison Break is by far his most notable accomplishment.
With both of his parents dead, though, Garrison says his homecoming is bittersweet. “There are a lot of memories of my parents, and that’s hard,” he says. “But it’s also great. This is my hometown. I’m familiar with it, and I still have friends here.”
One of the biggest changes between this time around in Dallas and his last is where he hangs out.
“Lately, it’s been all Uptown,” he says. “Back in the day, it was the Whataburger on Coit Road.”
Wade Williams, who plays vicious guard Brad Bellick, has close friends here. “I grew up in Atlanta, and we had a doctor move in next door to us. He was, like, the biggest positive influence in my life, and [now] he lives here in Dallas with his family,” he says. “He got me interested in opera, classical music and guitar. . . . It’s kind of like being home. It’s good for my family, as my wife [now] has an instant family. It took six months to meet people in Chicago, and now we’re gone.”
Robert Knepper, who portrays the villainous inmate T-Bag, says he’s been fascinated with Dallas ever since playing Robert Kennedy in the 2001 telemovie Jackie, Ethel, Joan: the Women of Camelot . “The first thing I did when I got here, I went to Dealey Plaza,” he says.
“I hate the heat. That’s going to [tick] us off,” Knepper continues. “But what I love about it is it’s an injection of a new environment, a new world. If we’d gone back to Chicago — I’m not sure ‘complacency’ is the right word — but we’d know we’re going to have to deal with that winter or the 2 1/2 hour drive to shoot something that you can get to in a half-hour in Dallas.”
One of DFW’s selling points to Prison Break producers was that it could be a substitute for anyplace else, whereas windy and broad-shouldered Chicago is always recognizable. But is it a good thing that North Texas can so easily shuck off its identity and take on another? An outsider might think it has no personality of its own.
Miller laughs at the suggestion. “Dallas, in a good way, has a fairly schizophrenic feel to it,” he says. “Some neighborhoods feel East Coast, some neighborhoods feel Midwest or Southwest.”
Producer Brown says that, as the inmates work their way across America, Dallas and Fort Worth may play themselves, rather than serve exclusively as civic stand-ins. If that happens, it’s an added boost.
“You get that extra marketing,” Burkland says. “That’s the greatest thing about Dallas the feature film, or Walker, Texas Ranger . People might call and ask ‘Where is that courthouse?’ There is a tourism aspect to that, and it affects the convention and meeting business.”
When that added visibility is not possible, she’ll take what she can get. “In the Jessica Lynch movie, we were West Virginia and Iraq. In Boys Don’t Cry , we were Nebraska. Am I sorry we had those? No.”
After the first assistant director yells, “Bring on the train!” and the stunt coordinator — Eric Norris, son of Walker, Texas Ranger star Chuck Norris — cries, “Action!,” a crossing-gate siren blares and a locomotive lumbers into view. Actors Rockmond Dunbar (who plays Benjamin “C-Note” Franklin), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows) and Peter Stormare (John Abruzzi) sprint out from behind foliage to hop the train. With each take, it seems like the sun beats down just a little bit harder.
Extras not in the shot stand or sit hard against building walls, pressing for any slice of available shade. Bottled water flows freely and, no doubt, some among the cast and crew are thinking, “We’ve got at least three more months of this ?”
But don’t feel too sorry for the Prison Break gang. When they’re not wilting in the Texas heat, they’re taking in game six of the NBA Finals or accepting invites to the opening of trendy Ghostbar at the new W Hotel. Most of the stars seem to have found homes or condos in Uptown or Turtle Creek.
Miller’s only previous experience with Texas was a drive through Dallas and a week spent at a University of Texas atAustin swim camp while in high school. He says he wants to explore the area, but he’s a little wary these days. “I love running into fans and people telling me they never miss an episode,” he says. “But I’m a fairly low-key person and I generally don’t like to attract a lot of attention. I’ve been in a couple of situations where I’m swarmed in a mall, and I’m just there to buy a pair of jeans, not hold a press conference. But that’s the nature of the beast, so I have no complaints.”
Amaury Nolasco, who plays Fernando Sucre, Michael’s cellmate and best friend, is less circumspect about his Dallas playtime. “We’re having fun already,” he declares. “And I love that the sun sets at 9 o’clock.”
Being from Puerto Rico, Nolasco says the heat doesn’t really bother him that much. He says, laughing, “I’m getting a beautiful tan.”
Recent behind the scenes pictures:
William Fichtner joins the cast as and FBI agent sent to track Michael and his brother.
This is T-Bag/Robert Knepper's new look...