Walking onto the set of Prison Break is like stepping into a war zone. A monolithic steel door opens to the prison yard at Ogygia, a penitentiary in Yemen that makes Fox River look like the Four Seasons. A thick layer of dirt covers the rocky pavement of the yard. Guard towers loom overhead, and rusted bars line the water-stained walls that separate the inmates from the outside world. In reality, the outside world isn’t Yemen but Vancouver, where Prison Break is in its final weeks of shooting its nine-episode revival that resurrects Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) seven years after his brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), and wife, Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies), thought him dead.
For the past four years, the cold and damp solitary confinement at Ogygia has been home to Michael, now known as infamous terrorist Kaniel Outis. The tattooed genius we knew and loved died from a brain tumor, or so his family — and viewers who tuned in to the 2009 finale of Prison Break — were led to believe. In truth, much like the actor who portrays him, Michael’s been pulled back into the business of breaking out of prison. And business, as they say, is booming.
But how did Michael find himself in a Midnight Express-esque hellscape instead of six feet under? For the answer to that, you’ll have to time-travel back to 2014, when actors Miller and Purcell reunited on the set of The Flash as Captain Cold and Heat Wave after not seeing each other for five years. “We started chatting and reminiscing,” Miller says. “Out of that back-and-forth came this idea: ‘What if we revisited Michael and Lincoln from Prison Break? Would Fox even be interested?’ It turns out they were.” The timing was fortuitous as Fox was already working on reboots for The X-Files and 24.
The next key move was getting Prison Break creator Paul Scheuring to come on board, which happened relatively fast after he met with Miller and saw his enthusiasm for a revival. “On some level, that break that we had of six to seven years in real life allowed Wentworth to appreciate what he had with Michael Scofield,” Scheuring says. “He said he wanted to inhabit it for a few more episodes. I said, ‘Look, nobody wants to revive this thing for multiple seasons and that whole long slog, but if we can tell a concise, closed-ended story in 9 or 10 episodes, I’d be amenable to that.'”
With that long break in mind, it was Scheuring who came up with the idea to use one of the most famous epics in history to revive the beloved series. “It’s ultimately a story about somebody coming back to life,” Scheuring says. “And the emotional heart of it is that he left behind a wife and a son he’s never seen before. [I thought] ‘Hey, wait, isn’t that The Odyssey?'” And Scheuring took his inspiration literally: In both tales, the heroes use the assumed named Outis and resurface after seven years in the foreign land of Ogygia, attempting to get home.
While reuniting the Prison Break team wasn’t met with Odyssey-level obstacles, there was certainly trepidation among the cast. Callies says she was probably the last actor to sign on. The Walking Dead alum — who is now starring on USA’s Colony — wanted to make sure the revival wasn’t just about “a bunch of actors and executive producers who want to cash some old checks,” she says. “My first thought was, it better be good.” Miller concurs: “My only hesitation was if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. There are so many fans out there who have such an appreciation for the original. If we’re going to try and add to the existing mythology, it had better hold up.”
Once the trio was in place, shooting began in early April, and all fears immediately evaporated on day one. “There’ve been divorces, marriages, coming-outs, babies, career changes, and yet the things about these people remain essential,” Callies says. “It was an emotional day. Our director came up to me and was like, ‘You have to stop crying. Sara is not losing her s— in this moment.’ I was like, ‘Okay, I’m trying. This is actually not an acting choice.'”
Arguably, though, the most difficult chapter in the return of Prison Break belongs to Purcell, who plops himself down to be interviewed and promptly smacks the back of his scarred head on a low-hanging cabinet. “My head can take anything,” the 46-year-old says in his gravelly tone. He’s not kidding: On Prison Break‘s Moroccan set in late May, he suffered a broken nose and several deep cuts to his head when an iron bar dropped on his face during the shooting of this season’s escape.
Looking back roughly two weeks later, Purcell says he wasn’t scared, as he shows off gory photos of the bloody fissures lining his skull. “I thought this could be the day that I actually die,” he recalls, praising girlfriend AnnaLynne McCord for jumping into action before he was helicoptered out of the remote shooting location to Casablanca, where a plastic surgeon told the actor his thick skin and strong build likely saved his life. “I may be a genetic freak, I suppose,” he says. “I dodged a lot of bullets that day.”
“It’s evidence that Dominic is a superhero, because it’s an accident that would’ve killed a mere mortal,” Callies says. “Two weeks later he was back at work.” In the intervening time, however, “I was just pissed,” Purcell says. “I felt like I had let the team down, and I was having to recover in this beautiful hotel in Casablanca while they’re sweating their asses off in Ouarzazate for four days.”
In this prison break, it’s Lincoln Burrows who has to step up in a major way. After spilling his suspicions about Michael’s fate to Sara (who has a new husband, played by Royal Pains’ Mark Feuerstein), Lincoln faces new threats in the form of villains Van Gogh (Steve Mouzakis) and A&W (Marina Benedict) even before he sets off for Yemen to follow a lead about his brother. “If people start finding out that Michael is still alive, then it puts their larger secret agenda at risk,” Scheuring teases. “They’ll kill anybody that finds out.” That’s par for the course for Lincoln, who’s always getting himself into trouble, but now he’s much more aware of the consequences of his actions. That’s why he’ll rely on the help of old friends and enemies like former Fox River inmates T-Bag (Robert Knepper), C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar), and Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), as well as Kellerman (Paul Adelstein).
While the offscreen dynamic between Purcell and Miller — who have costarred together on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow since their Flash reunion — has only grown, on screen their relationship has been challenged. Without the guiding force and conscience of his brother, Lincoln has lost his way. “There’s a resentment, but overwhelming joy that his brother’s alive,” Purcell says. “The weight of the world has been on both their shoulders since we last saw them, so it’s turned them into hardened, tragic figures.”
That’s especially true for Michael, who is not the same man we remember, either. “He’s walked a dark road,” Miller says. “In the years since we last saw him, he’s been a part of some deep, dark government-funded plots, and that’s left a mark on him. He is tortured by some of the things that he’s seen and that he’s participated in.” (He also has new ink: After losing his famous tattoos in the final season, he sports a new set on his lower arms and hands that prove crucial to this mission.)
Michael’s since been branded a terrorist with ties to ISIS, but ISIS isn’t the show’s only big bad, per se. Remember, Odysseus runs afoul of a Cyclops and Poseidon, to name a couple of nemeses, and so will Michael. “At the end of the day, this is not a story about ‘We’ve got to stop ISIS,'” Scheuring says. “It just happens to be that Michael has gotten mixed up with the worst possible antagonists, and they become an obstacle to get past.”
But with the series shooting 14-hour days, six-day weeks, and multiple episodes at the same time, Miller leaves the intricacies of the overarching mystery and why Michael ended up in Ogygia to others, instead deciding to focus on the micro with his physically demanding role. “I’m finding it challenging — maybe that’s being 43 and not 33,” Miller says with a surprisingly hearty laugh for someone so soft-spoken.
The cast may have aged, but the revival is going back to its roots, and Purcell says the new episodes are in keeping with the original tone. “The first season was just classic, beautiful storytelling,” he says, before pointing out one significant difference in the revival: A nine-episode format calls for faster-paced storytelling. Each episode is also full of Easter eggs for longtime viewers, but the hope is to gain new viewers, too. “It’s possible to watch the reboot not having seen the original and enjoy it for what it is,” Miller says. “But the viewing pleasure will certainly be deepened if you’re familiar with the [original].”
Should the revival prove successful, there’s already talk of another season, with rumors on set that the brothers would be China-bound — if they both survive. “I feel like there’s more story there, and now we’re talking about multiple generations,” Miller pitches. “Breaking my grandkid out of prison — one last break!”