In the pilot, we learn that Dr. Martin Whitly A.K.A. The Surgeon (Sheen) has been charged with 23 (known) murders and is living out his sentence in a gothic-looking psychiatric hospital, leaving his wife Bellamy Young (Scandal), son Malcolm (Payne) and daughter Ainsley (Halston Sage) on the outside to deal with the fallout and profound psychological affects of having a deranged killer for a husband/father. For Malcolm, that means using what insight he can gain from his father’s actions to help his police work, without letting his dad too thoroughly into his head. As you can imagine, a struggle ensues.
Ahead of the show’s premiere on Monday, September 23, we talked to Sheen about taking on such a deadly serious role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why made you want to be part of this series?
MICHAEL SHEEN: What I want to see in a pilot episode is lots of possibility, options, and things to potentially explore. I thought this was fascinating: We have a character who has done some of the most awful things that a human being can do and yet seems to be a loving father. He has all these contradictory things in him, and this central father/son relationship seems really problematic — in a good way. I just thought there was so much under the surface to look into and explore and be interesting and that’s perfect for a pilot episode because you think we could go anywhere.
Your character, The Surgeon, is a very dark, dangerous psychopath; how do you prepare for something like that?
This is about something that’s real; there are people who do this stuff, so there’s plenty to research. There’s been a surge of interest in serial killers recently and it was certainly important to me not to become detached from the reality of it. This is a horrible, destructive, painful, grief-filled landscape that we’re talking about. People always say it must be fun to play a big villain. It’s not fun or campy in that sense. If you start to go down that road then…I don’t know what that is — not anything I’m particularly interested in. What is interesting, is when things are surprising, don’t do what you expect, and confound your expectations. What’s enjoyable about acting in a drama is if there’s really interesting, complicated, surprising elements and aspects of the relationships and the character. This character is someone whose main preoccupation is control and yet he is reduced to staying in one room and doesn’t seem to have the ability to control anything — how does someone cope with that? So those kinds of things become fascinating.
How is working with Bellamy Young and Tom Payne as your wife and son?
Tom is a really hard-working actor and has really committed to it, emotionally and psychologically. There’s a really interesting dynamic there between those two characters; if the central character’s done the things that he’s done, is he capable of feeling love? And that is part of the mystery of him and what that relationship is and what he really wants out of it. That’s just fascinating and really interesting to explore what might happen in the future. And Bellamy’s character is just wonderful and she’s brilliant at playing it. Watching it, you can’t wait for those characters to have scenes together.
Does the show generally follow a procedural structure, with a different murder every week?
There is an element of a case that needs to be worked on each episode, but then there’s overarching storylines as well, so it’s not quite as prescriptive as there’s a case every week that Malcolm has to come and talk to his dad about. There are very strong threads going through the whole arc of the season, as well as individual things that happen in each episodes, so there’s a bit of both there.
The pilot sets up a pretty twisted, gothic tale to come. What can you tease?
I suppose it is kind of modern gothic. There’s repressed, under-the-surface horror and an almost operatic feel. Because of the social circles that the characters move in, you can imagine that if Tennessee Williams was going to write a horror, he might write this. Sometimes you forget what the audience is seeing and there are moments when I sit back and go, that is really daaark. It’ll be interesting to see people’s reactions.
Prodigal Son premieres Monday, September 23 at 9 p.m. on Fox.
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