By: Izumi Hasegawa March 29, 2017
I still remember the first time I met to Paul Sheuring the creator of Prison Break, it was right around the time the pilot of Prison Break aired back in 2005 and we had a great lunch interview at L.A. Farm restaurant and the funny part looking back is neither of us had any idea the huge success the show would become.
I ended up working as a reporter that covered all things Prison Break for Japanese market, visiting the prison at Joliet, as well as Texas and Fox studio. It was a great ride and one I thought had come to the end of it’s ride. Little did I know then the trip was far from over as Prison Break is back. Not only that, Paul Scheuring who had left the show after it’s second season, is also back.
So here I am coming full circle roughly 12 years later sitting down with the world’s most popular creator of a prison.
Q: Did you watch Prison Break after you stopped working on it?
Larry David is one of the original creators of Seinfeld and someone asked him if he ever watches Seinfeld anymore and he said, “I can’t because the only two possible things that happen if you watch, neither of them are good, are: they completely f**k it up, or two, it’s awesome and that means they didn’t need you.” I kind of felt the same way, I told my story, and I don’t want to know. I never watched it, so some of the fans are going to ask questions like, “but the show ended this way and the season is starting this way?” I didn’t see the last show. That’s not my version of it; this is my version of it.
Q: This next Prison Break begins with the part where you left off?
You’re assuming it picks up 7 years after the last show, the last episode.
Q: The last one even if you weren’t involved?
No I never watched it, apparently Michael (Scofield, played by Wentworth Miller) died and they removed his tattoos. Those were not creative decisions that I would’ve necessarily made. I just opted to ignore that. I guess I acknowledged that he was dead because we are effectively bringing him back to life here. The mystery of how he could be alive is central to this season. I guess in that sense I’m aware of what happened at the end of season 4.
Q: What do we call this Prison Break? Is it a sequel or remake?
In the terminology of the networks it’s an “event series”, so it’s a self-contained story. In the old version of Prison Break, you had the perpetual serialized narrative, and then you had the next and (so on). This one acknowledges the history of the show, but has its own story and ends. It’s not saying come back next season for more of this particular narrative. This is its own self-contained narrative from beginning to end. I can deeper into that of what the story actually is.
Q: How involved were you? Did you pitch it to Fox?
Well, it’s interesting because Wentworth and Dominic (Purcell, plays Lincoln Burrows) came with the idea of bringing the show back. They had no idea what the story would be. They said they had to get me. I said, “It has to be a great story.” Wentworth has to be engaged, because he was very unhappy towards the end of the run.
Wentworth is really in a good place. He looks good, he feels good and so it was really nice to meet with him. Once I recognized the participants are where they needed to be, I said, “Well what would the story be, because clearly our protagonist is dead.”
I said, “Well clearly we have to bring him back to life, and what he left behind was a wife and son he never saw. Clearly that’s the emotional heart of the story.” A man comes back from the dead and he goes to see… His overriding motivation in the series is to get back to his wife and this son. I’m like, “Hold on, I know that narrative. That’s the Odyssey.”
Odysseus goes off the radar for seven years and appears in a mysterious land called “Ogygia” under an assumed named Outis and if you watch episode one of “Prison Break” the prison is named Ogygia, Michaels name is Outis and the whole point of the series is for him to get back to his wife and son he’s never seen before, Penelope and Telemachus.
In the sense that we’re using the same characters as the previous episodes, yes it’s a continuation. On another level, we’ve just told the story of the Odyssey and put it in a prison, so it’s its own story.
Q: Dominic and Wentworth also worked together in another show. Guess we can assume after Prison Break they decided how much they enjoy working together.
I think that’s right, I think they realized how special a series it was for them. I think they really came to appreciate it in its absence and were willing to get back in and have at those characters again. In Legends of Tomorrow, they are part of an ensemble. There are a number of characters running around, and they’re just one of six guys and the camera is almost never on them. I think they were very enthused with the prospect of being leads on a worldwide hit like this.
Q: It must be a great feeling professionally to have them come back to you for the new launch even after leaving the show.
I don’t know if this is an apocryphal story or not. Their people kind of nudged Fox and said we’re interested in this. Dana Waldon and Gary Newman are the presidents of Fox supposedly said, “It’s all about Paul, and you have to get Paul.” Apparently they Dana and Gary were the same creative executives when we started the series. They were the ones that got behind it and believed in it in the first place.
They’re still there today and I hope that story is true, because they had a lot of faith in me, and the only good expression of it is if I came back. So the funny thing is I came with this high fluting idea about the Odyssey and all these kinds of things. I came in and I pitched it to Fox and I walked out of the room and I thought, “I slayed it, they’re going to buy it.” Of course they did, but I realized the amount of business they do on this show, I could’ve said anything like, “They break out of a chicken coop. We want it, go!” Anyhow, that’s some of the genesis of this year’s series.
Q: You have said that it was you, yourself that made the decision to leave the show. Looking back, do you have any regrets? Also, will you have a new focus this time?
I’m a close-ended… no regret at all. I kind of stuck to my creative guns. When I pitched the original Prison Break in 2003 to Fox I said, “Here’s the story, here’s how the season ends, here’s how the show ends. This is a close-ended story.” The whole story is one season. They said, “We need more.”
I said, “Look, I can probably accordion it to two seasons. The escape will be at the end of season one and they’ll be on the run for season 2. If it’s successful after that, then good for you guys, I’m not going to do it.” I stuck to the creative plan and it’s funny because if you watch season two again, it has a very specific, focused arc and around the last commercial break, there’s this huge right turn. The whole series is wrapping up and all the seasons of “Prison Break” are going to be over forever and ever. Then all of a sudden there is this big commercial break where it takes the right turn and [imitates a screeching car] “He’s in a Panamanian Jail” [laughs].
That was I going [strained], “Okay here’s season three and here’s what you’re going to get” [laughs]. I do feel the quality this year is going to be as strong as season one and two.
Q: So it’s going to be two seasons?
Dominic is going on Twitter and saying, “Oh yeah, season 6 is going to be coming out and that’s when they kill Michael and kill Lincoln.” That’s just Dominic, he comes up with ideas.
Q: So Dominic, Wentworth, Sarah (Wayne Callies, plays Dr. Sara Tancredi), Robert Knepper (plays Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell) and…
Rockmond Dunbar (plays Benjamin Miles “C-Note” Franklin) comes back, Amaury (Nolasco, plays Fernando Sucre). Oh, you know who shows up? Paul Edelstein (plays Paul Kellerman).
Q: And William Fichtner (plays Alex Mahone)?
No Fichtner. I didn’t bring him back. I wanted him back. I didn’t want to bring anybody back who was not (playing) an integral role in the season. In other words I didn’t want anyone (standing) in the back saying, “Hi I’m in the scene too. I don’t belong here, but I’m part of the show.” If you watch the show, each character has a specific purpose in the season. I couldn’t find a spot for Fichtner. The fans are all saying, “Fichtner season 6, right?” and I’m saying yeah [weakly].
Q: What’s the secret to making a successful TV show?
Boy, there are a lot of pieces to that answer; diligence. I was talking to somebody who just finished their first work of writing last week, and they’re very frustrated and sensitive to criticism. I said, “Writing makes everybody the biggest wussy in the world.” The problem is that everybody quits as soon as they feel how excruciating it is to take editorial notes and criticism from other people. Invariably, most people quit after they’ve written just one thing. That’s actually the foundation, because the next one is better (and so on). So what you’re writing is really the foundation for the 10th and 20th one. So if you stay at it, you improve right?
There’s also a joke in Hollywood that goes, “Stick around for 10 years, they’ll have to hire you, because everyone else quit.” You got to be dogged. Someone else asked me what the secret to writing is; he was concerned with prose and writing in general. My favorite quote about writing is by Hemmingway about the secret to writing, and he said “Ass plus chair.” That’s it. Put your ass in a chair every day and write. It’s true because writers and many artists are so precious about these things. “I don’t know if it’s right for me to write today, I’m writing nothing.” I’m very much a fan of doing the work and building your abilities. A lot of luck is involved, (it’s all about) who you know.
Q: Any big splurges with your financial success from Prison Break?
I don’t talk about money. What have I done with my proceeds? I did a little bit of everything. I don’t buy Bentleys. There’s this great quote by Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson has had this long storied career of course, but 10 or 15 years ago, he was wracked by doubt but nevertheless he’s Liam Neeson and he’s working all the time. They asked him that same question, and he said, “Oh I don’t spend it, because I have that good Irish fear of never working again.”
As a writer, I always think, “This is my last job, so I’m not spending anything.” I don’t have expensive tastes as you can tell [points to his leather jacket and flannel and laughs]. It’s out of a position of frugality and fear, and plus I think bling is gross.
Q: On March 7th your new book, The Far Shore was released, moving forward what would you say you want to focus on more, books, TV or Movies or all of the above?
Everything. I just sold a film to Paramount, so I’m going to do a feature with that. With this book (“The Far Shore”, Paul’s new novel released on March 7th), prose is what I originally started writing. I set out to be a novelist and accidentally became a novelist. So I decided I wanted to get back to my original love which is prose. I think am going to wear a lot of hats, and it’s stimulating to wear a lot of hats. On one level, you write a book, you are the creative guy in the box. You’re by yourself writing. Type type type type type (and so on). There are great creative reveries associated with that, a creative high of making things. At the same time it’s very lonely and I paint also. It’s the same thing when I painted, you’re the guy in the box and there’s no one else there.
Film provides an opportunity to be very social. You can be part of a collective effort. You can all build towards something together. There’s something really rewarding about creating in a social environment as opposed to being that artist isolated in the box. But I need a little of that too [laughs].
The Far Shore is available bookstores, amazon, Indie Bound. For more info visit Paul’s official website at, https://www.paultscheuring.com/
Prison Break: Sequel (TV Mini-Series) will be aired on April 4th for more info visit the official page on Fox at http://www.fox.com/prisonbreak
Interview by Izumi Hasegawa – @HNW_Izumi
Edited by: Jody Taylor – @RealJodyTaylor
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