Interview with Robert Knepper

Everyone who has seen him on screen knows to expect great acting. Robert Knepper, known from "Prison Break", "Carnivàle" and soon to be seen on "Heroes", told myFanbase about his previous characters, his future projects and his job as an actor.


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1. When and why did you decide to become an actor?

When I was a little boy my mother was in charge of 'props' for our little community theater in Maumee, Ohio. Maumee, (pronounced 'maw-mee') is an old indian word that means 'beautiful river valley,' which it was. I remember sitting in the front row at a production of TEN LITTLE INDIANS. I was nine years old. All of a sudden I thought, "I know who did it! I know who the killer is!!" I thought for sure he was going to jump off the stage and kill me!

At that moment I was transfixed by the power of story telling in the theater. That summer, the community theater and the town teamed up and started a children's theater. On the 'signing up' day, my mother dropped me off early at the town library. To pass the time, I climbed the tallest tree. Looking down, I saw kids, the size of ants, gathering down below. One kid tugged on the sleeve of the director, Mr. Markle, and pointed up to me, perched on top of the tree. He shouted up, "Hey! You want to join the theater!?" I shrugged my shoulders, said "yes, why not," and climbed down.

2. You were part of "Carnivàle". If you look back, which episode is your favourite and why?

"Carnivále" was an amazing experience, full of great actors - particularly a favorite, fellow classmate of mine from Northwestern University, Clancy Brown (Brother Justin). And then, of course, there's the incomparable Amy Madigan. I loved ALL of our scenes together, each one progressing toward the entrapment of Tommy Dolan.

3. Did you know from the beginning, or at least since the beginning of season 2, that Dolan would sacrifice himself for Iris? Or were you as surprised as the viewers?

I learned a long time ago to embrace 'carpe diem,' both in life and in my work. With television, I rarely ask 'what's next?' I try to stay in the moment. I just shoot that one particular episode. So 'no,' I didn't know that Tommy would be a pawn.

4. What's the difference between working at a premium cable network like HBO and working at a "normal" network like FOX?

In my experience, there's very little difference between working for cable versus network television. Yes, there are more cooks in the kitchen on network tv, but they all end up realizing I'm a collaborator instead of a bully, anyway, so the story still gets told the way it should.

5. For four years you played the part of T-Bag on "Prison Break". How did you prepare yourself to play a sadistic sex offender?

From one of the greatest acting teachers, William Esper, I learned two things: play the 'opposite' and use your Imagination. The word 'charming' kept coming up when I thought of T-Bag. That's all I used, at the beginning. I imagined that he didn't lay around his cell thinking, "I'm a sadistic sex offender." Instead, "how can I make the most of my life, in here?"

6. Did you audition for the part of T-Bag? What tempted you most in getting this role?

Yes, I auditioned. I REALLY needed a job... a big job. It just happened to work out. Although I'm a father and naturally despise pedophiles, I loved how twisted, charming and funny this guy was.

7. Dominic Purcell once said in an interview that you are "what you would call a method guy, very character oriented". Do you see yourself as a method actor? How did this affect your time on set while you were not in front of the camera?

I think all the actors on "Prison Break" work the same way. We're all 'method actors,' if it can be defined this way: when you hear the word, "cut!" You 'drop' out of it. We all joked with each other. (The first year I faxed a cartoon drawing to my son every night, so I would go back to my chair and 'doodle', then step back into whatever heinous thing I was doing, in the moment!) The actor has an awareness of when the lighting is finished and when we're about to start shooting again. It's during that time, that we 'get back into character'. The crew knew I was good for a laugh... They also knew when to leave me the hell alone! "Uh oh! Here comes T-Bag!"

8. At the end of season 1 Abruzzi cut off T-Bags hand. Since then you had to play with an artificial limb. What was it like to work with such a thing? What impression did that leave behind?

The hand... ah, the hand. Favorite 'opening line' when fans pass me by: "wow! You got your hand sewn back on!!" It was quite a challenge at first, figuring out how I was going to be able to do the simplest things. Then I got the hang of it. Now I'm on to the show, HEROES and it's a great realization I can use both hands!

9. T-Bag is one of the few survivors of the Fox River 8. Did you believe at some point that he wouldn’t survive until the end?

I think the fans dictated somewhat, the fate of T-Bag. We all knew he was a 'favorite', yet you can't count on anything in this business. So again, I just 'seized the day' and enjoyed every moment.

10. If you look back, which season of "Prison Break" do you think was the best and why?

For the show as a whole, hands down, the first season was the best. For T-Bag, second season was most challenging. Scattered throughout ALL seasons were memorable moments for all of us.

11. Are there funny experiences you made on set that you can tell us about?

Just know: whenever you see really intense scenes, those were the days we were joking around the most. Just like cops or doctors, it's how we kept our sanity. Always a laugh is spreading peanut butter under a table that's about to be lifted.

12. The show was confronted with much criticism during the last seasons. Did that ever affect you or the other cast members? Or did you just ignore it?

"just ignored it."

13. Did you like the season finale? Or would you have done it differently?

Loved the ending. Great 'book end' way to do it....for all of our characters.

14. Have you kept any "Prison Break" mementos?

I went through several 'hands'. Kept one of those. And was given those great 'snake skin' shoes... the ones T-Bag bought (or stole!) when he made his surprise visit to Mrs. Hollander in the second season. (LOVE those damn shoes!!)

15. You will be part of the next season of "Heroes". Can you tell us anything about your storyarc? What kind of character do you play and how important is he within the volume?

HEROES is my new family. I'll be there for awhile, I have a feeling. We're playing with a 'keith richards' kind of look. I'm on to the third episode now. Just like T-Bag, we'll see how long 'Samuel' lasts. Fans, let 'em know if you love me! The rest are secrets... you'll find out when the 'lights come up' on the fourth season.

16. How was your first day on set? What was your first impression of the cast and crew?

First day of HEROES was like every other day on every project I've ever worked on: exhilarating, nerve wracking... no sleep the night before. You'd think this would get easier over the years!

17. Do you have any other new projects you can tell us about?

I like where "Prison Break" took me, internationally. I love finally being in a position where my name means something. (Thank you, fans!) I don't wanna lose that position so I'm developing good stories for television series and features.

18. Since myFanbase is an online magazine about TV series, do you have a favorite one?

To be honest, I hardly ever watch television. I grew up without it. Dad hated it! My sister and I had to 'sneak' the tv set out of a closet to watch 'Dark Shadows' and cartoons. I keep promising to start watching, on a regular basis, some of the greatest television ever made... shows like "Carnivale", "Prison Break", "Heroes". Heard of them?


Annika Leichner - myFanbase