In Part 2 of ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with actor Robert Knepper, he talks about his new projects, working with the late Bill Paxton on last year’s miniseries TEXAS RISING and more about returning to his role as Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell in Fox Network’s PRISON BREAK revival.
ROBERT KNEPPER: I’ve got three or four other indie movies that are coming out soon – FRAT PACK, BADSVILLE …
ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve talked about working on THE DATING GAME KILLER …
KNEPPER: Oh, my God, what an intense project. Leslie Greif, who was my producer on TEXAS RISING, put this movie together for ID. And what an incredible way to cast the characters. Because I didn’t play the character that everyone would think that I would play, I didn’t play Rodney Alcala, the serial killer [played in the film by Guillermo Diaz], I played the detective. It’s a conglomeration of different detectives, but they put it all into one detective. He spends his entire career trying to make sure Rodney Alcala doesn’t kill any more people. Rodney Alcala was the most prolific serial killer in America. He killed, that we know of, or that we suspect, at least a hundred and thirty people, and he’s still alive on Death Row. And to cast the guy who used to play T-Bag, who used to play the hunter, now to play the hunter hunting the hunted is I think genius on [Greif’s] part. And it’s so close to my heart. Once in awhile, a fan will write in, “I just can’t see you in any other role, you’re T-Bag, T-Bag, T-Bag.” And then other fans will get involved and say, “F*** you. He’s an actor. That was a character he played. Now look at these other roles.” This is a guy going after [someone who is like] T-Bag, and I loved it. I realized that detectives and actors are very much alike. We want and we need to uncover the truth, and that’s what detectives do. And then to top it all off, I think he’s the tenth character I’ve played within a year’s frame.
Kiefer Sutherland – I did two pictures with him years ago, RENEGADES with Kiefer and Lou Diamond [Phillips], and then after we wrapped, they were getting ready to do YOUNG GUNS II, and they called me up and said, “There’s this funny little role of the sheriff in the movie, and Kiefer would really like you to be in it.” How cool is that? And then, I think it was the early ‘90s, Kiefer was trying to find his next project. This was before 24. He worked out at Gold’s Gym in Hollywood, I worked out at Gold’s Gym in Hollywood, and I would see him there every once in awhile. And I went in one day, he looked at me and he said, “Hey, Knep, how’s it going?” It was a really bad day for me, and I said, “Kief, I’m thinking about giving up acting.” And he hauled off and decked me so hard in the shoulder, and he looked at me and he said, “Don’t you ever, ever give up acting. You’re too f***ing good.” And I remember thanking him, and all of these years, I said, yeah, he saved me for another day.
So he called me – we’ve been in touch over the years, we don’t see each other a lot, but we’ll see each other socially once in awhile – and he said, “Look, I’m singing now, I’ve got this song that I did called ‘Shirley Jean.’ It’s named after my mother, but it’s not about my mother. [Knepper’s role is the protagonist], a guy who’s going to be executed in prison, and it’s a song about his old love, Shirley Jean, his old girlfriend, and he wants her to know before he goes how he feels about her. I’m going to shoot it [in] THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION kind of style.” Anybody else had asked me to do that, I would have said, “Guys, please. Get me some variety here. I don’t want to play guys in prison any more. I’m done with that. But it was Kiefer, and he’d saved me for another day, so I said yes. And he just wrote me the most beautiful text a couple of days ago, saying, “You’re not going to believe this thing when you see it. It is so amazing, you are so amazing in it. Everyone I showed it to says the same thing. I can’t wait to show it to you.” [When I saw it], I started crying. It was basically a music video – it’s a silent film. But I just had to do it, and it’s such a sweet thing that he asked me to do it, and it’s a great story. The song itself tells a great story. You can listen to it on YouTube. I remember years ago listening to Tom Waits singing “Waltzing Matilda.” It’s got that great kind of feeling of, this is going to be a song, I think, that’s not just country/western, but catches on in bars, when it’s playing, when it’s flipping in the jukebox, everybody in the frickin’ bar is going to want to sing along with this song. And I’m so happy for [Sutherland], and I’m so happy that the song is going to do well, and hopefully the video will be a nice accompaniment to it.
AX: In TEXAS RISING, did you get to work with Bill Paxton at all?
KNEPPER: Most of my stuff is with Bill Paxton.
AX: Do you have anything you’d like to say about him, as an actor or as a person?
KNEPPER: I think you can’t ever predict when this is going to happen [Paxton died unexpectedly in February at the age of sixty-one], but it falls under the category of, live each moment fully and absolutely respect those moments that you have, because you never know when those are going to be your last moments. I think about every moment with him since he’s passed. I didn’t think about them a lot at all. It was like, “He’s an actor, he’s young, sixty-one years old, I’ll work with him again.” We had an amazing time. From Day One, he was the most welcoming person. I didn’t know that he knew me. He says, “Rob, come here! God, I love your work, it’s so good to see you here, man, so glad you’re a part of it.” He was so emotionally invested in that project, because he is a direct descendant of the character he played, Sam Houston, and like HATFIELDS AND McCOYS, he gave it his all. Through it all, to see the captain of the ship be so caring and so loving … When we weren’t working, we were sitting around the pool, drinking beers and … He’ll just creep into my thoughts every so often, and I know it’s because he’s dead. I understand that. But those moments – normally, as human beings, we don’t have time to reminisce. I mean, I look at my son’s life, and I go, “Jesus, he’s fourteen years old.” When he was a child, I didn’t ponder on those moments. Now that he’s fourteen, I go, “Oh, my God, I missed those little moments with him.” But I’ve got to stay in the moment. And Bill Paxton’s probably smiling on us, going, “Yeah, stay in the moment. I’m here, when you get a chance, think about me, and live your life. Live your life right now to the fullest.”
AX: You were also on the most recent season of HOMELAND as a renegade general. How was that experience?
KNEPPER: HOMELAND was a real treat, because as you can see from the show, I get to work with Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham. Murray and I did an incredible production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at the Public [Theatre in New York] years ago, in 1985. Joe Papp decided he wanted to do the entire [Shakespeare] canon again, and his first one was A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Murray played Bottom, I played Lysander, Elizabeth McGovern played Helena, Joe Morton played Oberon, but he was the second one. Carl Lumbly was the first Oberon. John Leguizamo was in it, he played Puck. The play ran so long that it pretty much went through two casts, although Murray and I and Elizabeth stayed in it from the beginning. So in the theatre, when you have an experience like that, those people are mates for life. Anywhere we see each other around the globe, it’s like, “Hey, man, oh, so good to see you!” I saw Elizabeth McGovern a couple weeks ago at a party up at the Chateau Marmont. Same kind of thing. I haven’t seen her since we did the play. So with Murray, it was like old home week, and it was so great. Plus, I’m not giving any secrets away here, it’s shot in New York, and any time I get a chance to shoot in New York, I’m a happy puppy.
AX: And are you enjoying iZOMBIE, where you’re playing a very powerful character who has some unusual physical attributes?
KNEPPER: All my stuff is with David Anders, who plays my son. [The father/son characters] have this hateful, vitriolic relationship with each other. We spew out words to each other. They’re both really, really smart, brilliant people, but they absolutely hate each other, father and son. And [iZOMBIE co-creator] Rob Thomas gave me and David some of the juiciest words I’ve ever been able to say, and I wish that I could say them all the time, because he just makes me seem so damn smart. And it’s funny. He’s an amazing writer. And again, it’s one of those characters that – I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and I’m so much more focused than I was before, but if I put my mind to it, I just open my mouth and let my feet go forward, and things happen. I’ve got to say, it’s nice to be an instinctual actor, and I thank my many teachers at Northwestern University, and I also thank Bill Esper in New York. All of them taught me to react, as opposed to act. And lots of great stuff comes out because of that.
AX: Where did you shoot this edition of PRISON BREAK?
KNEPPER: In Vancouver. I absolutely love, I’ve always loved Vancouver, but my wife’s from Vancouver as well, so it was great to be up there with her. We love hiking, love nature. We saved a goose one night [it was stuck and the Kneppers took it to a vet, then set it free when it was recovered]. It’s always nice to do things to counteract people’s opinions of, what they think is they know this guy playing T-Bag, and then turns around and he actually does care, he does love.
AX: It’s great that you got to be in the right place at the right time to be able to do it and you did it.
KNEPPER: I’m the son of a veterinarian, my wife is a huge animal lover. One time, we were in Santa Monica, a dog’s running down the street. She yelled, “Stop, stop, I’ve got to save that dog!” We pull over, she’s running down Santa Monica, I catch up with her in the car and we helped save a dog that had gotten off its leash. It was a match made in heaven, pretty damn great.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: PRISON BREAK: Star Robert Knepper on iZOMBIE, Bill Paxton and more – PART 2 – Exclusive Interview