It was a funny thing when word spread that Robert Knepper would be visiting the TV Guide offices here. Because as much as people wanted to meet the Prison Break star, there's still that apprehension. He does play T-Bag, after all, the most morally corrupt of the Fox hit's escaped cons. But when all was said and done, Knepper was greeted by many, and had this to share about Prison Break's debut season gone by and T-Bag's vengeance-filled and single-handed? days ahead.
TV Guide: What are they going to do about T-Bag's hand next season?
Robert Knepper: I actually called my doctor in L.A. I always call him for the weirdest things, for whatever part I'm working on and he said that if you put it on ice and can get to the doctor, you can [reattach it]. So T-Bag's going to try to find some ice. [Laughs] He's probably going to go to some farmhouse, kidnap a guy and get himself to the doctor.
TV Guide: I thought you were going to say you asked your doctor about a voluntary amputation for the role!
Knepper: My dad is a veterinarian and a huge fan of the show. When I called him a few days ago, he said, "I'm sorry I couldn't talk to you before, I was in surgery doing an amputation of a dog's leg. Hey, if it doesn't work out with [T-Bag's] hand, I've got this paw!" No, I think the hand will atrophy and they'll sew it back on but it won't take [He raises his hand, twitching it], so they'll have to get rid of it. I'll be walking around with a glove or something.
TV Guide: Oooh, you could get a hook.
Knepper: I could get a hook! My son would love that.
TV Guide: Now that's he's escaped, is T-Bag's priority going to be (a) finding Westmoreland/D.B. Cooper's money, (b) tracking down the old girlfriend or (c) getting back at Abruzzi?
Knepper: Going "out into the world" is exciting, but it's also really scary because I have no idea what's up next for T-Bag. I think he is a creature of habit, so the first thing he'll try to do, I'm sure, is to get a sense of security, so he will go to Mrs. Hollander and try to "set up shop" and she'll be all freaked out. My hope is that I won't kill her. T-Bag's also got to change his look.
TV Guide: Will you get to have a say in your new look?
Knepper: I created his look he was originally supposed to be 200 pounds with a gold tooth. I'm not a huge guy, but I thought I [should] have a tattoo not a big tattoo, just something to toughen myself up a little bit. So I took a pen before the audition and wrote "XOXOXO" around my finger. Little did I know how beautiful it would work out when we did the flashback episode and I realized the tattoo came after Mrs. Hollander turned me in and I went to prison. They asked me what kind of look I was thinking of [for next season]. I figure I'll shave [my goatee], but then I thought, "Oh, if I cut that off, I'm cutting off who I am." So I don't know how much of it I'll cut off. I'd also like to maybe bleach my hair, do something kind of funky. Whatever it is, it will still be a distinctively T-Bag thing.
TV Guide: You go back to work in a month, right?
Knepper: Yeah. A little less than a month.
TV Guide: Are you excited to go from chilly Chicago to Texas? [Season 2 is filming in Dallas.]
Knepper: I love Chicago so much! I went to Northwestern [University]. I'm going to miss it.
TV Guide: Will Texas be "playing" Texas, or will it be standing in for Utah and/or Mexico?
Knepper: I think Texas is [playing] "America," generic middle America. In Chicago, the weather changes all the time, plus now that we've broken out, it takes two hours to get out of Chicago to get the kinds of locations we'll need.
TV Guide: Why was Texas picked?
Knepper: One of the producers lives in Dallas, so I'm sure that was a reason. They were actually thinking about Santa Fe, but with Santa Fe you know it's Santa Fe, with the Georgia O'Keefe colors and stuff. It was almost going to be Phoenix, but I'm really glad it's not. Nothing against Phoenix, but I've just heard it's so f---ing hot! [Laughs] But it's going to be hot in Dallas, too.
TV Guide: Tell us about that "thing" T-Bag does with his "sideways" tongue.
Knepper: I grew this [goatee] for the part, and so early on I was just getting used to the whiskers, that's how it started. Then when I went home this time for hiatus, I realized my little boy does it all the time it's genetic. In the episode where Westmoreland's going to die and he says, "We've got $5 million dollars," the writer actually wrote in the script, "And then T-Bag does that thing with his tongue." [Laughs]
TV Guide: Were you glad they didn't whitewash T-Bag's past too much in the flashback? He remained a solid villain.
Knepper: You cannot tell a story if you don't have conflict, and I think the whole conflict between Abruzzi and T-Bag was great. There was an episode where I swore vengeance on Michael and I stand up and Abruzzi sets me down. I look up at him and originally it was written, "I-I-I was going to come to you. I-I-I was going to get the green light." T-Bag was stuttering and bending over for Abruzzi. I said, "I started a whole riot against the blacks. Now I've got to come to him to kill Michael? It's weird that he'd still have to answer to John Abruzzi." I brought up that idea with the writers, and now we had a whole other conflict brewing between T-Bag and Abruzzi, which supposedly ended with the slitting of the throat, but continued with the hand.
There was a great line that they cut. When I want to kill Michael, I come up to him and say, "Oh, you look so pretty when you're scared. Why don't we just get the love right out of the way? I think I'm going to light up that leather donut once and for all." [Series creator] Paul Scheuring was so crazy about [that line]. He later came into a writers' meeting and the writers all looked up, thinking Paul was going to say the show had been canceled or something. They said, "What's wrong?" and he said, "'Leather donut' isn't going to make it." He was so upset!
TV Guide: Did you know Abruzzi was going to survive the slitting?
Knepper: I always hoped he would come back, because that scene was emotional. [Peter Stormare and I] both said it was like working for The Public Theater again. A lot of times in television, even on a show like this with great writing, you don't get scenes like that.
TV Guide: What do you make of Prison Break's avid following?
Knepper: My wife calls it my "champagne problem." I don't know if it will last. I don't know how I feel about it. I'm still torn. I love the fact that people love the show so much and really love T-Bag. Luckily they don't think I am T-Bag. It's wild, a wild ride. There will be another role someday, but until then, I'm loving this one!