“Alcatraz” premieres on Fox tonight (Jan. 16th) and we were lucky enough to take a ferry to the famous prison with a group of press to chat with the cast … in the shower room, no less. With the creaks and groans of metal in the background, we talked to stars Sam Neill, Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia and Parminder Nagra about the mystery of the missing inmates and guards.
After the chat, we ate dinner in the mess hall and screened the pilot in the famous cell block D, where prisoners were put into solitary confinement. We even chatted with an elderly former Alcatraz inmate who told us he’d spent 29 days in solitary and 5 days in the “hole” with no light and little food. When we asked him why, he told us, “I tried to break out of the prison and burn it down.” Oh. Oh dear.
The show takes place in modern time, but flashes back to the early sixties when the prison was shut down. Police woman Rebecca Madson (Jones) finds herself in the middle of a mystery about a number of prisoners who never made it back to the mainland and the cover up that took place. She finds Dr. Diego Soto (Garcia), who knows all about the history of the prison and teams up with him to solve the murder of the former head of Alcatraz.
Garcia’s character is not just a doctor and an author of books about
Alcatraz. He’s also a comic book fan, like the man who plays him. When
asked if those references were put in for him, he said, “No. Not at all.
I mean, they originally … in the original script, Doc was more of a
college professor. But when Elizabeth Sarnoff took a pass at the script,
they kind of decided to make him more of this guy. From there, J.J.
Abrams and her were thinking I’d be a good fit for the role.”
The legendary Sam Neill plays Emerson Hauser, a mysterious lawman that recruits the two to be part of a special task force that is investigating why the prisoners are reappearing, not having aged at all. “He’s a dangerous, and slightly unhinged man,” Neill said. “I like that. I like that I’m him. I wouldn’t probably choose him as my … actually, I probably would choose him as my friend. Because he’s look after my back.” He told us that most of the cast don’t know very much about the facts of the case but that he does and isn’t talking.
Everyone talked about the amount of research they did for their roles. Garcia laughed, saying, “The beauty of playing an expert in a scripted drama on TV is that they tell you what to say. So if I can deliver it with enough confidence, I can get away with it. Although, since starting, I’ve absorbed a lot of trivia about Alcatraz. I’ve even recorded kind of a fake tour or slide show narration about it that gave me a bunch of knowledge.”
Nagra plays a tech/psychologist who is working with Neill’s character. She is definitely not what she seems. Nagra said, “She’s a funny one. It’s a funny fish. She’s really not sort of going to be who she appears to be. I think it will hopefully be interesting for people to watch. It’s certainly been interesting for me to play.”
Star Sarah Jones begins the pilot by running and jumping over rooftops. “Prior to the pilot, I got heavily into boxing,” she said of her training. “I started running because, you know, I have to do a lot of it. I tried to condition my body as much as I could.” She told us she really loves doing her own stunts. “I do as much as insurance will let me. We had a stunt the other day where glass was exploding and I said, ‘It’s fine. I can do this.’ And they said, ‘No. No. If glass gets in your face, we’re done. We can’t continue the show.'”
“Alcatraz” premieres tonight on Fox.