Wentworth MillerSource Your high quality source for Wentworth
9 November 2008   1 Comment



The times are a-changing, sang Bob Dylan, and so is the definition of ethnic and cultural identity. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to parents from Kenya and Kansas and was partly raised in Indonesia. Tiger Woods is half Thai and half southern California black – and his wife is a blue-eyed, blonde Swedish model. But maybe the most extreme example of the 21st-century everyman is actor Wentworth Miller, star of the hit television series Prison Break and someone who personifies the term “melting pot” when it comes to genealogy.

It would have been enough to claim that he was born in England, was largely raised in Brooklyn and continues to linger a finger in both the Anglo and American pies with dual citizenship. But Miller’s heritage is far more complex than that. His mother descends from Russian, Arab, French and Dutch immigrants to America; his father mixes Jamaican, German, British and African-American genes. If that doesn’t define “citizen of the world,” what does?

Miller is also a horse of a far different colour when it comes to Hollywood – a bone fide intellectual in a town (and industry) where success is normally determined by good looks rather than the combination of gears whirling inside your skull. He attended one of America’s top 100 high schools, Midwood in Brooklyn, and then went on to distinguish himself at Princeton, where he studied English literature and drew political cartoons for the student newspaper.

It was at Midwood that he got his first taste of the stage lights as a member of SING!, a highly competitive musical theatre programme started by New York City schools in the late 1940s. Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Paul Simon are among those who cut their teenage acting teeth in the programme, so Miller was in good company. From SING! it was a natural progression to joining the Princeton Tigertones, an all-male a cappella group. “Stinky” (that was Miller’s nickname) sang baritone in their live performances and on a Tigertones album called Cheers released in 1994.

A year later he was in Los Angeles, trying to break into showbiz. His first gig was working part-time in the development department of a production company that made TV movies. But within a couple of years he was snagging on-screen parts. His first TV acting job was playing a humanoid sea monster on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1998. After playing bit parts in several unheralded (and largely unwatched) shows, Miller finally hit the big time with a starring role in the 2002 television miniseries Dinotopia, a dazzling mix of live action and special effects that earned five Emmys.

Miller didn’t get a chance to really test his acting chops until 2003, when he auditioned for the film version of the best-selling Philip Roth novel The Human Stain. The central figure in the story is erudite college professor Coleman Silk, a light-skinned African-American who has spent his whole life passing himself off as white rather than face racial prejudice. Given his own ethnic make-up, it was a role that fit Miller to a tee. And it came across in the audition. “When I was done, [the casting director] was in tears and I was in tears,” he told The New Yorker magazine. There was no small irony in the fact that the movie’s producers made him prove his own ethnicity by showing them family photos.

The film got mixed reviews – The Times of London dubbed it “sapping and unbelievable melodrama.” But Miller generally drew praise for his portrayal of the young Coleman, while Anthony Hopkins played the older Silk. In some respects, he trumped the Oscar-winning Welshman. The review in Variety raved that “Miller, who gives a strong, muted performance, convinces as a light-skinned African-American in a way Hopkins never does.”

In intellectual terms, there wasn’t much of a leap from Coleman Silk to Michael Scofield, the brilliant young structural engineer who Miller plays in Prison Break, a fact that no doubt helped him land a starring role in the groundbreaking television drama. The basic premise of the show is simple yet daring: younger brother gets himself thrown into prison to help older brother accused of a crime he didn’t commit. But much like Miller’s own background, both Scofield and the ongoing plots are much more complicated than they may seem at first glance.

For instance, Scofield is afflicted with a neurological condition called “low latent inhibition,” which prevents him from blocking out and selectively processing the countless stimuli that engulf people every day. Combined with a high IQ, this gives Scofield a superhuman ability to diagnose and evaluate his surroundings – a handy skill to have when you’re trying to break out of prison and battle the shadowy political-corporate conspiracy that put your brother on death row.

Miller’s multilayered take on Scofield earned him a 2005 Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Drama Series and is cited as one of the main reasons why a show that seemed destined to last only one season is into its fourth year on US network television. Despite its critical acclaim, Prison Break has always been a modest success in America. Not so overseas, where the series has proved a breakout hit in countries as far flung as Australia, France, Poland and Serbia. The show’s first season in Hong Kong broke the local record for viewership of a foreign drama previously held by The X-Files.

Despite his increasing popularity, the 36-year-old actor has somehow avoided becoming regular fodder for the tabloid press. Whenever he’s asked about his love life, Miller almost always throws out a stock answer that he’s too busy for that sort of thing – which hasn’t prevented outfits like Who magazine from tabbing him as one of the sexiest men on the planet, along with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jude Law and Johnny Depp.

[b]Are you surprised by the success of Prison Break outside the US?[/b]
We’ve got an incredibly loyal fan base here in the States but the show is by no means a smash hit. So it was a real surprise to discover there were millions of people out there beyond our borders who totally dug our hard work. It’s really gratifying to think that in Africa, Asia, Europe and everywhere in between, there are fans making room for us in their lives. I now know that pretty much anywhere I go I’m going to run into people who know my face like they know their friends and family. And that’s pretty extraordinary.

[b]What gives the show such international appeal?[/b]
I think the show’s themes are universal. It’s got action, adventure, romance, etc. But at its heart, it’s about family. It’s about how far one man is willing to go to save a loved one. And that’s something that anyone anywhere can relate to.

[b]How did you snag the role of Michael Scofield? Just a regular audition?[/b]
Actually, to be honest, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel by the time I came along. Every young actor in Hollywood had read for that part, but they still hadn’t found their guy. I was the very, very last person to audition for Michael Scofield and after that, it all happened pretty quickly. I read the script on a Friday, auditioned for it the next Monday, had my call-back on Tuesday, found out I had the part Tuesday night and we were in Chicago shooting the pilot the following week. It all happened really quickly, which I think worked to my advantage. There was no time to get nervous.

[b]How are you and Michael alike – and not alike?[/b]
Michael and I are both neat, and we both have a real respect for organisation and discipline. But Michael takes those qualities to the extreme. He’s heroic, but there’s also something dark and shadowy just beneath the surface. I have a lot of respect for him, but he has many flaws, and that’s what makes him such an interesting character to play. If it came down to it, there are definitely people I’d give my life for, but there’s no way I’d be clever enough or crazy enough to pull off what Michael has. He’s half hero, half madman. That’s definitely where we part company.

[b] You have described Michael as the person who does the “narrative heavy lifting” for the show. What do you mean by that?[/b]

I mean it’s Michael’s job to explain things to the audience. Like, “This is what’s happening, this is what just happened and this is what’s about to happen.” It’s a plot-heavy show and we have to work hard to keep the audience up to speed. And nine times out of 10, that job falls to my character.

[b]Are you happy with the direction Prison Break is taking in Season Four, which just started in the US? The fact that there’s much less emphasis on incarceration and escape in favour of a proactive attack against the Company?[/b]
I’m relatively happy with the show’s new direction. The brothers can’t be on the run forever and we certainly can’t send them back to prison. I feel like it’s time for Michael and Lincoln to stand and fight and take down the bad guys once and for all. And in an ideal world, the Fox network will give us that opportunity. I really think that after all we’ve put the characters and the audience through, we’ve earned the right to a final showdown, a really satisfying conclusion. Hopefully that’s where this season is heading. Hopefully the powers that be will allow us all to exeunt when the time is right.

[b]Do you and other actors ever get involved in trying to develop the story lines and arcs? Does any of your own input ever make it into the scripts?[/b]
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the scripts are like blueprints and it’s the actors’ job to colour between the lines as we see fit. I don’t get to decide what happens to Michael Scofield, but at this point in the series, nobody knows him like I do. Four seasons in, safeguarding the integrity of the character, line by line and beat by beat, is my responsibility. And the writers, to their credit, allow us to make whatever changes and tweaks we feel are necessary. It’s become a real collaboration.

[b]Let’s talk about your past. Given your diverse background, do you feel American or British or something else entirely?[/b]
I am and have always felt like an American, but the UK has a special place in my heart. I also have dual citizenship, which makes me feel connected to the UK in a very real and tangible way, even though I was only born there. Having a British passport also makes it much easier to work overseas, and as the international marketplace becomes more and more important in the entertainment industry, that can be a very useful thing to have.

[b]Did your parents encourage your career or was this something driven by your own goals and desires?[/b]
They were supportive but cautious. Unless you’re actually in the business, sometimes it’s hard to understand what it is that we do, how an actor’s life works. All my parents knew was that for years I didn’t have a steady job or a steady source of income. But they’re thrilled with my success. They enjoy seeing my face on TV every week. I just have to warn my mom beforehand if something terrible’s going to happen to my character. She doesn’t like watching Michael get hurt.

[b]So you end up at Princeton, study literature and graduate. What happens after that? How did you make the transition from Ivy League to Hollywood?[/b]
By the time I graduated from college, I’d basically given up my childhood dreams of becoming an actor. It just seemed too risky, too unrealistic. But I still wanted to be part of the business in some way, so I got a job working behind the scenes for a company in Los Angeles that made movies for television. But it wasn’t long before I had to admit to myself that I really wanted to act. I had to answer that “what if?” question. So I started taking acting classes and going out on auditions. And to pay the rent, I worked as a temp at the studios and the networks, which gave me invaluable insight into the other side of the business. It really made me appreciate how much work goes into putting together a movie or a TV series. It’s made me grateful on a deeper level for everything I’ve achieved.

[b]What was it like working with Anthony Hopkins in The Human Stain?[/b]
Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to work with Anthony Hopkins because I was playing his character as a younger man, so we didn’t have any scenes together. We shot all of my stuff first, and then Tony was given the footage to watch. So it was almost like he had home movies of his character’s youth. And then when they put the whole movie together, I noticed that he’d copied one or two of my mannerisms and put them into his performance, which was thrilling to watch, and incredibly flattering.

[b]Will you venture into feature films again?[/b]
Time will tell. Right now I’m very busy with the fourth season of the show, but I am starting to think about the future. There are definitely lots of directors I’d like to work with, like Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Ang Lee, among others. I’d probably say “yes” to any role they offered, no matter how small. In many ways, once Prison Break comes to an end, I feel like I’ll have to start from scratch, really reinvent myself for audiences. Re-educate them as to who I am and what I can do. I think it’ll be a lot of work, but really necessary if I’m going to leave Michael Scofield behind.

[b]You famously appeared in two Mariah Carey music videos around the time that Prison Break first hit the airwaves. How did you get that gig?[/b]
Brett Ratner directed the show’s pilot, and after we were done he recommended me to Mariah for her videos. I’d never done a video before and there was no guarantee that the show was going to go anywhere, so I said yes. We shot both videos back to back, and Mariah was a total professional. She really went out of her way to make me feel at home. And then her record was a hit and those videos got a huge amount of airtime, so when the show started up, a lot of people knew me as that guy from the Mariah Carey videos. And I really think it helped launch the show.

[b]Do you have any musical ambitions of your own? After all, you were in the Princeton Tigertones.[/b]
My singing days are behind me, sadly. After a decade of neglect I can barely carry a tune. But I wouldn’t mind doing a movie musical or something -– just as long as there’s enough money in the budget to fix my songs in editing.

[b]What do you like to do when you’re not working?[/b]
Most of my free time is spent relaxing, watching DVDs, reading or napping. But I don’t spend all my time on the couch. When we were working in Dallas [shooting Prison Break], I did a lot of road-tripping, just little daytrips to small cow towns all over Texas. And I had such a great time. I think that’s one of the best perks of the actor’s life – time to travel and time to explore the way other people live their lives.

[b]Any favourite vacation spots?[/b]
My favourite place in all the world is Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. It’s right up the street from where I grew up. It’s the best spot of green on the planet and I try to sneak back there whenever I can. Sitting on a park bench eating a Jamaican beef patty and watching the people go by . . . it doesn’t get any better than that. But for sheer drama that’s part nature, part man-made, I think Petra in Jordan is one of the most stunning places on Earth. Those incredible ancient facades carved right into the red rock. Unbelievable. Breathtaking.

[b]Have you ever been to Asia? What were your impressions and memories of the places you visited?[/b]
I’ve been to Thailand and South Korea, and what I remember most is the amazing food I had in both countries. And I’ve been hearing that American Chinese food is nothing like the food you actually find in China, so I’m eager to experience that difference for myself. I also remember how polite and friendly the people were. I was very impressed because I’m a big fan of etiquette and manners. It’s so important to treat other people with the same degree of respect that you’d like to be treated yourself. That’s why I always try to be on my best behaviour when travelling abroad, especially to Asia. There’s nothing worse than coming across like the stereotypical “ugly American.”

[b]Paraphrasing that old saying “You are what you eat,” there’s a new one – “You are what you drive.” What do you drive and how does it reflect your personality?[/b]
I think that’s a potentially dangerous statement. It’s the reason so many people are driving around in big, fancy cars they can’t really afford, living larger than their means and getting themselves into trouble. My father always said a car was supposed to get you from point A to point B, and that’s basically my theory, too. It’s why I don’t drive something outrageously expensive. That said, I do drive a hybrid because I think it’s important to be environmentally conscious. So I guess that’s a statement in and of itself.

[b]Given your college major, I have to ask what books you’ve read lately?[/b]
Unfortunately I spend most of my free time reading scripts. But I do have this little stack of books waiting for me to pick them up. I’ve got The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, which I picked up because I liked the TV show Dexter so much. Hopefully I’ll get around to them one of these days. It’s just a question of when.

[b]You seem to fly pretty well below the paparazzi radar and I’m sure you want things to stay that way. But that leaves fans gasping to know about your social life. You’ve been quoted as saying you really don’t have much of one because you’re always working. But come on – give us the real scoop.[/b]

Ha, ha . . . No.

Thanks[b]Suz[/b] for the article

  • kiyemba francis
    Posted on June 04, 2009

    i always call you scofield,am from uganda africa am asking will i ever see you in my life,i cant even imagin,miller i love u soo much your my roll model,can you mail me.frank,your perfect

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