While comic fans are anxious to see what AMC can do with an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s “Walking Dead” – currently in pre-production – serialized storytelling appetites will no doubt be whet by the network’s latest production, a remake of the 1967 cult classic TV series “The Prisoner.”
Airing this coming week as a six-hour miniseries from Sunday to Tuesday, “The Prisoner” features Hollywood heavyweights Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of The Christ”) and Ian McKellen (“X-Men,” “Lord of the Rings,” as well as genre veteran Lennie James (“Jericho”).
For the uninitiated, “The Prisoner” is about a man, known only as Six, who finds himself inexplicably trapped in The Village with no memory of how he arrived. As he explores his environment, he discovers that his fellow inhabitants are identified by number instead of name, have no memory of any prior existence, and are under constant surveillance. Not knowing whom to trust, Six is driven by the need to discover the truth behind The Village, the reason for his being there, and most importantly – how he can escape.
A life-long Marvel Zombie, James loved playing 147 but is equally thrilled by the upcoming release of “Jericho Season 3: Civil War” from Devil’s Due Publishing.
The TV series was cancelled in 2008 after two seasons on the air, but will re-launch as a comic this month. “Jericho Season 3: Civil War” features the likenesses of actors who played the leads on the show, including James’ character Robert Hawkins.
Using our own surveillance methods, CBR News tracked down James in Pittsburgh where he’s filming “The Next Three Days” with Russell Crowe to discuss life in The Village, surviving a nuclear detonation in Jericho and his all-time favorite comic book movie, “Blade,” starring Wesley Snipes.
CBR News: Were you familiar with the original series before signing on as 147?
Lennie James: Yes, in the sense that it was one of those programs that was always on television when I was growing up. It was like “Fawlty Towers” or “Monty Python.” It seemed like they made 175 episodes, but they really only made 17. It was just on a loop. So I was very aware of it. But I was much more aware of [Patrick] McGoohan as an iconic figure that he created for himself through it.
Do you think fans of the original will appreciate the updating that has occurred in this version? Or is this miniseries for an entirely new audience, because it is quite different than the original.
My guess is that it is for both. I think it wouldn’t have been the best thing to have done a complete remake of the original, because the original is there and it still stands up. It was very much in its day, and it’s very much television for its time. We wanted to take the best elements of the original and find their equivalents in our re-working of the story.
We take the basic premise of a man who works for a secret organization who decides one day that he is going to retire, and then the next morning, he wakes up in a surreal village. Is it purgatory? Is it limbo? Is it heaven, or is it hell? Or is it some kind of elaborate prison? We took those premises, and where the original had Portmeirion for its location for the strange village, we have – and I feel very jealous of the person whose job it was to go and find this location, because they got to travel the whole world to find somewhere else in the world that worked and invoked the same atmosphere as Portmeirion did – Swakopmund, Namibia. I think our location speaks as much to the story as the location did in the original. It almost becomes a character in itself.
Was that a difficult shoot?
We were filming in a really unique location. Swakopmund is a very strange town. It’s a turn-of-the-century Bavarian village that is located in an African country where the desert meets the sea, and it seemed to us to have a climate all of its own. It wasn’t hot, but you go five miles out of Swakopmund and you’re in desert heat. Surprisingly, when we were in Swakopmund in the evening, we were all in jumpers and coats. It was very isolated. It’s a holiday resort for Germans, and when we were there it was off-season, so it was very isolated and very deserted. So on that level, it was, let’s just say, a strange, interesting shoot in Swakopmund, and I was very relieved to get to Capetown to complete the shoot.
What can you tell us about your character, 147?
147 is the taxi driver of The Village. He’s the first person that Jim Caviezel’s Six makes contact with, and through the episodes they befriend each other and build up a close friendship that has major effects on both of them. When you first meet 147, he is utterly content with his life in The Village. Then he meets Six, who is utterly discontent with his survival in The Village and his forced imprisonment, and together they have an effect on each other, which leads to some high drama and major changes in both their lives.
You have a long list of credits to your name, but American audiences may know you best from playing Robert Hawkins on “Jericho.” Are you comfortable working on these genre television shows that seem to attract a rabid fanbase?
It’s not really anything that I ever considered. The popularity of “Jericho” and the intense feelings fans had for that show really caught me by surprise. It was the first time I’d ever encountered something like that on that level. If we get half as much commitment for “The Prisoner” as we did for “Jericho,” we’ll be very happy. I don’t really go for genre shows. For me, as with all the work, be it for theater or television or movies, what attracts me is the writing, the part and who the other participants may well be.
“Jericho” is now heading into its third season, but the story picks up in a new comic book instead of on television. Your likeness will be appearing in that comic and, in fact, on the first cover. You have kids – is it cool for them to see their dad in a comic book?
I don’t know how cool it’s going to be for my kids, but it is beyond cool for me. I was a big Marvel geek when I was growing up ,and most of my playtime when I was from about the age of five to 13 was all to do with re-enacting Marvel characters and running down to the shop to get the latest installment of my favorite characters. I was a complete and utter dork as far as comic books are concerned, particularly Marvel comics. To have a comic book which my likeness is in, is fantastic! I don’t know if this is the pinnacle of my career, but it is one of my ambitions that I can cross off the list.
What were some of your Marvel favorite titles?
I’m a big Daredevil fan. I like The Avengers. I was a big Blade fan. I loved Thor and Spider-Man and Captain America. And I was a big X-Men fan, as well. I was very excited when they started making movies, certainly the first two “X-Men” movies, I thought, were really good movies. Although I think my favorite adaptation from comic book to movie was the first “Blade” movie. I thought it had absolutely the right tone. It didn’t go for the obvious kind of 13-year old audience. It certainly had an arc and was allowed to investigate all the dark sides of that character and that world in a way that I just thought was absolutely done brilliant. I still watch and still get excited by it.
Have you auditioned for any comic book movies?
I would love to appear in a comic book movie, and I did audition for one of them. I’m not going to tell you which one it was, because I obviously didn’t get it and therefore it’s gone and I don’t want to think about it. It was one of the few meetings that you go for and screen tests that you do that I was genuinely really, really disappointed when I didn’t get it, because it was one of those where I would have loved to have done it, and I think I would have been really good at it. But, in the end, they went in a different direction, which is their right, but it’s one of those that still irks me, because in the privacy of my own home, I play that character to make my children laugh.
Well now we have to know!
Not going to happen. [laughs]
Well, Marvel is always expanding its movie universe and DC is now, as well. Guy Ritchie, a director you’ve worked with before, is making “Lobo,” so you still have your chance.
Yes, and as long as they’re attracting audiences, I will be lining up both to be in one and to go and see them.
What are you working on next?
I’m on my next project at the moment. I’m doing a film called “The Next Three Days,” which is written and directed by Paul Haggis, who directed “Crash” and wrote “Million Dollar Baby” and is a two-time Oscar winner. It stars Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy and me.
I play a Pittsburgh police officer who is chasing Russell Crowe all over the county. He manages to jump in cars and jump in trains and do some foot running while I’m foot running and missing him like a bad Scooby Doo character.
“The Prisoner” airs as a six-hour miniseries from Sunday to Tuesday on AMC.