As veteran actors Robert Forster and Jonny Coyne sat down at WonderCon to talk with members of the press about Alcatraz, they noted the need to be careful in discussing the mysteries of the freshman Fox drama, because the producers, in Forster’s words, “don’t want us broadcasting everything.”
Discussing the challenges in working on a show that so values its secrets, he said, “We need to know what something means and where they [the characters) are going,” with a particular interaction or scene. For instance, in his very first scene as Ray Archer, a retired Alcatraz guard and great-uncle of Det. Rebecca Madsen, he was asked about an old guard and his character replied he was “a prick.” “But I didn’t quite know what I was saying,” Forster recalled, “so I asked the writers, and they said it was a misdirection.”
Coyne, who plays Alcatraz Warden Edwin James, added, “I think I’ve been given enough clues from the writers. From the writing and very, very brief conversations I’ve had, you kind of get the idea you’re heading down a dark road. You kind of know where you’re going.”
On Alcatraz that dark road leads, of course, to America’s most infamous prison where, on March 20, 1963, all 302 guards and inmates – referred to collectively as “the 63’s” -- mysteriously disappeared. Decades later, one by one, the 63’s began to reappear. But Emerson Hauer (played by Sam Neill) and his Alcatraz Task Force were waiting for them.
Asked what aspects of their characters they most identify with, Forster immediately replied, “Protect that girl! Get these guys out of here, and protect that girl!” That statement is his character’s strength, but he said, “I understand from conversations with other cast members, they think I’m going to turn out to be a bad guy. I say I think they’re wrong.” Both actors emphasized that this was all speculation.
For Coyne, it’s the way Warden James enjoys messing with people. “It was actually Sam Neill who said it to me, ‘Play everything like you’re messing with people.’” The simple advice clarified everything for the actor.
Parminder Nagra, who plays Dr. Lucy Banerjee, appeared next, and fielded a question about her transition from ER to Alcatraz.
“I did the traditional thing in auditioning for it,” she replied. “I did a couple of tests for it, and they said I could keep my own accent, which is always a bonus, which everybody laughs at me for now. ‘It’s your second American series and you still got your British accent!’”
She revealed that her character’s relationship and backstory with Hauser will be explored in upcoming episodes, and they, “won’t just be stuck in the prison.”
Co-creators Bryan Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien took to the table, with the former describing working with showrunners Jennifer Johnson and Daniel Pyne, as “great ... very supportive, nurturing environment. We call ourselves the Four Horsemen of the Alcatraz Apocalypse.”
Next week’s two-hour season finale will answer a lot of questions, while introducing some new ones as it ends with a cliffhanger. “It will pose new questions that are greater than any of the questions that have been asked thus far ... a broader scope,” Lilien said.
Wynbrandt said the audience has assumed that all of the Alcatraz inmates have returned only recently in the present day, but actually they are reappearing at different times -- and someone is helping them.
Showrunners Johnson and Pyne next discussed the inmates’ larger plan, or lack thereof. “If there was a plan, if there was some idea of coming back in an order, it’s not happening,” Pyne said. “It adds another dimension to the storytelling,” giving the writers a lot of opportunities to introduce characters and situations.
Johnson added, “We like that element of it. Lucy may have been the first person back, or, we may encounter characters later, who have been back much longer who we didn’t know we’re 63’s all along.” They plan to introduce more missing inmates who have integrated into present-day society; some may even reconnect with their families.
Asked whether Rebecca’s grandfather murdered her partner or simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Johnson answered, “Good question,” before suggesting that viewers look to the season finale for an answer.
Stars Jorge Garcia (Doc) and Sarah Jones (Rebecca) finished off the roundtable, with the Lost alum first being asked about how he likes shooting in Vancouver. “I miss Hawaii a lot,” he admitted, saying he will be vacationing there for a few weeks.
Asked how she stays in character as a tough female detective facing off against larger male criminals every week, Jones said, “Well, when I found out I was booked for this show I started boxing and training with someone who was a former champion, because I want to throw a punch that a man will believe.” But in reality, she said, “it would probably be more of a hit-them-in-the-throat-and-run kind of situation.”
Addressing Rebecca’s evolution, Jones said, “She’s pretty much the same character throughout this season because she’s always been solving crimes, the only difference, is the supernatural effect.” She said she hopes a potential Season 2 would delve into the character more.
“We kind of hit the ground running in this season, as these last few episodes that air, we kind of suddenly get more included into what’s going behind the curtain,” Garcia said. “And that’s really a thing where the team is formed.”
Jones added, “Season 1 is the cause, and if we go to Season 2, that’s the effect.”
The two-hour season finale of Alcatraz airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.