IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dominic Purcell Talks 'Vikingdom,' 'The Bag Man' and the Ending of 'Prison Break'

Friday, 31 January 2014 10:57 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dominic Purcell Talks 'Vikingdom,' 'The Bag Man' and the Ending of 'Prison Break'

For me, English born and Australian raised actor Dominic Purcell is one performer that I’ve always really enjoyed watching. His work is consistently committed, driven, and thoroughly interesting. 

I first became aware of Purcell when he played Dracula in Blade: Trinity. He would eventually go on to appear in such films as Killer Elite, Straw Dogs, and Assault on Wall Street. But I’ll always remember him best as wrongly convicted convict Lincoln Burrows on the hit series Prison Break. Now the actor returns with a bold new “sword-and-sandal” genre film entitled Vikingdom, which was released on DVD and Digital Download January 21st. 

Vikingdom was directed by Yusry Kru and tells the story of a forgotten king, Eirick (Purcell), who is tasked with the impossible job of defeating Thor (Conan Stevens), the God of Thunder. In addition to Vikingdom, Purcell will soon reunite with his Killer Elite co-star Robert De Niro, as well as John Cusack for the new crime thriller The Bag Man, which opens in theaters on February 28th. 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dominic Purcell about Vikingdom, as well as The Bag Man and his thoughts on the ending of Prison Break. The talented actor candidly discussed his new movie, his reservations to making a “sword-and-sandal” genre movie, wearing a Viking costume, using the popular character of Thor as the movie’s villain, working with filmmaker Yusry Kru, what he is looking for from a director when he is on set, reuniting with Robert De Niro for The Bag Man, if he learned anything new about acting from working with the cinematic legend for a second time, and his disappointment over the way Prison Break ended. 

Here is what Dominic Purcell had to say about Vikingdom, The Bag Man, and the ending of Prison Break:

IAR: To begin with, I’ve been a big fan of your work for a long time, going all the way back to Blade: Trinity and especially Prison Break. You are one of those actors that no matter what project you are in, it’s always worth watching because you are such an interesting actor to watch. 

Dominic Purcell: Oh, thank you man. I appreciate that. That really does mean a lot. It’s always nice to hear that. 

What was your initial reaction when you first read the script for Vikingdom, and are you a fan of the “sword-and-sandal” genre?

Purcell: No, on the contrary, this particular type of genre has always bored me to tears. I've never really been that excited by it. I must admit that Highlander that caught my attention when I was a young man of seventeen or eighteen when it first came out. But no, like The Lord of the Rings, I mean really? It's something that I don't find at all intriguing or wanted to be a part of quite frankly. But what peaked my curiosity with this movie was the audacity of the filmmaker to make a massive, epic Viking movie in Himalaya. It was a movie that is usually made for $200 million being made for $50 million American. So I knew I had a very ambitious, courageous filmmaker right off the bat and then when seeing his work I knew that yes he could definitely pull it off even with a limited budget. I actually enjoyed the script as well, as campy and as cheesy as it was. I actually fell into that vibe because that's what director Yusry Kru was going for right off the bat. He wanted bold, big colors. He wanted it to be like Highlander and flashy. At first I was like, oh, man, I don't know. I mean aren't we supposed to bring grey, dark, blue, brooding colors for the sandal epic? As an audience member very rarely do I see in a movie that has huge audacious colors popping on the screen. The wardrobe, all of it was like, oh, what am I doing? I felt like a ‘80s rock star. Even the poster was so ‘80s but after a while I started really buying into it. I thought it was really cool. This was something that I can actually make people have fun with and it can be entertaining. I’m a pessimist by nature so I wasn't really expecting terrific reviews by any means. But I've been actually been very surprised and very pleased with the reactions and some of the critiques about it. People have said, "It’s fun filmmaking." At the end of the day we truly are about entertaining people and creating some form of escapism for people and this is certainly that type of film. If you want to have a laugh and a bit of a tear here or there, kids are going to love it.

When you are making a “sword-and-sandal” genre film, as an actor do you feel that the costume does a lot of your work for you?

Purcell: With the wardrobe, as an actor right now trying to work this answer out for you I can't. It’s difficult for me. My instincts are very much dictated by imagination and a general perimeter in which I like to work within. When I’m on set I kind of let it all happen. So the costume for me is important, but for my work the psychology of the character is what kind of gets me over the line at the end of the day. That's kind of what I try to look for and for a movie like this it was kind of hard because of the fantastic element to it. At first it was a challenge to work out what beat I’m going to play with this guy. How do I do a performance that doesn’t clash with the director's style? With collaboration we did a nice job of finding middle ground and more or less he just let me do what I wanted to do. Not to say he didn't have input, of course he did, but it's also making sure your third eye is aware of what you're actually doing. I mean sometimes I also like to imagine what kind of audience is watching the movie. So for this movie, I always had in the back of my mind that my young boys would be watching it, and nineteen to twenty-year-old potheads. I had that kind of thing going into it, which allowed me to really buy into the whole largeness of it even though at times I certainly come across very dower in the movie. That wasn't what I was trying to do. I had to do a whole lot of stuff in that movie because the canvas was so huge. But I knew what kind of director I had so it was just putting a lot of trust in the process really.

You mentioned that you thought Yusry Kru was an “audacious filmmaker.” As an actor, what are you looking for from a director when you are on set?

Purcell: Intellect. A high intellect is what I look for in a director. Sensitivity, insight, awareness, and the director does not have to have a particular style or need to get on board with me, if you will. Because by the time I come on set I don't need anyone to tell me how to do it. So if the director turns out being an asshole on set that's not going to fucking bother me either because I'm already committed to project and to the role. At that point I'm signed on and I'm ready to go. But I find myself appreciating directors that understand filmmaking from an intellectual point of view and you marry that with an artist's sensitivity. That's all I'm after in a director. The director doesn't have to speak a whole lot. They can tell me, “Can you bring it down,” and that's fine as well. But if I sense that the director is really smart, then I’m fine. 

The villain in Vikingdom is the mythical character of Thor, and obviously he is much different than the Marvel comic book character. However, since Thor has become so well known and so popular through the Marvel movies, do you think that might attract a larger audience to this film, or possibly hurt the project in some way? 

Purcell: At first I was like, what? You want him to wear a red wig? Because I always used to think Thor was blonde and apparently he’s not. He's a red head. Hollywood has made him blonde. Once I found out the truth I wanted to stay true to the authenticity of Thor. So having him with a red beard and red hair was perfect for me. Certainly it played really well within the film too. If anything people are going to whine about it and say, “That's not Thor, Thor has blonde hair!” But if they actually do their homework they’ll know that we got it right. 

I enjoyed Killer Elite, which is a film you co-starred in with Robert De Niro and Jason Statham. You are in another movie with De Niro that’s coming out next month called The Bag Man. As an actor, what is it like to work with the great Robert De Niro?

Purcell: Yeah, I mean God, De Niro! I put him up there with Brando and Pacino and all the greats. He's definitely in that bracket. When you're on set with someone with that sort of gravitas it makes you a fanboy and the nerves start to come out and, oh, my God, it's Robert De Niro! After a while you realize that you just need to do your job, and you do and then he becomes one of the boys. 

When you are working with an actor the caliber of Robert De Niro, do you learn more about the process of acting from collaborating with someone like that?

Purcell: Not so much with De Niro or anyone. I'm not sure if I learn from working with other actors. I'm so focused on my own psychology if you will. I haven't really thought about that. That's a good question.

Is it because you are so committed to what you are doing when you are in the moment portraying a character on set that you don’t have the opportunity to step outside yourself and learn something new?

Purcell: I think so. Talking about the process for me, as an actor has always been something I choose not to do in interviews because for me it's a very personal process. It's a private war and when actors are talking about the process it always comes off really pretentious. But I will give you this, when I'm on set I'm very focused and very in my head. Same with the movie we were talking about, The Bag Man. I love that role. I was playing a psychopathic Southern sheriff. With John Cusack and De Niro it was so much fun to do that. It's gratifying when you're on set with actors who you really respect. That is what is really important for me to always be doing work that resonates for me. But working with peers I respect and that I look up to if you will is very gratifying.

Finally, I mentioned that I was a big fan of your series Prison Break. As an actor and an artist, were you satisfied with the way the show unfolded and ultimately ended?

Purcell: No, not at all. I was very disappointed with the ending of Prison Break. I thought the creative process was let go. I thought that the focus from a creative standpoint was let go. I thought they invested too much in peripheral characters and that they didn't come back to the universal theme of two brothers. If they had gone back to that universal theme that made Prison Break the success that it was, then Prison Break would still be on the air today. I have no doubt about that whatsoever. You can quote me word for word on that. They dropped the ball!

The TV series ended and then there was a direct-to-DVD movie released called Prison Break: The Final Break that sort of served as an alternated ending to the show. Did you feel like the movie gave you and the show’s creators a chance to end the series the way you wanted to, or do you think it was too little too late?

Purcell: I was so disappointed and so disengaged from the project by then. I mean obviously I turned up to do my job, but emotionally I wasn't invested anymore. What they had with Prison Break they really fucked it up. I'm not really sure what went on. Maybe I'm speaking out of turn. Maybe the studio said to the writers, “You know what guys no matter what this is it. This is the last season.” I just felt that the first season was classic TV making, and it was beautiful to watch. Second season was great, but it had to be what it was. Third season was a bit of a stretch and that's when they started to lose their way in my opinion. They started to get away from Michael (Wentworth Miller) and Lincoln, and the universal themes that grow from that focus were lost. Then you had the parenthesis of the peripheral characters that were becoming farcical in my point of view. Obviously it still comes as something that was very personal to me. I'm very proud of Prison Break and the Prison Break I like to remember is season one and two. The other stuff just kind of fell away.

Dominic, thank you so much for your candidness about Prison Break, Vikingdom, and The Bag Man. Like I said, you are one actor I always like to watch, and you were also a great interview. 

Purcell: Thanks mate and thank you for the support brother. 

Vikingdom will be available on DVD and Digital Download January 21st. 

The Bag Man will be released in theaters on February 28th. 

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