We spoke with the new Number Six, and let him take us inside the Gitmo Disneyland that is AMC's Prisoner remake. And he explains how he and Ian McKellen pretty much improved a large chunk of the remake's script.
Were you a fan of the original? Is that why you got involved with AMC's Prisoner series?
No, I never knew anything about the original, I had just read the six screenplays that were brought to me and I was actually going to shoot another movie and I was able to get out of that to do this. What got my attention first was Ian McKellen.
The second part of that was AMC and what they were doing, but I didn't really fully understand everything AMC had been doing with Mad Men. I hadn't seen Mad Men yet, and I became a huge fan of the network because I really got to see the ins and outs of what they were doing in The Prisoner. But what truly brought me to The Prisoner was the first two screenplays... I had no idea where the story was going, at any time as an actor when you get a role like this, it's kind of like one of those little trophies you can put on your mantle and be proud of. I'm definitely very proud of this.
One of the interesting things about AMC and their shows right now is their attention to detail in their production design, it's really evident in The Prisoner, it's sort of "sandy sleek". What was your favorite little world-building moment that AMC or the production crew created?
Well, I can be more specific to you, and in fact when I see movies like Giant, when I see George Stevens or any classic fimmakers, or when I see Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston but it [The Prisoner] reminded me of classic Hollywood great fimmaking... Every time I get a movie I think, "oh I'm never gonna be working in this town again if I don't get this one right," and I certainly felt that way making this because of the rapid fire of all the screenplays that were there and also the reediting and rewriting the scenes literally right there but I think we were able to pull out something pretty special here.
I'm so focused on the story and just trying to survive and the frustration of wanting it to be good and not knowing if it's going to turn out and in fact I remember one day we got to one particular scene with Ian McKellen and myself and we realized in that moment that I'm not supposed to be in this scene. So there's an element of running around like a chicken with your head cut off. So I'm sitting here acting, thinking what did I take away from that, I think the most valuable thing I got from it is I can work in some of the most extraordinary circumstances and be able to pull up performances in dire strait situation and I really kind of like that.
It was roughing the elements out there, wasn't it?
Yes, the lack of sleep, number one. Last night watching it [The Prisoner screening] and talking to Bill Gallagher [the writer], for me, it was a bit of a surreal experience, it looks so easy but knowing that what looks easy is usually rather difficult, there were hours and hours of rehearsing and then saying let's throw that out and try something else and being able to have a director come in with literally very little time... it's really a six hour film with two intermissions.
How many on site rewrites do you think you guys did?
Thousands, I can't even… at the last minute we'd say, "Do I need that line?" "Yes you do." "okay, what about this?" Then we'd try but you know for the most part, I thought that we were able to. It's like putting a square peg into a circular hole and that's what we do, and we get paid well for it and part of it is you gotta be a little bit of an adrenaline junkie.
Now your character, one of the things that's different abut him in the new series is there's a little bit more revealed about his life before The Village. Do you think that you're still "every man" even though you go into specifics running around in the desert?
I knew what Patrick McGoohan did. I knew that he was a legend, I knew who he was and I didn't totally understand the whole Prisoner thing, I never watched any of the episodes but wanted to bring something to my own performance that was original, that I wouldn't be compared to, and even I was I could say well it was a coincidence because I never watched any of his previous stuff. I remember talking to Mel Gibson one time about Patrick McGoohan and I said, I happened to ask him about Longshanks in Braveheart and he says "Well that's McGoohan" and he told me the whole story, he tried to have a run at making The Prisoner.
Mel Gibson tried to make The Prisoner?
Yeah he looked at it. Yeah, it's been attempted by several people.
Finally the political undertones in The Prisoner, do you think it's more like a friendly Gitmo, or a warning sign?
JC: Absolutely. You know its how you look at mornings. Mornings can either be a good thing or a bad thing sometimes. Some people just get disturbed and would rather be an ostrich and put their head in the sand. And you know, this is an allegory for peace...Nowadays you have one guy walking around who's willing to exchange his life for millions and for an ideal. And I think people can relate to that. At the same time, very much juxtaposed to that, this is Disney Land, the music, the way they feel, it is a bit of a ride and there's a romantic element to it too, and I hate to go too far to the right and say well understand from the left here you also have this romantic undertone, you're also going to be drawn to these characters, you're going to love these characters.