Alcatraz: Cast Interviews

Jorge Garcia (Dr. Diego Soto) in Alcatraz

What made you want to get back into a big concept TV series again? Was it the people attached, like J.J. Abrams and Liz Sarnoff whom you know of course from Lost?

 Jorge Garcia: Totally. J.J. makes the TV I want to watch and so to get to be a part of it, all the better.

Was there any trepidation going into another show that has some sort of, “We don’t really know what’s going on,” concept?

 Jorge Garcia: Not when it’s these people. After Lost ended and I came back to the mainland, I did feel like, “What’s going to be the next thing?” I was basically prepared to take my time and maybe not work for a while to give people enough time to forget where I came from. But then this surfaced, and it came quickly and it was great. And I was excited to be a part of it.

 Did you say anything to J.J. like, “Do you actually have answers to any of these questions?” before you signed up, or don’t you really care about that?

Jorge Garcia: Me personally? No. I don’t because I trust these people. I do know that they had a meeting at one point with executives saying, “No, no, we have this,” – their bible that they are going with, with what the big picture stories are going to be. But I’ve got used to working in the dark, and I kind of dig it.

What can you tell us about the premise? It sounds a bit bizarre.

Jorge Garcia: Thing is, just the title alone will get some people interested: everyone has heard of Alcatraz, and they know that really bad people were there. Bad people are intriguing. And it’s the kind of thing where people go, “Okay, we know this happened.” We know Alcatraz closed in 1963. And we know that everyone was taken off it. But then you go, “But why did it close?” And then you start coming up with what could be a crazy reason for that to happen, and then they created a show around it. It’s pretty exciting for me.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your character?

Jorge Garcia: Yeah, I play Doc Soto. I’m the Alcatraz expert of the group. I know more about Alcatraz than maybe anyone on the planet, and I am kind of obsessed by it and about criminals in general. And as to why and where that obsession was born out of, that gets revealed pretty early in the first season, and I’m excited about that. But I’m the one who is there so no-one has to look in any books because I wrote them all. So when these bad guys suddenly start re-surfacing, he’s the guy who tells us what to look out for and what their M.O. tends to be.

What are your PhDs in?

Jorge Garcia: They are in Civil War History and criminology. Are you testing me? I was like, “What did they say in the pilot?”

So you are interested in the past as well?

Jorge Garcia: Yeah, exactly. The civil war connection? I don’t know what that is going to be about, if there is going to be something in there, I don’t know.

Is it a nice change to play the expert, as different from Hurley who knew nothing?

Jorge Garcia: Oh yeah, he is definitely smarter, for sure. And cleaner shaven. Yeah, it definitely feels like a completely different guy and that is exciting, for sure.

Plus you don’t have to traipse through a jungle every day?

Jorge Garcia: Totally. I don’t have to deal with scorpions and mosquitoes and whatever else was in that jungle.

Did you do a lot of research?

Jorge Garcia: Not really. As far as playing the comic book shop owner, just hanging around in that little shop that they created, I was like, “Yeah, I get this place. I can do that easily.” As far as being an Alcatraz expert, the script pretty much told me what to say, I just had to deliver it with confidence. That was pretty much all I needed.

Obviously they haven’t told you everything, much like in Lost, but have you formulated your own theory as to where these missing prisoners have been? Or what is going on?

Jorge Garcia: Well, no. I’m really hoping Alcatraz is actually a spaceship and you will see the whole island lift off but that’s really a long shot.

What are the similarities to and differences from Lost?

Jorge Garcia: It’s a completely different kind of island. There’s a lot less plant-life. But it’s easier to say how alike it is to Lost: they’re both on an island; they’re both shrouded in mystery; and there is a guy on the show who looks a lot like a guy who was on Lost, and that is pretty much where the comparison stops.

Is it wrong to label it the new Lost?

Jorge Garcia: There will not be a new Lost. If you are going somewhere looking for a Lost, go to your DVD store and find it. Everything else that you are chasing is going to be different, something new. And let’s face it, if we gave you Lost again, you’d be like, “Yeah, I liked it the first time I saw it, and it was called Lost.”

How was filming the pilot? Did you actually film anything up at Alcatraz itself?

Jorge Garcia: We spent three days in San Francisco, but I think that might be the extent of it. I know the special effects guys took a lot of pictures of Alcatraz, from every angle so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be green screen and parking lots when we’re ‘there’. But we went there, and Sarah (Jones) and I captained the Alcatraz boat. We also got to go to places on Alcatraz that other people weren’t allowed to go at times, which was kind of fun and made you feel special.

You seem to be doing another series here where you don’t know much of what is going on ahead of time. As an actor, would you rather know more of where the story is going?

Jorge Garcia: There is a benefit to both. I do like acting the grey areas a lot. I think that always gives a certain credibility and realism to a character, where they are not 100% good or 100% bad. And one of the things about acting in the dark in that way, is that it gives you moments that you might be a little contradictory – where you act differently than what you would have anticipated with knowledge that you might get later – and I think that is a very human characteristic to be, so I enjoy that. I think it’s how you build a character.

What are you looking forward to in the show?

Jorge Garcia: I am looking forward to episode three a lot. I got a little preview in my visit to the writers’ room and there are some really cool things that they said were coming up pretty soon. You get to see why Doc is so fascinated with bad men.

How is working with Sam Neill?

 Jorge Garcia: Sam is great. He’s this very sophisticated man. He drinks wine. He’s this experienced actor who’s been in the business a long time and stuff, but then, he’ll turn around and be like the uncle who tells you to pull his finger, and that is the beauty of Sam.

How has your experience been so far at Comic Con?

Jorge Garcia: It’s been great. It’s been great. Everyone has been very nice. It’s kind of fun when they are rushing you through the crowd because the energy in that room is just really, really exciting. It’s just full of enthusiasm so it’s really fun. We got to go up to the Warner Bros booth, which is really high up off the ground, so we could get a really good look. I have this app to do a panorama shot so I was trying to take a picture of the whole floor.

Is there anything you particularly have your eye on on the floor?

Jorge Garcia: There’s a new Godzilla toy – I don’t know if it’s for sale or not but I was on a website checking it out. I’m always a fan of a new Godzilla toy.


Parminder Nagra (Lucy Banerjee) in Alcatraz

Can you talk a little bit about your character on the show?

Parminder Nagra: I play Lucy Banerjee, I’m a lab technician and I am essentially playing Sam Neill’s right hand person – he plays Emerson Hauser – and I’m like the science and the brains. I’ve had various conversations with Liz (Sarnoff) and I think she’s going to be a bit of a tough nut to crack if I’m on point, but I’m excited to see what happens.

What exactly is a lab technician doing at Alcatraz?

Parminder Nagra: She’s figuring out all the nuts and bolts, anything that is technical or science-based, they are going to turn to me and ask me, and hopefully Lucy will have the answer.

And what’s the main premise of the show?

Parminder Nagra: There are a bunch of prisoners that disappeared in 1963 – that we do know – and they start to come back in the present day, and my part, and Sam Neill’s part, we are the new Federal Agents that come back and investigate these happenings that are going on.

You seem to be good, but then you also could be bad. You kidnap Jorge and Sarah at one point, don’t you?

Parminder Nagra: Yes we do. We gas them. But we have also been working on this for a very long time.

What really attracted you to this project at first?

Parminder Nagra: These guys really. It’s hard not to get excited when you’ve got somebody like Liz or J.J. (Abrams), and now with Jack Bender on board, it’s just a good pedigree of people. And then when you hear that you are going to be playing Sam Neill’s right hand person, that’s not a bad gig at the end of the day. To me, you just know you are in safe hands. But more than anything else, knowing it is a J.J. show just meant I was super excited, to be part of that is amazing.

Were you looking specifically to get back into serialised television?

Parminder Nagra: Well, I was ready to go back to work again, and it was just a bonus that it was a J.J. show. But yes, I think I am ready to get back on that horse again.

What was your initial reaction when you read the script?

Parminder Nagra: I wanted to know what happened next. It was intriguing. It’s a J.J. Abrams show, so it’s wrapped up in mystery and I wanted to know more, and to me, that’s a good sign of a pilot – that you want to know what is going to happen with each of these characters. It would be so unfair if it was just the pilot and that was it – I feel like it needs a chance to be explored a little bit more and delve into those characters a little bit more. It needs that chance of exploration.

Is it difficult to keep secrets about the show to yourself and not give spoilers out?

Parminder Nagra: No, it’s not that tough because we haven’t been told too much ourselves. But I think even the trailer sets up so much intrigue and you just want to know what happens next.

You are never told a lot ahead of times on a show like this, but would you rather as an actor know more about where your character is going? Or would you rather know less?

Parminder Nagra: I know something. I think there are certain personality things or certain story points – like agendas and things like that – that I think are useful to know, but to me what’s exciting is going to be the reveal of each episode. Hopefully it is just going to open you up to more exciting things, week by week. That’s what’s intriguing to me.

Your character would seem to be one that will eventually know more than most, being Sam Neill’s right hand person.

Parminder Nagra: I guess I eventually will. It is fun. I think Lucy does already knows more than she is letting on.

How was Sam Neill to work with?

Parminder Nagra: I was a big fan of his, so it was nice to work with him. He is very funny. It’s always quite scary when you first meet someone because you don’t know what they are going to be like, especially when you admire them as well – it could go either way – but he was just a good laugh, actually.

We have heard that you got to actually visit and film at the real Alcatraz for the pilot, so how was that?

Parminder Nagra: I didn’t. I was actually one of the ones that didn’t get to go. I was too busy in my lab, tech-ing away.

What are you looking forward to most in the show?

Parminder Nagra: Just seeing how it all unfolds really, I think, because I don’t really know what’s going to happen next, so it’s going to be interesting to see what the writers pull out of the bag. I think it’s just going to keep people guessing.

Is this your first time at Comic Con?

Parminder Nagra: Yes, I’m a Comic Con virgin. Or The Con virgin now I realise it’s just called ‘The Con’.

Did Jorge (Garcia) give you any tips on how to survive?

Parminder Nagra: He didn’t. He just let us experience it all for ourselves. We went out onto the floor and there was a gazillion people out there which was pretty amazing. Everybody was very nice, very down-to-earth. It was very chilled. People seemed to be having a really nice time.

After a big signing session, do you feel your signature has improved?

Parminder Nagra: I always think my signature looks like a fly. But I have really enjoyed actually talking to everybody that comes by, at the signing, so it’s been fun.


Sarah Jones (Rebecca Madsen) in Alcatraz

Can you tell us about your character?

Sarah Jones: Rebecca Madsen is a detective for the San Francisco Police Department and she is married to her work: it’s what drives her and as the series goes along, you will find out why she is so invested in what she does. She gets recruited by Sam Neill to a special task force that has to try to figure out why these former prisoners are reappearing and why they haven’t aged. In the pilot, you will find out why she becomes so invested in the mystery of the reappearance of the Alcatraz crew – it’s not just the prisoners, it is wardens and everyone on the island – because she has a very personal connection.

What did you first think when you read the script?

Sarah Jones: My initial reaction was that I wanted to read more, I wanted to know more, I want to know what happens, and I want to know more about Rebecca’s connection to Alcatraz and to this mystery.

She is told at the end of the pilot that she is not allowed to tell her fiancé and her uncle – both established as important people to her – about her new job, so is that going to play a big part?

Sarah Jones: Yes, it is. But to be honest with you, she might confront some of that sooner than later. I don’t know much, but the little bit that Liz (Sarnoff) will give me about Rebecca and what’s going to go on, she hinted that… Rebecca calls it like she sees it, so she might confront her secret with her relationships sooner than you think.

How was it working with Santiago Cabrera?

Sarah Jones: He’s just so fantastic. What could be bad about working with Santiago? But everybody on this cast is fantastic, it’s been such a blessing. We all just gel. It’s been so lovely so far. We’ve just had a blast. It’s really fun.

Can you talk a bit about your character’s relationship? Do you know your history?

Sarah Jones: Not too much. I think we both understand where we’re coming from a bit, but we don’t know the entire past yet, and I don’t think we need to. Santiago and I are just going with it and just being comfortable with each other as two people who are engaged and who are also work associates would be.

As an actor, would you want to know more or less about where your character is going?

Sarah Jones: Whenever there is a situation that involves something that’s personal about Rebecca that I think might involve something in the future, I feel really comfortable in talking to Liz about that. But other than that, I am glad I am in the dark because it is a mystery that we’re figuring out after all, so the less I know, the more I am surprised and the more I’m surprised, the more people will be able to follow along and go on that journey with me. That’s all I hope to do.

So is Liz keeping you in the dark as much as Sam Neill’s character is in the show?

Sarah Jones: Yeah, basically Sam Neill is Liz Sarnoff. She basically leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for me. But I don’t want to know everything.

Why do you think people are going to be interested in a show about Alcatraz?

Sarah Jones: I think the simple folklore surrounding Alcatraz, on its own, is interesting enough, and because there will be flashbacks, we will be going into that prison every week and seeing what that was like, so you will see what life was like inside Alcatraz. That subject alone intrigues me.

Did you do any research into the subject?

Sarah Jones: Yeah, I love history and with America being such a young country in comparison to the rest of the world, having that piece of folklore that we can claim as our own is exciting, so I read a couple of stories about the inmates, from the inmates’ perspective, but I didn’t want to get into the history of Alcatraz too much because that doesn’t really interest Rebecca. She wants to know about the prisoners and what they were like. I also watched a fantastic documentary called Alcatraz Reunion which is this documentary about these former prisoners who went back to Alcatraz in their 70s and 80s. They were talking about their experiences, which was fascinating.

Did you go there after you had been cast?

Sarah Jones: I didn’t. But we shot there, which was awesome. We had so much fun. Jorge and I were boat captains! But it was funny, because it was kind of hauntingly beautiful. I hope we can go back as much as possible. It’s just an incredible experience. I wasn’t particularly creeped out there, but the set of Alcatraz that they have now built is creepier and more eerie to me than the actual prison.

Do you think Rebecca thinks there’s a more supernatural explanation? Or does she think there is a more scientific answer?

Sarah Jones: I would think that she’s going to start with some logic because that’s what she knows, that’s how she knows how to solve crimes. I would say that she is pretty much the doubting Thomas of the entire pilot. So I think first she would go with logic and then if there is a supernatural aspect, I think that is something she is going to have to learn and something that people will follow with her through the series.

What are you looking forward to in the show?

Sarah Jones: I think just finding out what this mystery is. And just working with everyone: everyone is so talented, writers, crew, cast, everybody.

What training did you have to do?

Sarah Jones: I have obviously learned how to shoot guns. When I got the pilot, the first thing I did was started training and boxing. I was working with this former boxer champion who was awesome – his name is Ricky Quiles – and that was fantastic. Just in case I had to get in a fight situation, I want to be able to throw a punch even if it is a stunt move, I want to be able to throw a punch that a man’s going to believe – Rebecca knows how to do that. And I run. I run. Because there is going to be some running in this series! And it’s going to be in San Francisco which we all know is not exactly a flat surface, so that’s how I get in shape. She’s a guys’ girl. She knows how to do her job and do it well, she knows how to protect herself but she’s not a slick secret agent. She’s one of the guys and she’ll go home at the end of the day and have a beer and kick it at her Uncle Ray’s bar. Or go home, have a burger and go to bed. Which is something I love about her.

Has there been one action star moment?

Sarah Jones: There was, but it got cut out because there wasn’t enough time. It was a great chase scene, it was so great, and it was with Jack Sylvane – Jeffrey Pierce – and we had so much fun: it was in San Francisco, because we shot a few days in San Francisco, both at Alcatraz and in the streets, in Chinatown, it was awesome. But you have to set up the story, that’s the most important thing for the pilot, so that was sacrificed. That was the sacrificial lamb of the pilot.

You’ll hopefully have to do it all over again in future episodes.

Sarah Jones: That’s fine by me! I’ve been running for it, I’ve been training for that.

And running in boots?

Sarah Jones: And running in boots.


All interviews taken from the Comic Con Interview session.

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