We’ve seen Laz Alonso menace Vin Diesel in Fast & Furious and take on the jungles of Pandora in Avatar. Now he leads a gang of convicts in an elite squad of experts who catch prison escapees. Breakout Kings premieres on A&E from the producers of Prison Break. A later episode will even feature Fox River inmate T-Bag (Robert Knepper). I caught up with Alonso in the green room after the show’s presentation to the Television Critics Association.
CraveOnline: Is your character more the by the books guy?
Laz Alonso: Yeah, I mean by all means, he’s definitely the most by the books guy of the cast. He’s the only real official marshal on the team. Ray Zancanelli got his badge taken away so this is an opportunity for him to work his way back on the marshals squad. Then all the rest are convicts. Julianne played by Brooke Nevin never made it through marshal school so she’s an assistant. She was supposed to be a marshal, she’s an assistant. So my guy’s the only guy that has direct repercussions to happen to him and his career and get his badge taken if this doesn’t work out. So he has to be as by the book as possible. The interesting thing that happens though is that this being his first field opportunity, his first job in the field, all that stuff starts going out the window as you move further and further into the season. He starts being less and less by the book to the extent where it starts almost resembling a lot of Ray’s tactics which is Domenik’s character. So you start seeing the evolution of his character, how he starts off this bright excited by the books guy and as you get further and further into this criminal element, the line that separates him and the criminals starts to diminish.
CraveOnline: Not that he’s a stodgy by the books guy. Charlie’s plans are clever.
Laz Alonso: Well, we can’t forget that Charlie is an ex-marine who was in Fallujah who’s also used in that world their version of criminals which was buying terrorists and using their intelligence and using some people against the other people that were there. So he does have some experience, only now in this format, he has to play it by the book or he’s going to get his badge taken away. But he’s not necessarily the kind of guy that doesn’t agree with bending the rules here and there. He just doesn’t want to see it. It’s like okay, Ray, go do your thing, I’ll be outside when you’re done. That’s not necessarily a by the books guy. Just on the books he’s by the books so to speak.
CraveOnline: Who are some of the dangerous cons you’re going after this season?
Laz Alonso: Well, we’re dealing with everything from child rapists, child abusers to just stone cold killers. They really tried to explore every gamut and the beautiful thing about it is there’s a lot of psychological profiling going on. So it mirrors in a lot of ways some of the other shows that you see on A&E like Dog the Bounty Hunter or The First 48 in a scripted version, because to catch a criminal, you really have to know what he did in the first place to get put in jail. When you break all that down, it really starts giving you a clear indication of what he might do when he gets out, but it’s still an if and it’s a big if. We’re right at times and sometimes we’re wrong. That can cost very, very high repercussions. The worst is of course a life. If we’re wrong, it can cost an extra life being taken.
CraveOnline: Can you take any lessons you learned on Avatar and apply it to Breakout Kings?
Laz Alonso: I think the biggest lesson that I take from Avatar on any set that I go to is just work ethic. Working with Jim Cameron, you’re used to working very, very long days and you’re very meticulous about details. He’s very, very picky about little details, little character-isms and things. The biggest difference between Avatar and this is that on Avatar, we’d have days where we’d do half a page and we’d just focus on one scene. Here we’re doing at times 9 page days. We have 7 days to shoot an episode so during those times is when I really lean on I guess Jim’s teachings the most, because you really can’t sacrifice the details even when the pacing of the show is much, much faster than what we did on Avatar.
CraveOnline: Is it kind of a bummer you’re in the biggest movie of all time and no one recognizes you?
Laz Alonso: [Laughs] You know, not really. I’m a big fan of Star Wars. Some of the most iconic characters of Star Wars, we didn’t see their faces but to this day you can say Jabba the Hutt or Darth Vader and people know what you mean around the world. When you go on YouTube, and my character wasn’t supposed to be popular. He was supposed to be Jake’s antagonist on Pandora. When you go on YouTube and you see all these tribute videos that people have put up, unsolicited tribute videos and they put this somber music and all these comments, “We love Tsu-tey, he shouldn’t have died, he was just protecting his land, we understand what he means.” All these people that just cheered his name, who cares if they saw my face or not? I was successful in endearing the character in their hearts.
CraveOnline: Cameron says no one dies in sci-fi, so has he talked to you about bringing Tsu-tey back?
Laz Alonso: The funny thing is he re-released the movie again and they added 9 minutes. Part of that 9 minutes was my official death scene. So that pissed me off because when we saw the first cut of the movie, I lean over to Jim and I say, “This is great.” He was so apologetic to me. He was like, “Laz, I’m really sorry your death scene didn’t make the movie.” I’m like, “No, no, no, don’t apologize because the way it is right now, Tsu-tey may have survived.” In the world of Pandora where nothing dies, outside of motion capture where we can always play different characters, but in the world of Pandora, the energy is just recycled. It never dies. Grace died as well.
CraveOnline: I’m not worried about her. She’ll be okay.
Laz Alonso: Yeah, I think so. I think so so I’ve got my fingers crossed for Tsu-tey. We’ll see.
CraveOnline: Can you still speak Na’Vi?
Laz Alonso: I wouldn’t necessarily call it speak. I’ve retained some words, but I wouldn’t be able to have a full blown conversation with a fellow Na’Vi at this moment.
CraveOnline: How many Breakout Kings have you shot as of January?
Laz Alonso: We are on episode 11 of 13 so we start 11 when we get back on Wednesday actually we start 11.
CraveOnline: Have you shot the T-Bag episode?
Laz Alonso: Oh yeah, we did the T-Bag episode before the holidays.
CraveOnline: How was that?
Laz Alonso: Very intense. It was by far probably the most intensive and just ramped up episode we’ve done. We really wanted to show how dangerous this guy is. Robert’s just a phenomenal actor and he made it very easy for us to feel that threat of him constantly looming throughout the episode. There’s a scene in there that becomes very physical as well between all of us. It’s amazing how strong this guy is. He’s a bull and you’ll see it in the episode. You’ll see how dangerous it is.
CraveOnline: I love that it keeps the world of Prison Break alive to have T-Bag and Fox River in the world of Breakout Kings.
Laz Alonso: Definitely, definitely. You know in the beginning of every Breakout Kings episode we’re in the bullpen, so we talk about the criminal and recap who they are and what they’ve done. So it kind of is a throwback because we talk about stuff that he did on Prison Break in this fictional world. There’s one moment though in the episode, and I’m not going to say what happens, but when we shot that scene, at the end of the scene they yell cut and Robert breaks down into tears. This isn’t on camera. This isn’t scripted. Off camera, they yell cut, we’re about to go move and shoot another scene but he had been waiting for that scene to happen on Prison Break for four years and it never made it. We were able to shoot that scene here on our show. It was in some way closure for his character.
CraveOnline: It’s like the epilogue.
Laz Alonso: Absolutely, the epilogue to T-Bag is the best way of describing it. To see this guy on set so passionate about his character that he cried and he turns to me and he goes, “I thought that that would never get done. This is closure for T-Bag. Finally I shot what I’ve been wanting to shoot for four years.” It moved us all.
CraveOnline: So Prison Break fans have to watch that episode at least.
Laz Alonso: Oh, Prison Break fans have to watch it because they’ll know exactly what that moment is. I’m not going to spoil it.
CraveOnline: I guess he still has no hand, does he?
Laz Alonso: I can’t spoil anything, man. You’re going to have to watch. I think I’ve recruited a new viewer.
CraveOnline: I saw the pilot already. You go through a window with Domenick and a suspect. Did you do that for real?
Laz Alonso: Yeah, we did a lot of our own stunts. It was a Hollywood window but the characters are very physical when we actually apprehend these criminals. So it lends itself to a lot of what people love to see right now which is this hand to hand combat type stuff.
CraveOnline: Are you a physical guy?
Laz Alonso: Yeah, I’m a martial artist. I’ve boxed all my life. I work out. I studied Hwarangdo, which is a Korean style.
CraveOnline: What characterizes Hwarangdo?
Laz Alonso: It’s a very, very old Korean style. It precedes Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido. It incorporates everything, ground fighting, standup, kick fighting, punches, takedowns, throws, joint locks.
CraveOnline: Could that be part of Charlie’s Marine training?
Laz Alonso: You know, I don’t know. I think that that would sophisticate him a little bit. It would give him a little bit more of a polishing. Even though he is the leader of this group, he still has that kind of marine corps grunt thing to him. He’ll just punch you or knee you in the chest versus any type of elaborate training when it comes to combat.