Jim Caviezel and Lennie James on ‘The Prisoner’, Nervousness and Working in Cramped Taxis
I interviewed Jim Caviezel and Lennie James, the stars of AMC‘s The Prisoner, at this years Comic-Con and they were two of the nicest, friendliest guys.
We talked about their characters, why they chose to take on this recreation, if they still get nervous before a scene and more.
I hadn’t had a chance to see the show yet, but from the trailers and talking with them, I cant wait to see it.
The Prisoner premieres this Sunday on AMC.
Tell us a little bit about your character.
Lennie James: I play 147, who’s the local taxi driver for the village. And he is kind of the first friend that Jim’s character, Number 6, makes when he arrives in the village. And the moment when we first meet him, he is a totally content villager. He has a wife that he loves and a daughter that he adores, and that’s his whole life. And that’s all he needs to feel secure, and he’s totally at home in the village. He is exactly the kind of person that the village wants to be there and to be living there in the way that he is. He knows what roads not to drive down. He knows what questions not to ask, and in amongst that, he’s found his own happiness. And then 6 arrives and throws the whole thing out of kilter. And by the end of it, my character has some serious choices to make and a serious kind of price to pay.
So is it just by coincidence that the two of you meet then?
Lennie: Hmm… the way of the village is… nothing is a coincidence.
Tell me why you wanted to take the role after you read the script.
Lennie: There’s very few opportunities – or the stuff I like to do is I like the characters that I play to start off being one thing and end up being something else. I like the movement of a character. Something happening to them. That’s my definition of drama. And on the other side of it they are changed, they are moved, they have developed. That’s what stories are to a great extent. This guy has that journey. And he has it in spades, as we would say. And also the scripts were real kind of page turners, but there was a genuine sense of excitement within it. It wasn’t just the, “Oh, I wonder what happens next.” That’s not the only question that’s going on in this story. There’s a lot of other things kind of going on. And that’s what really interested me. The central premise is a very good and tight one. And then the way that Bill [Gallagher – the writer] has decided to tell his version of the story is really exciting. And it’s good for actors. And it’s not just about shifting story. There are some great dramatic moments.
Did you have any say in your character?
Lennie: Yeah, to a great or lesser extent. I mean, it’s a difficult one with this one because there is a… because there is a central deceit. Because there’s a central kind of conundrum, which is that nobody knows what’s happening. So there are certain situations whereby one of the things that we had to fight was our instincts to, A. understand it ourselves and then, B. make sure the audience would understand it. And we had to be very careful about what information we were giving away. And a lot of that responsibility was in the hand of the director and the producers and all of that kind of stuff. But, when we would ask the question as you would normally do in your thing saying, “I don’t understand what is going on with my character in this scene,” sometimes you weren’t supposed to understand.
Lennie: Yeah. And sometimes, you could understand, but you couldn’t relay if you needed to get to the next place. So it really was a… I want to say mind-fuck, but I’m not allowed to say that, but it really was a kind of, it was… sometimes it was a nightmare. And you’re a million miles away from home and it’s hard. So, it wasn’t necessarily the easiest gig I’ve ever been on, but it was always acting, which was good.
Was there any improvising or was it strictly to the script?
Lennie: You could improvise sweat (laughter), and you could improvise – I mean there wasn’t much room for or need to improvise. I mean I think sometimes improvising is overrated. And I am very good at improvising. It’s how I started acting was with a company that improvised their productions and stuff, so I’m very good at it, but mostly it kind of –
Jim Caviezel walks over
Jim Caviezel: He’s still got sand in his ears (laughter).
Lennie: (laughs) …but mostly it kind of it doesn’t necessarily help the process. One of the things we had to learn to be here on this one was precise.
He [Lennie] just got done telling us about his character. Could you tell us a little bit about your character?
Jim: I’m hard of hearing, could you say again? (laughter). He is… I think he’s in his situation that he’s in because… a lot of it caused on his own that you learn that along the way. It’s very difficult for me to tell you any part of who 6 is… rather than be giving too much away. Even that I feel is too much to say. It’s a really good piece. Film opens with him, you think he’s in a dream, maybe he is, I don’t know. And from that point on he’s trying to find his way out. Doesn’t want to go along with.. wants to reveal the truth of what the whole place is and continue fighting. Fighting against complacency, fighting against people who are just happy with how things are and it’s not. And how I saw that with me is when I decided to come to Hollywood and how many people thought I was out of my mind. And either I followed a dream or just do what everyone else is doing, which is probably they had dreams but they’d rather compromise and so when I read the material I saw my story in there.
Any hesitation to take these roles on? Back in the ‘50s or whenever the original one premiered, was there any sort of, eh, I don’t want to redo this.
Jim: I didn’t know anything about the original. And I read it on its own. So I said, “God this is great.” It holds up. And then I heard there was an original. And then I said, “Well, you know, if I watch that then I’m gonna try to, I’ll start copying this.”
But I never want to be… you’re always compared. I’ve always done something where I’ve always been compared to other guys. At least if I am, I can say I have my own originality to it. When I was working with Mel Gibson and he started talking about Patrick McEwan [the original Number 6 in The Prisoner], and I was asking him about Longshanks in Braveheart, and he told me who he was, told me about it, and I can see how hard this would have been to try to recreate something like that. And I continue to say remake – it’s a recreation. It will hold up on its own. And yet it respects and acknowledges the great work that he did, and that’s why people are coming back and are wanting to do something like that again.
It’s unfortunate that the themes in original can still be very relevant today. Do your characters play on that in terms of trying to make it current?
Jim: Strong, very strong. All levels.
And is it set in the future or present day?
Jim: Honestly, you should really just go and see it (laughter) and see what you think. It’s a poem. It’s a very good one. The great poets and the great playwrights can do stuff that everybody can take from. It doesn’t try to be tricky. It doesn’t try to out-think itself and be artsy for art’s sake. And there is a linear line through it, too. It’s strong, and everyone will find their own goldmine, that line that you can hold onto.
But Lennie said something earlier, you don’t know where it’s gonna turn. It just kept getting better. And watching this already in the looping process, it does exactly that. This is why I was so pleased.
And there was so many major changes that occurred in this that at some point I’d look at Lennie and say, how was that? I’m so numb, I — ? I’m not the greatest at memorizing lines, but on the day of, you know, I have to do everything I can to try to remember what I’m saying sometimes they’ve just changed and there you go. And so you know, I was, it felt like I was, I guess you guys are cricket (laughter), but baseball, I’m trying to swing at the ball. And Lennie’s telling me, okay, it’s fastball, inside corner, you know, did I hit it?
You guys still get nervous when you do a big scene?
Jim: I do.
Lennie: Yeah, I mean if you don’t get nervous, you probably haven’t turned up to work, do you know what I mean? It’s not the nerves that are the issue. It’s about how you deal with those kind of nerves. And on this one you know there’s it was a big production number, this. It’s easy to say kind of now, we were shooting it like a movie because it just makes it sound like we think it was bigger than it actually is, but we were actually shooting it like a movie. This was, it was a movie crew. It was a movie location. And the shots that were being called were all movie shots. And it’ll be very interesting to see in the whole episodes how it works on the box because you know down the camera and Florian [Hoffmeister] who shot it would call you over and go this is the shot and you would look at it and you would kind of go this is massive! This is just going to be wasted on TV. So, there’s a lot of things that I’m looking forward to seeing it, just to see what was all put in it and how it fits into the box because we shot it as wide as possible, shot it on film, all of those old school things that people don’t do anymore for television, we did it. It was hard work. Crew worked real hard, actors worked real hard. And people had to bring their game. And I think it almost absolutely across the board people brought their game and it was fantastic.
Jim: Epic. Epic feel.
What made you want to come to TV? Was it the strength of the script?
Jim: It’s a movie. It’s great. It’s just great. TV is great. Finding any great material is difficult to do. I was shooting a film, I was an hour away from signing onto this picture and then I got a phone call – wait wait wait. There was a glitch in the financing. So, I was already in anyway. And then they flinched and they said, well, you know, the money will be escrowed, don’t worry. And Frank [his representatives] called and said, wait you gotta read this. They delivered immediately and said read this now, like in the next hour and a half. So I sat down and started racing through it. Just blew the other thing away. So, it was a no-brainer. And I didn’t know what The Prisoner was. And I thought well, this is great.
So would you say you have a friendship, your two characters? Or is it more adversarial? Because you were saying he brings questions to you that your character is not ready to answer.
Lennie: I would say it’s definitely a friendship. They, to varying degrees, come to rely on each other. But certainly Jim’s character forces my character to face up to things he’d much rather not face up to, to ask questions he’d much rather not ask and to seek answers that he really isn’t necessarily prepared for. And so it’s that kind of thing. But it’s done out of Jim’s character’s attempt to save himself but also to save his friend. Or to help his friend. Yes, so it does become a, you see the birth and the kind of growth of their friendship. But it’s a challenging one. It’s not you know, it’s not buddy-buddy. It’s a challenging kind of relationship. There’s a lot of trust and truths to get over. Because I, my character, just keeps on turning up. And when you’re asking about was there much sense of improvising or say in your characters, there’s very much one point where Jim had said, I should ask this guy why he keeps turning – why he’s just always there. Why are you always there? Why are you always there? And you know, he put that question out and it became part of the script, where he’s kind of going, why do you just show up? You know, something will be happening with Jim’s character and you’ll see him wanting, needing to get away, he’ll look over his shoulder and there I am, with my taxi, going, “do you want to come over here?” And after awhile, he’s kind of going, “Why are you here? How do you do that?” And so in that way, there is a kind of development and all of that kind of stuff. My character’s answers to those questions are very much kind of adds to and explain their relationship and their growing friendship.
Has there been a scene that has been particularly challenging – whether you couldn’t stop laughing or some dialogue was giving you trouble – and how did you help each other get through that?
Jim: Some of the scenes in the car that we did in the studio were pretty interesting (laughter).
Can you set that up for me?
Jim: Well, there’s different parts of the story in each episode where we meet up in the car.
Lennie: Inside my taxi.
Jim: And we get to know each other. You get to learn about the world that he’s from. And the way it was shot, the way we’re in the car, the sound, talking over the sound. We have to, in our mind, raise our tone. There’s a lot of racket outside, wind and whatnot. How much that is, so we’re playing it on different levels. So that stuff just doesn’t feel natural.
Lennie: There’s also the car that we use for my taxi is an old, old Fiat (laughter). And it looks fantastic on the outside. And because we use it as a taxi, a lot of the time Jim had to be in the backseat, well there’s no room in the backseat for someone the size of Jim. At one point we have to pull out the front seat just so that he can kind of sit properly. And a couple of times, he’s got to get in the car very quickly and get out of the car very quickly, and those are just you know full on kind of comic moments because it’s all about I can’t get into this car, and so you thank God for the ability to cut and start again or cut and jump to something else. It was a fantastic car, but itwasn’t entirely practical, let’s put it that way.
So between the two of you, who is more prone to getting into a giggle fit.
Jim: I was having a hard time getting into the car. It was like the 8 foot man getting into a regular car. And so…
Like fat man in a little coat.
Lennie: You know those clown cars – it was like one of those.