Diehard fans of the Fox show Prison Break, and even those who are only casually interested, will discover quite quickly it is more than just a prime time TV drama. The show not only keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, but it also gives insight into the measure of a man. Is he all about family values? How about the hopeless romantic who made a single mistake? There are so many ways to determine a man’s worth… but what about the measure of a mobster?
Peter Stormare, the Swedish genius behind such characters as Lev Andropov in Armageddon and Serge in Chocolat, gave us a taste of how a man is more than his external shell through the roll of John Abruzzi. A display of power and dangerous intentions, Abruzzi is seen as a rocky pedestal in the Chicago mob, while the background behind the character and Peter’s interpretation gives us a much broader view. In a recent email interview with Mr. Stormare, he gave me a little insight into who the character of Abruzzi truly is.
How did you first get involved with Prison Break?
I had a meeting with Paul Sheuring (creator of Prison Break) and John Papsidera (casting agent). I told them my view of my character, and next day they called and said they wanted me for the part.
What was your major influence for the character of John?
A major influence is Camillus of Abruzzi, the founder of the original Red Cross. He was an Italian… a drinker, soldier, womanizer, and later in life became saved. He battled back and forth between his past and his new mission. There’s tons to read about him. We called him John, not Camillus, after Saint John of God. He together with Camillus are the saints for caring for the poor, and for Nurses' Associations all over the western world. We had this idea that he came to the U.S. as a young boy. His father was Italian, and his mother might have been Syrian. That's my inspiration. My best friend from many years ago, Nicky in Brooklyn, has that background. I used him as an inspiration to create John… not that Nicky is involved in crimes as John is, but as a general pattern for his behavior.
What really attracted you about the character of John?
His relationship to Michael; how it started as a threat and then grew into respect and friendship.
Has it been unsettling being in a famous prison?
No, just interesting to read and talk to the COs about the history. There are some old photos hanging in some rooms, and when you walk alone through those empty tiers, you can feel a lot of pain and suffering. You decide to never end up in prison. Young people should be taken there… it reminds me of a German concentration camp.
What is your outlook for how long the series will last?
I don't know…I wish them all the best. Paul Sheuring's "script" lasted only two seasons. What FOX does after that is up to them.
Halfway through the first season, Stormare had wanted to leave the drama in order to pursue more opportunities outside the television world. The character of John was originally supposed to be killed off, but, in the end, was slashed and returned to the series, listed as a guest star. “Paul Sheuring wanted to create a cliffhanger. I agreed. In the meantime, I did an independent movie, a short, and a VDub commercial.”
At the conclusion of my interview, Mr. Stormare hinted at the possibility of the end of Abruzzi sometime in the future. While Prison Break’s popularity may blossom, the life of John Abruzzi can only go on for so long. In this past Monday's episode, Abruzzi was shot down by police when set up at a motel in New York. Yet while John will eventually vanish into media history, the man behind the mob remains very much alive.