Full Matt Olmstead Interview
The executive producer of the Fox series talks about the series’ upcoming final episodes.
The Fox series Prison Break will be coming to an end after four seasons, with the last five episodes starting on Friday, April 17 at 9 PM ET, with the winter finale airing right before at 8 PM ET. Executive producer Matt Olmstead recently held a conference call to discuss the end of the series, and here’ what he had to say.
I’m sure this is going to be a question out of everybody so I’ll get it out of the way. How did you get the news about the cancellation and how did you feel about it?
Matt Olmstead: We kind of knew all along that this season was most likely going to be our last and then when the show premiered along with, I would say, most shows took a bit of a hit in the ratings and that kind of coincided with us storytelling-wise in terms of what we had left in the tank. So, we knew at the very beginning of the season that we weren’t going to hold back anything and use up all the ideas that we had and not to worry about setting up for a fifth season.
So, as the season progressed it became increasingly clear that it was going to be our last season and also it turned out to be kind of a benefit to us in that we were able to really set up things that were going to pay off at the end of the season and what would be the end of the series. So, we have some last images, last storylines that take place at the season finale, series finale, were set up at the beginning of the season.
So, it was a bit of a luxury in the sense that we had the time to platform the ending as opposed to going on hiatus like some shows have to do and wait to hear if you’re going to come back or not and you don’t and you don’t have a chance to wrap up a serial-like show, which deserves to be wrapped up properly.
And at the end of the series is there a small door left open for any follow-up movies or anything like that down the line?
Matt Olmstead: I think there always is. Some people don’t make it, but not to say that there couldn’t be, if there was an appetite for it, some form of the show or a standalone episode or a movie type of thing. There’s always that possibility.
I was wondering what you could tease about any returning faces we might see during these last few episodes.
Matt Olmstead: The mom character, the revelation that we put in the last episode and she plays a big part of the last few episodes, a lot of secrets are revealed and Michael and Lincoln are certainly shook in terms of who they are, where they came from and at a certain point they’re wondering is this the truth or are they trying to be divided and conquered, so to speak.
Then we have a big surprise reveal, which I won’t tell you who it is, but a returning character who comes in and late in the game when the wheels are coming off everybody he’s either there to save the day or to hijack the whole thing for his or her own benefit. So the big reveal of a returning character that having viewed it, obviously, pays off very nicely.
And that one is an actual reveal and not like what we did with Westmoreland earlier?
It’s an actual return.Matt Olmstead: It’s an actual return, correct.
And then what can you say about Prison Break, the Final Break? What is that and when would it take place and when might people see it?
Matt Olmstead: What happened was when we were breaking the episodes we had a storyline that we didn’t know where, it didn’t really fit. It kept getting moved along down the episodes as the season went along. Then we had a conversation with the studio in terms of, this is really a cool story that we want to tell and it plays standalone, which would be a two-hour. So they, the studio, and we creatively went ahead and did it for episodes 23 and 24, not knowing for sure where it would air, network or whatever, but knowing that it would certainly in some or fashion because the story for us was really compelling and also having viewed that in its entirety, that paid off and was a good idea.
So, I’m not really concerned where or when it airs. It will be at some point be viewed by the fans and hopefully it will be worthwhile for them. What it is basically is episode 22, which is the series finale, network finale for now. Everything gets wrapped up and then in the last act there’s a jump forward like four years from now. We show the characters where they are and some have won, lost; it’s bittersweet and this two-hour that we had in mind, or the next couple of episodes that we had in mind, kind of plays in that middle period, that wrinkle in time.
So, it plays really well having viewed the whole finale, episode 22, because now it’s kind of a jump back in time and answers some questions. But not wanting to rip off the audience we didn’t do it where episode 22 plays like a cliffhanger like, now you have to watch the episodes because we didn’t want to infuriate the audience in terms of it plays as a completely satisfying ending and just so happens that these extra two hours also play well.
I was wondering if it hadn’t been coming to an end do you think it could have gone on? Would you have had more stories or had you sort of come to it, the creative exhaustion of the possibilities for escaping and re-entering?
Matt Olmstead: I think we did have conversations early on in terms of what if and they were fairly brief conversations. That’s why we went pretty much very quickly to this being the last season and how to really play off. The ideas that were tossed around in terms of what could be a season five were pretty thin. And my fear is that even if it went that way it would have limped out; it wouldn’t have gone out strong and just having been to the wrap party that everybody went to, there was a real feeling of accomplishment and there was no sense of we got caught short or it was we could have had more years or we wished we had more years. It felt like the story played out and there was, having looked at the series finale, the four years, the four seasons play as a piece, as opposed to this season strung along and ultimately kind of fading out. I really don’t know yet, we tossed ideas around, but it was a very short conversation because nothing really took hold in terms of inspiring anybody.
And going in when you first started did you think there would be, did you see and ending earlier?
Matt Olmstead: What’s funny is that when I first met with Paul Scheuring and Don Perusay when they had filmed the pilot and were looking for someone to come in and help out they had in mind kind of a first and second season and the running joke was that no one knew what season three was yet here we were able to do season four. Everybody knew there was an expiration date on the show; it wasn’t obviously a cop procedural, which could have a long lifeline.
I give credit to both the studio network for signing off now because they knowingly signed off on a show that had certainly a finite lifeline to it and it was not going to be, by any means, a ten-year show. So I give credit to them in terms of supporting a show that they knew was going to burn brightly, but burn quickly.
Is this the ending you were always working towards despite the amount of time you were given when you found out you were being canceled?
Matt Olmstead: There were certain things that in terms of Michael’s fate, Lincoln’s fate, Sara’s fate, all the characters’ fates, that we had tossed around as the show went along. Down the road I always wonder what’s going to happen, where will we be? So it was kind of a little bit of a game that we had in terms of what are the last images you want for the show? Obviously that kind of got more traction this season when we knew this was going to be it. Having viewed the ending, which is an ending that was suggested in the writer’s room and built upon pretty early in this season and we have these ten big white boards that we write a lot of stuff down on and put down a quick list of where we wanted to see everybody in this jump ahead four years down the road. It pretty much stayed the same throughout the whole season. No one got erased or no one got, we added a couple, but it really executed what we really wanted to do I think, like I said, pretty early in the season so it wasn’t a scramble at the end. It was satisfying in that as I mentioned earlier, the stuff that we set up early in the season paid off handsomely at the end of the season.
What can you tell us about how Michael’s and Sara’s story line is going to be wrapped up?
Matt Olmstead: I’ll tell you this. It’s wrapped up unexpectedly because for a while there they were, just for like an episode or so, it felt like they were kind of Bonnie and Clyde. It worked for one episode, which is kind of coming up. It was that same fear of what do you do with two characters that there’s a real charged, fresh aspect to their relationship if they’re stuck together do they become the Lockhorns? What are they going to do after a while? That’s kind of the reason why in season three we had her character “killed” because there’s almost a disservice to the actor and the character like what are we going to do with her once they’re together because there’s always been walls between them?
So, we found a way in this season for this kind of torture that she suffered at the hands of Gretchen and company in season three off-screen that helped kind of put this new wall between her and Michael and it’s a wall that inhibits their intimacy and finally at the end of the season I can say that wall comes down, but there are unexpected ramifications to that. So, what seems like two people are joined at the hip want the same thing there’s a bunch of curve balls that are thrown at them in the finale. Ultimately it’s bittersweet, but very satisfying.
What’s the one thing that you wished could have happened in the story throughout the season?
Matt Olmstead: There’s one thing I wish we could have done is film more at night. And that was really the only thing I wish for because having seen the finale and then what turned into two extra episodes everything paid out. Having viewed it with the rest of the writers, many of whom have been there since day one, we knew each other and it was like we did the best we could do. There are absolutely no regrets.
So, as I look back on this there are no real missed opportunities for me and the only thing is kind of budgetary-wise we were always proud of the fact that we stayed on budget for a couple different reasons. So we were unable to film at night, much as we did season one and for a visual aspect for me that was basically the one thing I wish we could do more. But in terms of storytelling or getting an actor or any of that kind of stuff, I sincerely have no regrets.
You mentioned that there might be a TV movie or a standalone episode in the future. I was wondering what’s the plan for the Prison Break spin-off?
Matt Olmstead: There’s no plan for a Prison Break spin-off. We did a script for what would be establishing a character in season three, a female character and then getting her off into essentially a female prison show. There were a couple hurdles involved and we couldn’t get the actress, the strike happened and when we came back the show was in its last season. The Sarah Connor Chronicles wasn’t doing that great and there’s a host of reasons why that idea, that project, cooled. Who’s to say if it could get a spark again. I’m not counting on it. My days aren’t based around it. But for me the show’s done and I would comment on the question of is there a chance that there could be a standalone. There’s always a chance, but nothing, certainly, in the planning stage.
So a spin-off’s not officially dead, though.
Matt Olmstead: It’s on the ground, legs twitching, but you know there’s still a heartbeat perhaps.
I was wondering how early on you thought of how these guys would eventually have their mother pop into the show.
Matt Olmstead: The mother idea was one that was, there were probably three or four ideas this season that were kind of back-pocket ideas that someone would have mentioned early on, even in season two or season three a what if, and it just went away because there was no need for it. Then when things started to gain momentum in this season I was looking for that big card to turn that could have major ramifications. That idea was revisited.
And once we did it fell together pretty quickly and actually dovetailed nicely into kind of the mythology that we had already set up and complications that we already set up and the differences between Michael and Lincoln and so it was something that was brought up that we revisited and it worked out nicely.
I wanted to ask about the differences between Michael and Lincoln because they have always seemed so different. I was really surprised that Michael seemed a lot like the mother that we’ve seen just a speck of here. Michael doesn’t at all. He’s a very hard-nosed guy. How do you explain how little he seems to have in common with this super bright woman who’s his mother?
Matt Olmstead: That will be explored the next couple episodes leading up until the last episode. We wanted to get someone, cast an actress, which I think we did quite successfully, who would be similar to Michael in the same way that the actor we hired to play their dad was kind of, Lincoln clearly was a chip off that block. So, this is the kind of female equivalent of Michael, which we really haven’t seen. That in itself is interesting to us, but also there are some things about who they are that is called into question. That whole family dynamic’s explored in the next couple episodes.
One thing I’m getting a lot of questions people want to know from you is what happened to L.J.?
Matt Olmstead: Funny you should ask. The question was posed earlier about any regrets. There weren’t any regrets, but the only actor we couldn’t get was Marshall (Allman). We wanted to bring him back for a couple episodes, but it was later in the season and there was a schedule conflict and we couldn’t get him and his character gets addressed going forward. In terms of the show the character lives on, but we weren’t able to get him in terms of showing where is he now type of deal.
But, yes, he’s been really an important part of the show and a good guy about it because his character ping-pongs back and forth in terms of a couple of episodes here, a couple of episodes there. He’s been a very good sport about it. Unfortunately we couldn’t get our schedules to coincide. We couldn’t get him for now, but his character is addressed.
Would you like to work with some of the cast again on a new project?
Matt Olmstead: Very much so. Having been on a couple shows now you can really appreciate there’s a special quality to someone who has a couple different things going for them, which is talent, but also professionalism and in a television show it’s, I hate to say required, because shows do go along with actors who have one of the other, neither or both, but having been working with people like Bill Fichtner and Robert Knepper, it’s been a real joy. I think the same holds true for them. I think that their experiences have been good on the show as well.
I thought I heard talk somewhere that there was somebody that you wanted to kill in the finale, but Fox wasn’t crazy about it so you had to change plans. Is there any truth to that?
Matt Olmstead: Actually they came around. There was kind of a polarized viewpoint over at Fox in terms of killing for preserving a character and we made our pitch and turned in the script. They saw the merit in it and so they were completely on board.
I’m just wondering if you’d discuss what you think the show’s biggest leap of logic over the years has been. Is there one that even you’ve got to admit was just –?
Matt Olmstead: Yes. It’s Michael getting a tattoo removed overnight at the beginning of this season. Wentworth was developing a skin irritation to having this thing applied to his body constantly, which I can get, even like the ones that were just on his arm. So we had to figure out a way; instead of him wearing long-sleeved shirts all the time can we zap the tattoo?
Since they were working for the government we kind of fudged it a little bit where he was in a super-secret tattoo removal place ten miles from South Dakota, but who knows. So we established that and it went away. It was a little bit of a wank. When I look at the other ones that we did I obviously don’t, we took a lot of those, but the momentum of the show I think accommodated that. This one for me was a little bit tough to swallow.
With all the double-crossing and kidnapping that’s been going on why hasn’t anyone in the company gone after C-Note and his family to use as leverage against Michael?
Matt Olmstead: When we last saw C-Note had gone into witness protection and also there’s not a lot of love between C-Note and Michael in terms of that’s when the guys with the shotgun marriage essentially in Fox River, they needed each other. So it’s not like getting hold of Sucre and threatening Sucre’s family, whatever. I don’t think C-Note still carried that kind of currency when it comes to Michael. Not to say that he couldn’t play a big part in the last two episodes.
So overall he’s basically the only escapee that’s free and clear, right?
Matt Olmstead: Yes. We wanted that to happen in a way because of all the things that are going on in season two where people were getting clipped and a lot of hardship was being endured, that moment of C-Note walking in with his wife and looking over his shoulder and gone. You wanted that one person to fly over the cuckoo’s nest.
I’ve got to ask about T-Bag. He’s got to be one of the most memorable villains ever in TV history. I know you can’t give it away, but how could you wind his story up? He’s managed to survive this long.
Matt Olmstead: He has been like a real cockroach, but in what I’ve been referring to as this four-year jump cut ahead, when you see T-Bag and when we screened it for the cast and crew at the wrap party the crowd erupted. Obviously he’s a big fan favorite, but it’s a bit heartbreaking to see where he ends up. But it makes perfect sense. All I can say is when you see it, if you do get a chance to see it, let me know. I think we did a really good job with where he, what his ultimate fate is.
It’s a memorable character.
Matt Olmstead: I agree.
I hope he can find work again.
Matt Olmstead: It’s a little bit like the wicked witch. There are certain character actors who are defined by that one role, but thankfully he’s been smart about it. He’s been doing movies on the side, and already has a movie that he’s doing right now so I would certainly bet on Rob Knepper. He’ll do well.
Do you have any closing remarks?
Matt Olmstead: Yes. I would just like to thank everybody for their support. I know, having been a journalism major myself, you have to be very objective, but then sometimes you do encounter people who have a real enthusiasm for the show and that can be expressed and certainly appreciated.
The show certainly had a graphic novel feel to it and not everything was perfect, but having looked at it as a whole I’m very proud of the work that we all did on it and I think that it’ll be looked on as a pretty good piece, these four years we’ll look back on favorably for whatever that’s worth, to whatever extent that the nice words that were written about the show it got back to us and in times when we were beating our heads against the wall trying to figure out what to do next it was certainly appreciated.So, just on a personal level I certainly appreciate it. I know the others did as well.
Prison Break wraps up its fourth and final season with the last five episodes that start on Friday, April 17 at 9 PM ET and ends with the two-hour series finale on Friday, May 15 at 8 PM ET on Fox.