This Sunday, those who hate snitches will have plenty to yap about. The potential source of their annoyance: the new A&E action-drama series Breakout Kings. Created by two former executive producers of Fox’s beloved, though short-lived, Prison Break (Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora), the hour-long crime show follows U.S. Marshals Charlie Duchamp (Avatar’s Laz Alonso) and Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi, seen on The Wire and Entourage) and their self-assembled trio of particularly skilled convicts turned “special deputies.” Using the cons’ firsthand expertise, the task force apprehends the fugitives that regular cops can’t handle. As an incentive, the still technically imprisoned lawmen (and woman) are promised decreased sentences for their assistance. Needless to say, though, their fellow inmates are none too pleased. Malcolm Goodwin—whose previous credits include American Gangster and Detroit 1-8-7—stars as Shea, the most scheming of the cons. The Brooklyn native is the show’s streetwise character, a former hood star whose past block connects work to his advantage. Goodwin is the latest in a long line of cable TV’s acknowledgement of relatively unknown talents—think Jon Hamm on Mad Men, Aaron Paul on Breaking Bad, or Andrew Lincoln on The Walking Dead. Complex sat down with Goodwin to chop it up about Breakout Kings and how television has become the medium of choice for many of Hollywood’s most gifted players.
Complex: There are so many good shows on TV nowadays that it’s hard to find enough DVR space to fit everything. Some people might not be ready to add yet another show to their library. How would you sell an indecisive viewer on Breakout Kings?
Malcolm Goodwin: If you like action, and suspense, and character-driven shows, then Breakout Kings is right up your alley. It’s gritty, edgy, in-your-face, and unapologetic, but also fun, television. And it’s well-crafted, well-written, and my cast mates are a bunch of great actors. It’s difficult for me to think that people wouldn’t like this show in some way. [Laughs.]
Based on the commercials and marketing, you’d think Breakout Kings would be really dark, yet the first episode is pretty light at times. How do you think the first episode sets up the rest of the season?.
Malcolm Goodwin: I think it does a great job of establishing the different dynamics of the characters, and the different backgrounds that are hinted at but not totally explored just yet. The scenes between my character and Jimmi’s [Simpson] character are great because they show how different the characters are, but also how well we play off one another. Jimmi’s character, Lloyd, will say anything—he loves to talk. [Laughs.] Sometimes it’ll rub the rest of our characters the wrong way, and the way they build upon that as the episodes move forward is really cool.
Your character definitely stands out in the first episode. It’s a really good look for an actor, such as yourself, who’s been in tons of projects but hasn’t blown up yet. Was Breakout Kings a tough project to land?
Malcolm Goodwin: It was actually my first pilot season. I’ve always missed pilot season because I just happened to be busy during them. I think Breakout Kings was my third audition, so I didn’t experience the insanity that most actors do during pilot season, which can be a rat race. I was actually looking forward to the frantic thing, but when I read the script for Breakout Kings, I just had a good feeling about it. My sights were set on this. It was a process, but it all worked out, as you can see.
What was it about the script that got you so excited?
Malcolm Goodwin: For me, I liked the humor, but also how gritty it got at times. The characters were grounded; I felt they were real. I liked the dynamics. The twist at the end of the first episode is real cool, too. You can see what it can become, just off the first episode—you can see the potential of the show. I also knew of Matt [Olmstead] already from his work on Prison Break. Actually, while the rest of the world was watching the Super Bowl this year, my wife and I and my brother spent the night watching every Prison Break episode. [Laughs.]
Why the hell would you pick that night of all nights? You’re not a football head?
Malcolm Goodwin: [Laughs.] Oh, I’m a football head! But everybody was like, “How you gonna work with Matt and Nick [Santora] on Breakout Kings without ever seeing Prison Break?” The whole cast had went to a press event, and they asked us how the show was different than Prison Break, and at that point I hadn’t seen it, so I didn’t know what to say. At that point, I was like, “Let me watch it.” And it just so happened that it was the day of the Super Bowl, and we got caught up; we forgot that the Super Bowl was even on. Prison Break is that good.
What’s your take on the differences between Breakout Kings and Prison Break? Naturally, all of the marketing has announced the Prison Break connection as much as possible..
Malcolm Goodwin: Yeah. I think the main difference is a matter of the stories. Prison Break is continuous; it’s one storyline throughout all 22 episodes, so you really can’t start on Episode 7 and know about everything that’s happened. With Breakout Kings, it’s different stories per episode, different breakouts per episode. But it’s still as much about the characters as it is about the fugitives breaking out.
The show has a similar feel to the new Hawaii Five-0 reboot, which is a good thing. Both shows have different stories each week, but the constants are funny banter between the characters and believable action.
Malcolm Goodwin: Yeah, my wife and I were watching Hawaii Five-0 and thought the same thing. It’s all about having great characters. I think that’s what people love—great characters. Prison Break just had some sick characters.
What is it about your character, Shea, that you like so much?
Malcolm Goodwin: Well, Shea knows much more than he lets on, because he doesn’t know the line between “giving too much information” and “snitching.” So he still has his whole dilemma with that, but early on you find out that Shea is really ahead of the game. Of course, when he needs something, when it’ll benefit him, you’ll see him step up. Everybody always refers to Shea as a “gangbanger,” but Shea is like, “Dude, the gangbangers worked for me!” But he likes it when people call him a gangbanger, because it hides how much power he really had in the neighborhoods, where he started these organizations that people would refer to as gangs, before he went to prison. As the episodes continue, it’s cool how all of that starts to unveil itself.
The chemistry amongst the cast is really strong, which definitely helps the first episode. Do you all feel things click quickly?
Malcolm Goodwin: Yeah, we’re all really good friends. As the season progressed, while shooting, the writers kept building upon the friendships we have off set, and found ways to use those to their advantage. Yeah, that became a really, really fun thing. Also, I think what makes the show so interesting is that we have to go back to jail after we catch the breakouts. So the characters have their friendships outside of the prison, working as “special deputies,” and then they also have their friendships inside. As the episodes go on, you’ll get to see what we have to deal with once we go back, and I thought that was really interesting.
As in, the other inmates think you all have flipped and work for The Man now?
Malcolm Goodwin: Exactly. People start to get a little suspicious. “How come these people are getting out? And what are they doing?” There are a lot of situations that the writers have set up where we have to help each other out against our fellow inmates. The writers really cracked open a lot of possibilities, and the potential is pretty much endless. I believe the show can go a lot further, which is exciting.
Lately, it seems that more and more high-caliber talents are going into television, like Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire) and Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead). As an actor, what makes TV so appealing when compared to film?.
Malcolm Goodwin: I know for me, personally—and this is my first time being on an episodic TV show fulltime—it’s the fact that you get to experience your character’s backstory. On a film, you kind of start off at a certain point, and then build on that; in TV, you get to really learn that character’s backstory. So by the time they get to Episode 8, and they talk about a certain situation, you know about it already because you lived and you played it. For me, that’s great. Just the consistency of getting new scripts so often. As an actor, it’s really as simple as me making a living, and surviving, while being able to work for a long period of time on the same character.
It does seem like TV is the new field of choice for not only actors, but directors, as well.
Malcolm Goodwin: There’s been some really good TV over the last couple of years, especially on cable. I think it’s also a testament to the writing, and to the characters that are available. TV writers are coming up with some great characters, and it’s drawing actors more and more to television. Another thing I love about TV is that you learn a lot about your character while filming every episode. It’s also fast-paced, too; you don’t get a lot of takes, and you don’t have a lot of time to work on things in that moment. I really enjoy it.