For a Puerto Rican, spending the winter in Chicago -- especially in the unforgiving confines of Joliet Prison -- doesn't exactly warm the heart ... or anything else, for that matter.
"If I were to be in prison," says Amaury Nolasco, who plays inmate Fernando Sucre on the hit FOX drama "Prison Break," which shoots partly at Joliet, "put me in Florida. In the middle of winter, all you're looking forward to is getting out of the cell, at least going out in the yard and looking up at the sky. Imagine when it's 10 degrees below. It's one of those things where you go, 'Oh, dammit.'
"There's nothing fake about that winter. I wasn't complaining in the summer. When we were outside, people were like, 'It's too hot.' I went, 'Guys, winter's coming, believe me.' Not only that, I heard we had one of the mildest winters ever. We were lucky. I can actually say there were only five or seven days when it was unbearable. At other times, it was just brutally cold. I got to a point where 20s and 30s were fine with me."I'm like, 'Who wants to live here?' I'm from the island. I'm used to being without a shirt, in swim trunks and sandals."
Since its premiere last summer, "Prison Break" has been a runaway hit, even rebounding from a long broadcast hiatus that lasted from the end of November until mid-March. It airs on Monday, right before "24" (top on Nolasco's TiVo list), on the way to its season finale on May 15.
Wentworth Miller stars as Michael Scofield, an architect who gets himself thrown into the same prison where his half-brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), is on death row for the murder of the vice-president's (Patricia Wettig) brother.
Having designed the prison, called Fox River Penitentiary, Scofield has the plans encoded in a tattoo that covers much of his body. All season, with the help of cellmate Sucre and a motley band of inmates, he's been planning to bust himself and his brother out before the execution. So far, things haven't been going all that well, forcing Scofield and his ragtag team to improvise.
"It's amazing," Nolasco says, "you're rooting for these guys. They're all criminals, if you think about it, except Lincoln."
Each prisoner has his own reason for wanting to go over the wall. For Sucre -- who is named after a Venezuelan pal of series creator Paul Scheuring -- it's a desire to get back to his girlfriend, Maricruz (Camille Guaty), before he loses her to his scheming cousin, Hector (Kurt Caceres).
Nolasco isn't sure he agrees with Sucre's motivation.
"He doesn't even have an idea what he's going to be dealing with," he says. "You ask me, how am I different from Sucre? First of all, I've got 18 months to go [to parole]. You think I'm going to risk that? You know what, I've got 18 months to go, she's got to wait. And if she's not going to wait -- there's a saying I have in Spanish, 'Saint that doesn't love me, saint I don't pray to.'
"If you are my girl, and you don't want to wait for me, see ya. But he's a passionate guy. He loves his woman. He flies off the handle when it comes to passion. He's very Latino when it comes to that."
While Nolasco disputes Sucre's actions, he does share with him a Puerto Rican heritage and Roman Catholicism.
"When it comes to that," Nolasco says, "he's like me. But I'm not a fanatic. My mom would love for me to go to church every Sunday. I don't go every Sunday, I go once in a while, but I do believe in God and Jesus Christ. He's the one who's guiding our lives and taking care of us."
Asked if there's anything else he and Sucre share, Nolasco says, "Pretty much just the religion ... and the sense of humor. I do have a sense of humor. I crack myself up. Life is too serious as it is to take myself seriously. I am like him in that sense."Allowing that the anticipated prison break is successful and that Sucre survives, Nolasco has some thoughts about what he'd like for his character next season.
"For one, I definitely would love to give it to Hector. Sucre's been restrained, so not only myself, Amaury, but the audience, wants Sucre to vindicate himself."
Along with working in the now-closed Joliet, the cast also went on a tour of the nearby Stateville Correctional Center, which is still in operation. It had a strong effect on Nolasco.
"It was eye-opening. I called Mom and Dad and just told them, 'Thank you so much, honestly, for those times you wouldn't let me go out.' They would say, 'No, it's too late.' I'd be like, 'All my buddies are going out.' They're like, 'No, it's too late. Go and do your homework.'
"I just hope I can do the same with my kids someday."