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'Prison Break' Breaks More Rules

"Prison Break" is changing its rules. Again.

Any fan of the serialized Fox drama knows by now to expect the unexpected, confirmed by the November "fall finale" that gave fugitive siblings Michael and Lincoln Scofield (Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell) an unforeseen new ally: duplicitous Secret Service agent Kellerman (Paul Adelstein).

The trio sets out to expose the corrupt U.S. president -- who framed Lincoln for her brother's apparent murder, prompting Michael to get himself incarcerated to get Lincoln out -- as the second season of "Prison Break" resumes with new episodes Monday, Jan. 22.

"It becomes clear that they can't simply turn and run," co-star Miller says of the convicts' new mission. "They have to choose to fight instead of flee. Because so many people have been hurt or killed in the course of this, I don't think the audience would be satisfied if Michael and Lincoln didn't strike back to bring down the government conspiracy that has cost them so much."

Such a turn is par for the course for "Prison Break," since creator and executive producer Paul T. Scheuring regularly adds and subtracts characters, including other inmates who escaped with the siblings.

"It is a roller-coaster ride," Miller says. "We are operating in a comic-book universe. We own that dynamic, and we're proud of that. It's what makes this a success, but it's also our job to play these characters as realistically as possible. If Michael no longer acts like a human being, there's nothing to relate to."

Moving much of the series' action outside the fictional Fox River State Penitentiary was a gamble that has paid off, much to Miller's relief. He reflects, "Something that occurred to me the first season was, `The prison is not only a character on the show, but perhaps the most important character.' It's the universe within which this was born. Once you take that away, what are we left with?

"We have an incredibly talented, imaginative pool of writers, and they've cleverly switched out the prison for the entire United States. The landscape becomes one of menace and potential traps. By the time season one ended, the actors had been very careful about crafting complex, believable characters you could root for. You did care about them once they made it outside."

Also undergoing big changes on "Prison Break" this season is Sarah Wayne Callies' character, Sara Tancredi, the doctor who bonded with Michael during his time behind bars. She's now on the run herself, another target of the conspiracy that claimed her governor father's life and almost caused her drowning in a motel room's bathtub recently.

"That was an intense shooting process," Callies recalls of the sequence in which Kellerman bound Tancredi to a chair and submerged her face-first in the full tub. "It was exciting and challenging, and I certainly feel like I learned a lot from it, but it was not a simple day. It's always more interesting to do something like that than something that's safe, right?" (Tancredi saved herself by pulling out the tub's stopper with her teeth.)

The fact that Callies remains a major part of "Prison Break" is a pleasant surprise to her, since the show has moved beyond the jail, and Tancredi ended last season by taking a possible drug overdose. "I think it's some of the most creative storytelling for women on TV right now," the actress asserts. "They're giving me a lot of latitude in establishing a sense of who she is, then putting her in circumstances where it all comes apart. That's gutsy."

So is Tancredi, which is why Callies pursued the role. "She participated in Doctors Without Borders, she chose to work in a prison, she's just someone who has really rushed at life and absorbed experience with real enthusiasm. She's getting a lot more than she bargained for right now, and I certainly don't think she'll be the same person after this."

Nor will Michael Scofield, and his portrayer feels fortunate to have landed such an arc in his debut series. "'Prison Break' was the first pilot I ever tested for," Miller reports. "It's a one-in-1,000 shot that a pilot's actually going to get picked up, much less last longer than a few episodes. You never know what the audience is going to be in the mood for. It seems we lucked out, because there wasn't a glut of serialized dramas debuting last season.

"At the same time," Miller adds, "I also believe if your show has the right hook, it's going to find its audience no matter what. There was something about 'Prison Break' from the start that guaranteed a certain degree of tension. I think people like prison stories in general, plus you have 'MacGyver'-esque shenanigans, a little bit of romance and that idea of taking two steps forward, one step back each and every week. That's almost guaranteed to keep an audience coming back for more."

And also to keep the show's stars on their toes, figuratively and literally. "The beauty of 'Prison Break,'" Miller concludes, "is that it's like you're a high diver and you've been asked to execute three double back flips -- but the board is only four feet above the water."

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