The new A&E drama Breakout Kings, from the writers/producers of Prison Break, is an action-packed ensemble series that follows the unconventional partnership between the U.S. Marshals office and a group of convicts as they work together to catch fugitives that are on the run. Veteran U.S. Marshals Charlie DuChamp (Laz Alonso) and Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi) decide to take an unorthodox approach to their work by using former fugitives to catch current ones, in exchange for time off of their sentence, as long as they follow rules and don’t try to escape. This special task force is comprised of former child prodigy and psychiatric expert Lloyd Lowery (Jimmi Simpson), ex-gangbanger Shea Daniels (Malcolm Goodwin), and expert tracker Eric Reed (Serinda Swan).
During a recent exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Laz Alonso and Domenick Lombardozzi talked about how they came to be a part of this new television series, what they enjoy about making it, why they think their characters respect each other, and how confident they are in the quality of the work that they’re doing. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you guys get involved with this series?
LAZ ALONSO: For me, they brought me in, early into the process, and then I had a death in the family and it prevented me from being able to test for the show. The cool thing about Matt [Olmstead] and Nick [Santora], the creators and executive producers of the show, is that they called my agents and asked, “What’s up? Is he going to be able to make it?” And they said, “Unfortunately, he’s going to pass because his family is first.” Later on, they communicated to me that that’s when they knew that I was the right guy for the role. They wanted to work with people that weren’t so caught up in this industry that they don’t put family first. They put their family first, and they’re really family-oriented guys. This is probably the first time, in my career, that somebody has actually waited for me. They would not cast the role until everything was fine with my family and I was able to come back to L.A., audition for the role and test for the show. I felt, in that room, that they were cheering for me and wanted me to get the role. Gavin Hood, who directed the pilot, worked extensively with me that day. In spite of the fact that I was just coming off an emotional roller coaster, these guys were in my corner. I knew, at that point, that I wanted to be in business with them as well.
DOMENICK LOMBARDOZZI: They wanted to surround themselves with people that they would like to work with for five, six or seven years. I remember Nick and Matt saying, “A lot of the cast are people that we can envision ourselves working with, for a number of years.” There’s just no bickering and none of that kind of stuff. For me, personally, it was just going through the whole system of auditioning and then getting the approval.
Did you guys hit it off, right from the beginning?
LOMBARDOZZI: Opposites attract, sometimes. We do share the same birthday. The chemistry comes along from these characters being so different, but they have one thing in common – they love what they do. At the end of the day, as much as you’re arguing and going at each other, there’s always that little common ground that brings you back. Laz was just easy to work with. You either act with somebody, or you can act against somebody. With us, we act with each other.
What do you think it is that your characters respect in each other?
ALONSO: My character, without a doubt, respects Ray Zancanelli’s field experience and his gut instincts on things. He knows that Ray can get the job done. The way I look at Ray is that he is the running back. If this were a football system, he’s the guy you hand the ball off to. He’s going to take out linemen. He’s very physical, as a presence, and nine out of 10 times, you’ll see Ray doing a lot of physical acts. And, he’s smart. He’s been there. He’s good in the field. He brings an element of experience, as well as just a physical presence to the team. He gets his hands dirty. Charlie is a guy who has to be by-the-book because of his position, being the leader of this team. He’s got the title and he has to report in, so when the stuff comes rolling down, it comes on Charlie and then Charlie has to pass it on to them. It’s great to have a guy like Ray on the team, who you can let do the dirty work, and you just turn your face and look somewhere else. Ray gets his hands dirty. He has to, at times, put himself on the level of the criminal, and he has no problems doing that.
LOMBARDOZZI: It’s a very thin line between these guys, sometimes. One carries a badge and one doesn’t. On the flip side of what Laz was saying, what Ray probably admires the most about Charlie is how he has it so together. He basically has everything that’s a void in Ray’s life. He goes home to a wife. He has that. He goes to work and he does what he feels most proud of. All Ray really has is a struggle to be where he once was. This guy lost his relationship to his job. Ray wishes he was like Charlie, and could go home and be with his wife and kid, and have that. Charlie lives in a half-way house. These guys are so opposite. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, and sometimes it’s not. In a nutshell, that’s where Ray lives.
As actors, is this the ideal job for you, since you get to do drama, comedy and action with these characters?
LOMBARDOZZI: As serious as Ray is and Charlie is, you hardly ever see them sit down in the bullpen and relax in those settings. But, what they seem to be doing for me is throwing in that New York sarcasm in sometimes, here and there.
ALONSO: For me, what I love about it is, as an actor, the last thing you ever want to end up on is just a procedural show where you’re just a talking head. There’s nothing worse than just spitting out words. Words interrupt performance. Performance is king in my world, when it comes to why I’m in this business. The beauty of this show is that they do have to, of course, deal with the procedural stuff, but they do also put in enough character-driven moments where you get to perform and be a real human being with flaws and family problems that you bring into the workplace, just like we all do, and it affects those around us. Or, you react to another character’s flaws and the problems that they’re bringing into the workplace. It really gives you the best of both worlds.
How will the dynamics change between these guys and the cons that they’re working with, over the course of the series? Do they ever soften towards them?
LOMBARDOZZI: No, there’s always that line. Yes, we become a team, in those respects. We’d take a bullet for them. They’re part of us. They’re our responsibility. But, at the end of the day, they’re cons. At any point, if you lose that, then you lose that intensity and that respect.
ALONSO: We do show trust, though. There are moments where we’ve had to give them our guns and, if you’re giving a con your gun, they can turn around and use it on you and escape. So, there’s no back-patting. There’s none of that.
Is it fun to have the different guest stars come in to play the criminals that you’re after, each week?
LOMBARDOZZI: We have some really good guest stars.
ALONSO: Yeah, we’ve had people who we’ve admired, even just as fans of this industry, watching their work and loving their work. They come in and they put it down.
LOMBARDOZZI: We’ve had some really good directors, also. We seem to be getting help from everywhere.
Do you guys get any input into the development of your characters?
ALONSO: My character has a particular health concern and the creators have been very open to using my input, as to how to utilize it, how to expose it and how not to overdo it, but still have it play as part of his crutch. He has to manage through that. Overall, that’s one of the things that he has to work around and try to keep it from affecting his performance in the field, supporting Ray. We back each other up. He can’t let that stop him from being an affective Marshal. But, for the most part, they’re always on the line and they’re always open to hearing input that we might have, as to what we think our characters would do and say. They’re always open to dialogue. It’s not a closed door policy, by any means.
Was there ever any hesitation for either of you to sign on to play a character that you could be playing for a number of years?
ALONSO: For me, definitely. I’ve been very blessed to work in some films that I’m very proud of. When you’re going to commit yourself to a series, to a certain degree, you’re almost saying, “Okay, some of these opportunities, I’m just not going to be available for,” so it has to be something that you really, really are passionate about. So, that was something that I considered, but I felt confident in (creators/executive producers) Matt [Olmstead] and Nick [Santora], and I felt confident in the direction that they were going with the storyline and the characters, and I felt confident in A&E as well. I don’t look back with any regrets.
LOMBARDOZZI: I definitely see the possibility of playing this character for five years, only because he is completely flawed and he has that whole personal relationship with his daughter. Between his daughter, and Charlie giving him the opportunity to be a Marshal again, it’s the only thing that matters to Ray. There are a lot of different places we could go with the character. It’s not a one-dimensional character. That’s what drew me to the project.
Do you have any favorite episodes that you can’t wait for viewers to get to see?
ALONSO: My favorite episode is one that involves a bomber. I was given a lot of freedom to play a lot of different moments, so I’m really excited about that episode.
LOMBARDOZZI: I’m with Laz on that one. I liked the bomber episode. I liked the episode with the Natural Born Killers theme.
Do you guys ever feel like you have to raise your game with the great guest stars that you have, so that the guest characters don’t overshadow you?
ALONSO: No, I don’t feel that way.
LOMBARDOZZI: I think that’s the nail in the coffin for any actor.
ALONSO: Not to toot our own horn, but I think our starting line-up is strong enough to where we’re always in game mode. Not taking anything away from the guest stars, who I think are great, but they have to play up to the standard that we’re setting ‘cause it’s our world.
LOMBARDOZZI: You work with a lot of different actors, and they have their different methods, but the worst thing for any actor to ever do is work against another actor. You have to work with them, and you have to find that common ground and still play the scene within its confines. Luckily, we haven’t run into that problem. Everybody has been great. The directors that have come on have been great. We couldn’t have asked for better guest stars. We haven’t had any problems. I haven’t worked with anybody who I felt was trying to upstage me. I guess I’m lucky.
Laz, what’s it like to be a part of film history with Avatar, which will always be one of the biggest films of all time?
ALONSO: For me, it was more having the opportunity to work with James Cameron because of his work before Avatar. He’s already made film history, a few times over, so just having the opportunity – to be perfectly honest with you – to audition for him already was like, “Wow, I’m really doing this. My opportunities are finally blossoming.” To hear that I had actually gotten the role was just the icing on the cake. I feel like it’s still surreal that it’s part of film history. Work wise, it made me a better actor to work with him. It made my work ethic go up 10 times, just what I bring to characters. Seeing how meticulous he was, in developing my character, and how much importance he places on every moment, made me a better actor. I feel very blessed to have been a part of that.
BREAKOUT KINGS premieres on A&E on March 6th