The Fox drama series Alcatraz follows a unique and unlikely trio, working together to investigate the mystifying reappearance of 302 of the prison’s most notorious inmates and guards, 50 years after they vanished. When San Francisco Police Department Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and Alcatraz expert and comic book enthusiast Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) teamed up with government agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) and his associate, Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra), to piece together the inexplicable sequence of events, they had no idea that what they would ultimately discover would be a much larger, more sinister present-day threat.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Sarah Jones talked about the grueling audition process she went through to play Detective Rebecca Madsen, what attracted her to the show, how crazy but flattering it is that fans have tried to find the “secret room” while on tour of the real Alcatraz, how much she enjoys working with the entire cast, her excitement for the big face-off between Rebecca and her grandfather (who also happens to be one of the inmates), and how shocked and amazed the fans will be with the final two episodes of Season 1. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did you initially get involved with this show? Was it a typical pilot season audition, or had they asked to see you?
SARAH JONES: I’m pretty sure I was in the last resort group. I’m not kidding. I think someone might have tested for it. It was literally a couple days before Thanksgiving and they just said, “All right, who’s left in Hollywood that can get in here.” So, I went in and auditioned. The audition was in Santa Monica, and I drove back to Hollywood and got a call from my agent who said, “Turn around, you’ve gotta go back for producers.” So, I went back for the producers and did my thing, and then drove back to Hollywood and got another call that said, “If you want to read the script, you’ve gotta go back to Santa Monica because you’re testing for it tomorrow.” So, I did that, and then I tested for it the next day. I worked my way up, the old fashioned way.
Once you read the script, what were your initial impressions about the story and the character, and has it actually turned out to be close to what you thought it was going to be?
JONES: Well, when I read the initial script, it set up what the show was nad what it was about. It’s about these ‘63s that are coming back, why they’re coming back and who’s sending them. I thought that it had the potential for some wonderful mythology. I love the idea that the mystery is based around something like Alcatraz. And obviously, with J.J. Abrams behind it, that was also a positive. But, it was a leap of faith too because the pilot didn’t get too much into the backstory of who Rebecca is. You had to go into it, just trusting that that would be revealed in the season. My first reaction to the pilot was just, “Wow, this could be something really interesting and something that I would really enjoy being a part of.” And then, as the cast was building, it got more and more exciting. It’s such a fantastic cast. I didn’t realize how scary the show is. A couple of people have come to me and were like, “There are times I can’t watch that show,” and I thought, “Bravo, Fox, way to just go for it!” They are the worst of the worst, as far as criminals go.
As you’ve read scripts and started to learn the mysteries of the show, has anything really surprised you?
JONES: Some of the crimes that they’ve had are certainly jaw-dropping, especially since they had the guts to have certain criminals on so early. With the “Kit Nelson” episode about the child killer, I know there were people on the crew, who are parents, who said it was hard for them to read. And, I think the fact that they had Lucy (Parminder Nagra) get shot in the second episode was brilliant and shocking, and also a wonderful gateway to get to know who she was, and her past and her connection to Alcatraz, and Hauser’s (Sam Neill) connection.
Once you’d been cast in the show, did you do much research into Alcatraz?
JONES: I always enjoy reading about historical events and places and people. I certainly was familiar with Alcatraz and the Birdman, Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone, but I hadn’t researched Alcatraz as much as when I got the role. I didn’t want to research too much on it, but I read a couple books about it. I wanted to look more into what the prisoner’s lives were than anything else because that was Rebecca’s connection to Alcatraz. For all she knew, her grandfather and her uncle were guards at Alcatraz. I read about this prisoners and I watched this documentary, called Alcatraz Reunion. It’s the only prison that essentially has an alumni. They invited all prisoners that were still alive to come back, and someone came and videotaped the whole thing and interviewed them about how they felt. It was strange to see these men who were in the most notorious prison in America, being treated as celebrities. People were coming up and having them sign autographs. It was so strange. That’s how I prepared for that.
Have you heard that they’ve had to add a sign on the real Alcatraz tour, to let people know that the secret room on the show doesn’t actually exist?
JONES: That’s crazy! It’s flattering that people are so drawn into the show and think, “Hey, maybe this does exist,” and want to go looking for it.” At the end of the day, it’s ultimately flattering.
Did you do any training for playing a detective?
JONES: I spoke extensively to a lieutenant who was a former detective. Any time I had a question or wanted to throw something around or wondered about protocol, he was there and available. I spent a lot of time talking to him. And then, for the physical aspect, I took up boxing and I started running. Rebecca is very physical on this show, so that’s what I did to prepare and get ready for the show.
What’s it been like to play off of both Jorge Garcia and Sam Neill, since they are very different actors and characters? What sort of dynamic does each of them bring, when you do scenes together?
JONES: Everyone in this cast is really talented and really down-to-earth and just lovely to be around. We really enjoy working together and, obviously, Sam and Jorge are no exception. They’re fantastic. They both bring their own thing to their character. Sam brings that icy stare and that intensity to Hauser, and Jorge brings that lighter, youthful innocence to playing Doc. It’s nice to play those two extremes, and I hope that that translates when people see the show. We really have a great chemistry together and we really enjoy working together.
Are you excited to have the big face-off between Rebecca and Tommy Madsen, her grandfather?
JONES: Oh, yeah, of course! Hopefully, everyone else is, too. David [Hoflin], who plays Tommy Madsen, is fantastic, so I can’t wait to work with him, one-on-one. I think it’s a great pay-off for Rebecca to be able to personally deal with her grandfather.
Where are you at in the season, right now, as far as the filming goes?
JONES: We’re working on Episode 12, right now. I’ve read Episode 13, which is the last episode, and man, the writers really delivered. If you like the show and you like the mythology and the mystery, Episode 13 is such a pay-off for the entire season. I think it’s brilliant. Fans of the show are really going to like the last two episodes. They’re going to be shocked and amazed!
Alcatraz airs on Monday nights on Fox.