Robert Knepper has got a devilish charm about him. Spending last weekend in Adelaide at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, the American actor has been meeting many fans of his extensive body of work, whether it be Prison Break, Heroes, Mob City or more recently, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One. Though I remember him mainly as T-Bag from Prison Break, Knepper has obviously gone on to establish himself further as a respected actor on TV and film since and as he tells me at the Adelaide Showgrounds, there’s only more exciting roles on the horizon yet.
“I’m working on a great series right now with Ed Burns.” Knepper reveals. “Eddie and I did Frank Darabont’s series last year called Mob City; he played Bugsy Segal and I played his best friend, Sid Rothman. Frank, of course, being the man behind Shawshank Redemption and The Walking Dead, The Green Mile…he’s just a fantastic filmographer. He did a great movie years ago called Brothers McMullen and he comes from a line of cops; his dad was a cop and his grandfather was a cop, and so he’s written, directed and starring in this amazing series set in the 1960s in New York and I play a police captain! That’ll be on TNT in February, we’re shooting that now. Mockingjay just opened…I just shot this huge mini-series this summer down in Durango, Mexico called Texas Rising. It’s about how Texas became a Republic and not a State, with Texas Rangers fighting Mexico. I play a great character on that! The History Channel is behind it – they won lots of Emmys last time with it and it was the highest rated mini-series ever, so we’re really hopeful about this one. Leslie Grief, the creator and producer, just called me a couple days ago and said, ‘We’re going to be in over 1500 movie theatres starting on Christmas Day!’ They’re showing trailers for the TV show! I think people are crossing over more and more now into the film world and television.”
Kicking around in the TV and film industries for a while now, Knepper has learned to appreciate the diversity in the roles he’s played, laughing, “It’s nice to be able to play good guys and bad guys, I don’t like doing all one thing!”
“The first film I ever worked on years ago,” Knepper reflects. “Two weeks into being in LA I met Blake Edwards and I had the great fortune of being a part of a cast of really amazing and talented people like Julie Andrews and Jack Lemmon, in a film called That’s Life. I remember Jack saying to me, “Kid, just remember something, it never gets easier”. That came from Jack Lemmon. You’re in a whole new arena when you’re dealing with a list with a letter in front of it – the ‘A-List’. You’ve got to fight, you’ve got to scratch and you’ve got to convince people – not just through the audition process – what viability your name has, can you put butts in the seats of the theatre…it’s show business as well as show business. Luckily, I do it because I love it. I’ve never done it because I wanted to be rich or famous, those are just nice byproducts of it sometimes. Coming to a convention like this, where you actually meet people and they come up to you and say these amazing things that they feel and they give you presents; sometimes they cry in front of you or they make you laugh and they say, ‘Thank you so much’, it’s just…You can get really insulated in LA, or wherever I shoot these things.”
On his recent projects and other potential works he has on the go, Knepper is fully aware of the fickle nature of the industry, noting that early on in his career, it has always been about the love of the craft over any effect or perk fame has since brought him. Rather, now he is in a position where he can be perhaps more selective with the roles he plays, Knepper approaches each creative project with the grounding forces in his life very much present in mind.
“I kicked around for about 25 years before Prison Break, acting and doing a lot of stuff.” he says. “I love acting, so whatever’s been given to me and whatever I’ve fought for has always been appreciated, including Prison Break and everything since. I’ve had an amazing year, like every year though. I never go to ‘work’, I always to go to play and 2014 hasn’t been any different. People always ask me, ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ or ‘What’s your favourite TV show?’ and I always say, ‘The next one’. I’m already looking forward to what’s happening in 2015. It’s not really a ‘year end’ for me, it’s all a blur because it never stops for me.”
“With Prison Break,” he explains. “We shot the fourth season in LA, the first season in Chicago and the second and third seasons in Dallas, so we were working in a vacuum there. The thing that I didn’t realise on Prison Break unfortunately, but I realise now, is that the most important thing in your life is not your work, it’s your life. Like with Hunger Games: Mockingjay, I was so thrilled to be a part of the family of Mockingjay, for my son’s sake. I will never forget taking him to the premiere last Monday night, the look on his face…he looked up at me and I thought, ‘This is why I’m doing this’. It’s not to add another movie to my resume, it’s what I do for the people I really love. Family’s the most important thing, not the next job. That’s the memorable thing about 2014 for me, not about what movies or TV shows I got, but that reaction from my son and my wife to say, ‘It’s important to be alive‘ and it’s important to give that gift to people. There is nothing grounded about this business, it’s always changing!”
Meet Robert Knepper and the rest of Supanova’s Supa-Star line up when they come through Brisbane this coming weekend, November 28th-30th at the Convention and Exhibition centre. Visit www.supanova.com.au for more information!