Best known as Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell on the series Prison Break, Robert Knepper is coming back to TV in what could be another iconic role, as actor Roger Reeves, who plays the character of Billy Grimm on The CW’s Cult. Confused? Let me attempt to explain this show to you!
When investigative journalist Jeff Sefton’s (Matt Davis) brother mysteriously disappears, it uncovers the dark world of the popular TV series Cult, and its rabid fans. Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas), a research assistant for the show, who is aware of the increasingly bizarre and dark incidents connected with the series, teams with Sefton to try to uncover why the gruesome plot twists on the program are being mirrored in the real world.
I spoke with Robert about his intriguing new series, and playing both Roger and Billy in Cult.
Did you do back stories for Roger Reeves and Billy Grimm?
The great thing about the episodes are that the back stories are in them. So all I have to do is read the scripts and I know what my back story is. A lot of times, I would sit there and go, ‘Oh wow, I hadn’t thought of that.’
They put specific words in my head and my mouth of what Roger had gone through as a kid and what Billy had gone through as a kid, and you’ll see all that.
Did you take any qualities for Billy from charismatic cult leaders of the past?
No, I wanted to stay away from anybody that was recognizable. You’re watching this show called Cult and in it you see all the things that you kind of feel like you’ve seen before.
The charismatic cult leader has got this following, he takes his people in and then they feel like they’re not worthy enough and they start killing each other and killing themselves.
To me what’s interesting is that you pare back from that, and you realize fans are watching themselves be so fanatical about the process.
It’s exactly what I went through with Prison Break. People were coming up to me [in awe], going, ‘Oh my God.’
Other actors have played iconic characters. You feel blessed to be a part of it. You also feel cursed to be a part of it., because your reputation and your characters are following you around. That’s what I love about this show. I get to go, ‘Look audience, this is what I go through.’
Billy is a charismatic leader, how do you get to that place?
I have no idea. I just try to imagine why is it certain people are so magnetic. Why do we always hear stories about John F Kennedy walking into a room and everyone knew he was there? What makes certain people that way?
Billy would say, ‘It’s not about me,’ John Kennedy would say, ‘It’s not about me,’ and, of course, it’s totally about them. They have huge egos.
You need to convince people that it’s all about them. Billy Grimm says at the beginning of the pilot, ‘I’m here to tell you that you belong, that you are loved, that no one else wants you, but I’ll take you.’
After Prison Break, do you feel like your fans were obsessed with you?
They were scared of me at first, because they realized I was this Silence of the Lambs guy who was going to take them down.
Instinctually, a beat later they would go, ‘Oh my God, that’s right, you’re an actor. You’re nice.’
Which of the characters is more fun to play?
They are both fun to play in different ways. With Billy Grimm I get to be this magnanimous person who should be on Mount Rushmore, except for the fact that he kills people.
Then you’ve got the actor who is about being just as powerful as the character he plays. He could be arrested for things like that, but it’s all safe because he’s acting it.
Then you get to play the same actor who is underneath it all a little boy, who has had some scarring experiences in his lifetime, which he uses to play Billy Grimm.
Do you feel with this that you have the best of both worlds, because you’re playing both a good guy and a bad guy in the same role?
Totally. Roger isn’t always a hero, he’s got his foibles as well.
But it’s like exposing the emperor’s new clothes and saying, you get to see what it’s like playing an iconic television character in a show that is a huge hit, and we’re hoping that rubs off with Cult becoming a big hit, and then playing the actor.
It’s the best gig I’ve ever had.
I asked Robert what his character Roger thought of all the strange occurrances surrounding the series – click below for his answer (note there is a lot of noise and other talking in the room).
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