Far from his white-knuckled predicament inside the walls of Fox River State Penitentiary, Prison Break‘s hero Wentworth Miller, 33, kicks back in a Greenwich Village photo studio.
When asked about your race, what do you tell people?
I say I’m of mixed race, and if they ask for specifics, I rattle off the details: My mother is Russian, French, Syrian, Lebanese and Dutch; my father is African-American, Jamaican, English, German and part Cherokee.
How difficult was it dealing with racism growing up and now trying to find roles in Hollywood?
I’ll find myself standing in the company of someone who will make an offhand comment about someone else who is clearly “this” or “that,” knowing that they haven’t realized that I may also be “this” or “that.” They feel free to make that sort of comment in front of me, and then I’m faced with the choice of “Do I stop the party and start lecturing, or do I keep quiet and internalize this insult to someone who looks like they could be my family?” It’s a difficult choice, and I’d like to say that I always do the right thing, but the fact is it can be exhausting trying to educate someone. Confronting people can be difficult.
As for how race has played into my experience in the business, it’s really difficult to say. Obviously I’m not in the room when they’re talking about my audition tape, so I don’t know what goes into that process. I will say I’ve been fairly pleased by the reaction to my casting in Prison Break, which is basically no reaction at all. I’m playing a white character. There are those who would argue that actors of a certain background should not play certain parts, and those who would argue that those limitations should be challenged. I’m not interested in weighing in on that. I just want to work.
If you could play any character in literature, whom would you play?
Well, if we can expand the definition of literature to include comic books, I’d definitely love a crack at General Zod from “Superman.” So I’m hoping that Bryan Singer makes a sequel to the Superman that’s coming out and casts me.
Dave Chappelle recently said, “Success takes you where character cannot sustain you.” Agree or disagree?
Agree, for the most part. Anthony Hopkins (his costar in The Human Stain) said to me that success shines a magnifying glass on who you really are. Success gives you opportunities and money and power to take who you really are and run with it, so you’ll either become a monster or an even better person. I hope to fall into the latter category.
If you could have one superhero power, what would you choose?
I wish I could control the weather. I’ve been suffering in Chicago for the last year and am facing an additional six months there.