Just 30 minutes from the heart of Toronto, shooting is under way for season 1 of A&E's Breakout Kings. In a working class suburb blanketed with an inordinate amount of snow and dirty ice, the crew works ferociously to turn a local hardware store into an authentic Brooklyn locale. Frantic crew members attached to handheld transmitters swirl about determining perfect shot angles, and ensuring French words don't appear on product labels. Meanwhile, eons away from the chaos and tucked in the bowels of the buildings basement, sits actor Laz Alonso, alone in a director's chair.
With his turns in The Fast and the Furious franchise, Spike Lee's Miracle on St. Anna and the highest grossing movie of all time, James Cameron's Avatar, Alonso, who plays embattled U.S. Marshall Charlie DuChamp on the series, is a bona fide movie star. While most in his position are chasing the next big opening weekend, Laz finds inspiration in other places, being challenged as an actor. "Charlie has a strong moral core," Laz explains about his character. "That was the first and foremost thing that I was looking for, I made my way in film, playing a lot of scumbags characters and I wanted to turn the corner and start playing guys that just had more to show in the story than just being bad."
While the Howard University graduate and former Wall Streeter definitely isn't playing the degenerate this go around [his character oversees a taskforce made up of a group of cons that catch other cons], his past has definitely served him well for this gig.
On most screen projects, actors usually hang out before filming to build chemistry; did that happen with the cast of Breakout Kings?
Well, Dom [Domenick Lombardozzi stars as Charlie’s partner on the squad, Ray Zancanelli] and I had never met before. We were familiar with each other’s work, but this was our first time working together, and we’re both born on the same day, March 25th.
As a personality, Aries are stubborn as hell, and our characters fit us very, very well. That’s one thing that I will say, is that the writers don’t expect us to evolve as much as they write for us. So they put us in situations where it’s very easy for Dom and me to clash because we probably would’ve clashed anyway. But at the end of the day, even with the clashing, you see these two guys that work really, really well together.
And that’s kind of how Dom and I are in real life, you know? We’re cool, we have disagreements on politics or weather, religion; you name it. But there’s definitely a respect for each other that we always maintain, and we work well together.
Your character is a U.S. Marshal with a military past, how did you embody that type of person?
For me, it’s mostly military type stuff. I’ve been blessed to play a couple of military roles. You know, Spike Lee and I did a World War II movie, Miracle at St. Anna. Jarhead was the Gulf War stuff and my character was in Fallujah and fought overseas in the Middle East.
So, I just try to bring as much authenticity as I can. Even this ring [he displays a Marine Corps ring on his finger] wasn’t something in the script, and wardrobe never thought of it. It was tough to get it in Canada, but it’s a U.S. Marine Corps ring, and even though they may never highlight it in the show, he’s wearing the ring.
In real life you’re a college graduate turned actor…
Well, it’s funny because I grew up in military school. So there is a love for the service that I always have had and my friends call me the general, ‘cause I kind of act like I’m in the service.
Like if you go to my closet, everything is lined up as if I’m still in military school. All my shoes are polished and clean. Everything’s pressed and in line, ordered. It’s kind of scary, actually. I probably fit a few psychopathic descriptions, but that’s just how I kind of keep what I can control in order.
There are a lot of action sequences on Breakout Kings, how involved are you in the stunt process?
It's probably 60-40? The way my stunt guy works with me is like, 'If you don't feel comfortable doing it, let me know, and I'm there.' I had an injury where I tore a plantaris tendon. We were up at a rock quarry shooting, and it was 26 below, windy, and we shot for nine hours. And basically, your muscles tighten up to the point where no matter how much you try to stretch; they're trying to stay warm. So they're always clenched.
And it was a shootout scene. This was a T-Bag episode [T-Bag was a felon on the show Prison Break, whose character is reprised in Breakout Kings]. And I'm shooting out with T-Bag, and I go to run to save Ray, and my tendon pops, you know? And that's when I realized that, even for silly stuff or things that you may take for granted, you've got to rely on the stunt guy, because he was there on set all day just waiting for me to call him in, and I never did.
So now I've learned to respect the need to use a stunt guy more. But for the most part, I would say I've done the majority of my stuff. He's an amazing, amazing stunt guy and somebody that I'd like to continue to use, because I think he makes me look really, really good.
But I wouldn't necessarily call this show an action show, I mean, because it's just as much of a thinking show as an action show. We have some action sequences and shootouts and things like that, but a lot of the times we're just trying to figure stuff out. So it's cerebral as well.
What’s been your favorite episode filmed so far?
There’s an episode where my wife almost gets blown up. It’s a racist kind of -- one of those guys that are anti-government. They’re American, but they’re anti-government, and they hate the country they live in, and taxes, and conspiracy theorist type thing. And that episode was very, very personal to me, because they attacked my home. You know, this guy infiltrated our database, and he’s attacking my family now.
It just gave me a lot to work with and I was able to really get into it. But, yeah, the episode with the bomber is probably my favorite.
Outside of your character Charlie DuChamp is there another character that you could see yourself portraying?
Well, yeah, I think if I would have been another character on the show, I probably would’ve played one of the criminals.
I mean, they have a lot of fun. They get to really do some cool stuff and you get to push the envelope a little bit. Plus, I still like to play bad guys. Just because I’m playing good guys right now doesn’t mean that I’m this -- you know, forever going to play a good guy. It’s always fun to tear some sh*t up.
Watch Video: Meet the Cast - Laz Alonso