50-year-old American actor Robert Knepper is hungry, and a bit distracted. Well, he has spent all day talking about reprising the role of racist, murderous rapist T-Bag in the impending videogame spin-off of late TV show Prison Break. (You may also know him as Sinister Dirty-Fingered Chief Carnie Samuel in the spectacularly awful latest series of Heroes.) We're going to make him talk some more about it, as well as about the Fonz, fake beards and singing drunks. He's charming, loves to tell stories and has lovely twinkly eyes, but he doesn't know Jack about videogames.
Eurogamer: What's been the process for recording your stuff for this game? Is it just you whispering murderous epithets into a mic, with no-one else to bounce off, or is it an ensemble recording?
Robert Knepper: Yeah, it's individually. The guys that came over from Germany to put it together, they were huge fans of the show, so that's nice - even when they had to be specific about what I should say, to trim it down for time, they really appreciated the show. And you could tell that it was a job for them, but it was also their love.
Eurogamer: Were you conscious of reading the lines into a vacuum? With a lot of games you can tell when that's happened, there's all these weird pauses and inflections in what's supposed to be a conversation...
Robert Knepper: Weird. How come they don't edit it better, so there's an overlap? No, there was no sense of that here, because that's how we do it. If we have to go back in on a film and do ADR [Automated dialogue replacement], re-loop the line because there was a plane flying overhead or a phone rings... Normally we would cut there. Sometimes I'll say "shall we keep going?" and the sound guy goes "no, we'll cut..." So... Er. I lost my train of thought. [Stares into middle distance.]
Eurogamer: Ah. So, this was purely voice work? You didn't have to wear hotpants and be covered in ping-pong balls for mo-cap?
Robert Knepper: Yeah, yeah. No, it wasn't that at all. People keep asking about that. Maybe a lot of them do that, right? It's sort of the 3D thing.
Eurogamer: Was it odd to go back to a previous iteration of T-Bag, back when he was still a full-on, child-murdering, white power psycho, before he developed a bit of a conscience?
Robert Knepper: I think the challenge of it was, even if he hadn't been a nasty guy, even if he'd been a hero, just revisiting a part that I'd played was hard. I know it's a videogame, but I thought, "I don't wanna become a caricature of myself." That always is possible with that kind of part.
Eurogamer: In Prison Break you're one-handed, in Heroes you've got the dirty fingernails. Are you worried about people typecasting you as guys with freaky hands?
Robert Knepper: Y'know it's funny, about three episodes into that show, someone said, "I see why your fingernails are the way. It's because you dip your fingers into ink, or you're always in the earth." The original impetus wasn't any of that. I just thought 'rock star'. And my original thought was just paint my nails black, and then I thought I don't wanna be Adam Lambert from American Idol, I want to do something different. And then I started scratching them and that's how it all came about. And after three episodes I started saying, "oh yeah, it's because of the ink, definitely..." I actually wanted to go a bit further, be more Bowie, Keith Richards, those legends.