Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

April 5, 2006:

Wentworth Miller ’95

At Princeton, Wentworth Miller ’95 felt outclassed by his acting peers. (M. Spencer Green, AP/wide world photos)

A big break on ‘Prison Break’
Wentworth Miller ’95 lands lead TV role

Last fall, Wentworth Miller ’95 landed on the cover of TV Guide twice, thanks to his breakout role on a new hit Fox network drama, Prison Break. Miller plays Michael Scofield, who commits a crime to get into prison where his brother sits on death row, falsely accused of murder. Scofield then tries to break them both out of prison. Absurd? Sure! But Miller makes his brooding character sympathetic enough to draw 9 million viewers to the tube each week.

That skill wasn’t always there. After acting in high school theater in Brooklyn and the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Miller played German courier Count Von Strack in a Theatre Intime production of Amadeus his freshman year. But he felt outclassed by his peers. “I was god-awful,” Miller says. “Suddenly, a pursuit that had been dear to me felt like a foreign language. I got psyched out.” He quit acting and sang baritone with the Tigertones as a creative outlet.

Miller plays an engineer on Prison Break, but he struggled with science at Princeton (including “Physics for Poets”) and took a year off after sophomore year to work things out. He spent that time in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his uncle, working at a bookstore and as an office assistant. Absorbing the tedium of a minimum-wage job and a world that was “difficult and indifferent,” he returned to Princeton with renewed vigor and graduated with an English degree.

After school, he went to Hollywood and got a job “with a desk and a regular paycheck,” reading scripts and picking up coffee for the bosses at NBC’s made-for-TV movie division. But he soon realized, he says, that “I unconsciously went to Los Angeles to act. I knew if I didn’t try, there would always be that ‘what if.’”

In 1998, Miller got his first break with a guest spot on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But he didn’t nab his first lead role until he was chosen for the ABC miniseries Dinotopia in 2002, followed by a starring role in the film The Human Stain, in which he played a man who was black but looked white. In reality, Miller is a blend of Arab, European, and African-American. “There aren’t many roles written specifically with my background,” he says. “It’s something I’ve had to be fairly sensitive to as I make my way in this business.”

Now with a regular role and a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a TV drama, Miller plans to stick with acting, though he hopes to delve into writing and directing as well. “One of the most gratifying things about being on a TV show is that people are inviting you into their homes every week,” he says. “They’ve made time for you in their busy lives and schedules. That’s the highest compliment.”

By Rodney Ho ’91

Rodney Ho ’91 covers radio and television for The Atlanta Journal Constitution.