Exclusive: Christian Borle Talks Prodigal Son's Friar Pete and More

Christian BorleTonight, an all-new episode of Prodigal Son aired on FOX, entitled, “You can Run…” The series follows NYPD profiler Malcolm Bright, whose father, Martin Whitly, is the serial killer who called himself “The Surgeon.” Whitly often gave Bright advice and insight to help solve the cases he worked until last week’s episode when he escaped from Claremont Psychiatric Facility, along with two other inmates, Friar Pete, played by Christian Borle, and Hector (Armando Acevedo).

Borle talked to SciFi Vision on Friday in an exclusive post-mortem interview about the episode, working on the show, and more.



***Note there are spoilers for 2.11, “You Can Run…,” in the following interview. Please watch the episode before reading.***

Christian BorleSCIFI VISION:   I read you’re from Pittsburgh. I’m about an hour from Pittsburgh…I did want to ask you, is that why your character is from Pennsylvania, from Pittsburgh? Did they add that? Or was it just a weird coincidence?

CHRISTIAN BORLE:   I think it was a weird coincidence. Or maybe [not]. You know, when I came back for these last three episodes, they were just peppering my appearances with all kinds of bizarre activities. One of which was that song, of course. So, I wonder if they were looking at my bio, and they're like, “Oh, he's been in musicals. Oh, he's from Pittsburgh.” And maybe I mentioned bowling in some prior interview? [laughs] I don't know, but I was so pleased that they threw that Pittsburgh in there.

Yeah, that was pretty cool…I did see the episode. I liked it. It would have been nice if you were in it a little bit longer, but... [laughs]

I feel the same way, but they didn't take the notes.

So, how did you start working on the show?

It was just one of those very nice things. They called and asked if I wanted to do it. I think it's one of those things of working in this business for a little while and maybe having a reputation for not being a total jerk that sometimes leads to work. And I've worked with Michael Sheen before on Masters of Sex, so if he had to sign off on anything, I guess he didn't hate working with me on that, either. So, it was just one of those happy things.

And that's what I was going to ask, can you talk about working with Michael Sheen? And does it help having worked together previously? I would guess it would.

Yes, I think my favorite thing about Michael Sheen, first of all, is that he's just an incredibly good actor, but he just has my favorite quality, which is that he's just completely and utterly prepared and committed. So, we have kind of, without really talking about things - I'm not an over talker when it comes to my process, and neither is he - we have developed that kind of an unspoken shorthand, and we just do it fast, and get out, and it works very well, I think.

So, other than the script, when you when you first got the role, is there anywhere else that you were inspired by for the character?

…I knew it was going to be a very kind of like restrained, just quiet thing until the end, obviously, when things explode a little bit. I just kind of wanted to tap into my inner creepiness and just be as weird as possible until they told me to do something else, and they just let it go.

Is it hard to kind of get into that headspace? And is it easy to get back out of it?

I wouldn't call myself a method actor, [laughs] so it wasn't that hard. I just kind of like stared creepily, and then they called cut, and I went back to my book and my coffee.

[laughs] All right. Well, what about him do you connect to? I mean, obviously, I'm guessing he's not much like you, but there's probably some of you that you've brought into it. So, how did you connect with them in that way?

I think the way that they wrote him, he has a good sense of humor, and a bit of a sarcasm to him, and, ultimately, at the end of the day, too, I think he is a charlatan and a con man. So, it was more fun to think about him being a master manipulator rather than a zealot, and that was it. So, since he is an actor, I think that's where maybe our lines crossed.

Right. You got to have some scenes with Catherine Zeta-Jones. What was it like working with her?

It was amazing. I was intimidated going in, because she's Catherine Zeta Jones, and she immediately disarms you, because she also was just ready to go, and laser focused and very charming. She was very, very nice to me, and we had kind of crossed over, at least genre-wise, on Broadway, so she acknowledged that. It was really sweet. She made me feel very comfortable.

And to watch her haul off on that stunt man, who was my double for when she beats the crap out of Friar Pete, was some something to behold. She was a delight. I was really, really kind of starstruck, but also just once we started doing it, we were just a couple of actors doing some crazy stuff around live rats.

[laughs] Is there part of the stunt that you did do or did he completely take over?

He did all of like the kicking and the punching, and then they put me down on the ground, and she pretended to kick me in the stomach a couple of times, but he actually got walloped quite a few times.

Do you like doing that? Well, I guess you didn't do a whole bunch of it [in that instance], but do you like doing that kind of thing?

Christian BorleI do. When I found out that I got to do a little stunt in my final episode, getting shot in the head, I was excited to. I've always wanted to do work with squibs that explode all over you and that hail of glorious blood and guts, but they don't do that anymore. Now it's all just computer generated, but I still had fun working with the stunt guy, and just he was very patient with me. [He] put down the pads, and then I've dropped like a sack of potatoes over and over and over again. It was really fun.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. I was going to say, I don't think that the screener we saw was the final version, because there was kind of no blood. [laughs]

Okay, I haven’t seen it either, so I don’t know how it’s going to look.

At least I assume they're going to add some blood. Can you talk more about though kind of just filming that scene, the rest of the logistics of it. I mean, you sort of talked about it, but a little bit more just kind of overall.

It was a very bittersweet day, because it was a meaty scene to do, but also my swan song, and I was going to miss working with all these people, because that was a great, great crew. But it was fun to go out with some screaming and some bowling, which I totally failed on the day, but that's okay. That's the magic of television, and it was a really satisfying last day.

You got to throw a bowling ball though. I mean, I assume you really threw it, I doubt you really threw it at Tom but... [laughs]

Yeah, there were there was a little perspective work happening there, but that was also a stunt ball involved, because, obviously, you have to protect that sweet face.

[laughs] Yeah, you don’t want to really hit him with bowling ball; that would hurt.

No. [laughs]

Okay, well, what have you found the most challenging about the show, either a scene, or just in general?

With the show Prodigal Son specifically?

Yeah.

It was all pretty much, you know, it was well written. So, there was not a challenge to try to make the material work. And they were also nice, so it wasn't a grind. I would say that the hardest thing was keeping my institution white pants up, because they were drawstring pants. They were one size too big. So, that was the real challenge on Prodigal Son, keeping my pants up, but I did it. I did it. I think that's probably what I'm the most proud of in my entire career.

[laughs] All right. Do you have a favorite scene?

I mean, these last three [episodes], the escalation from the singing at Catherine Zeta-Jones, to working with live rats, then to finally just going out, and like a gunshot after screaming, it's all been a great trajectory. It's hard to pick my favorite moment.

Yeah, it was pretty a good death scene, as far as death scenes go.

Thanks.

So, you you've done a lot of Broadway work…Are you planning to go back to do that once it's back open again? Do you have anything planned?

Yeah, I mean, of course, we're all just waiting for that moment when people feel [comfortable] now that the actual government restrictions are lifting. Today, we just found out, actually, that May 19th all the capacity restrictions are gonna lift, but there's so many other considerations, the main thing being like, when are people really going to be ready to sit vaccinated amongst each other in an audience? As soon as that happens, I'm going to go back into Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, which I love doing, and I can't wait to get back to see all my friends and act opposite an enormous plant.

Cool. Other than that, do you have any other projects, theater or otherwise, that are coming out?

Christian BorleYeah, I actually am in pre-production for a musical that I wrote...

Oh, wow.

...with a pal of mine and also another big kind of movie adaptation, which I think will be one of them good movie adaptations, because that's always a crapshoot, but I can't say what that is yet, but that should happen next late next year.

All right. I did want to ask, you were on Elementary. Can you talk just a bit about that? I loved that show.

I did too. I had such a blast. Lucy Liu directed that episode.

Oh, cool.

She works so fast and furiously…she works fast. And I got to play a subdued kind of doctor character. I let my beard and my glasses do all the work. Then, I ended up being the killer in the end, which was very satisfying getting perp walked away in cuffs into a nearby police car. It was a blast. Working with Jonny Lee Miller was a hoot. He was so good.

Awesome. Do you have a favorite role out of all that you’ve done?

I do have a soft spot for Tom from Smash, just because that was such a magical two years with such an incredible group of people telling stories about something that is near and dear to my heart, which is, of course, musicals, but just everything that I've gotten to do on stage. They're all my babies. I can't pick a favorite one, but it's just, I miss the theater very, very much. We never thought that we would be in this place where the rug was pulled out from under us for so long. So, I just can't wait to get back.

Yeah, it kind of makes it hard. Not being in it, but just in general, watching it, do you have a favorite musical? Or can you not pick that either?

Oh, I do have a favorite musical. No doubt about it. It's Sweeney Todd. The greatest musical ever.

I've seen the movie, not the actual musical, but yeah, that's a good one.

Treat yourself on YouTube to Angela Lansbury and George Hearn in the videotaped version of it. It's amazing.

Cool. I think when I've mostly seen musicals are in the movies. That's bad. I've seen Phantom of the Opera. I love that. That I actually went to see, but, unfortunately, not on Broadway, just in Pittsburgh. [laughs]

Well, when you make it to New York, give it a try.

Sometime. I'd love to be able to do that. Hopefully after all this is done; after all the craziness.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

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