In 'Prisoner,' Twisted Whimsy Flirts With New Fears At the height of the Cold War, the television series The Prisoner was so subversive and enigmatic, it lasted just 17 episodes. There's finally a remake, but if you're expecting a faithful re-creation of the British series, actor Jim Caviezel says you'll be disappointed.
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In 'Prisoner,' Twisted Whimsy Flirts With New Fears

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In 'Prisoner,' Twisted Whimsy Flirts With New Fears

In 'Prisoner,' Twisted Whimsy Flirts With New Fears

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now, a story about a fictional authoritarian regime, one that provided the basis for a late 1960s British cult TV show.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: That's the music from the opening credits to "The Prisoner." The show only lasted 17 episodes, and for a series made during the Cold War, it was highly subversive. It starred Patrick McGoohan as a former British intelligence officer who mysteriously resigns in anger. Soon after, he's kidnapped and taken to a pastel-painted compound known as The Village, a place where, it seems, captive spies from both sides of the Iron Curtain are held.

The prisoner has no idea where he is or how he got there, and his name has been replaced with a number, number six. Here he is meeting one of his captors, number two.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Prisoner")

Mr. PATRICK McGOOHAN (Actor): (As Number Six) Who are you?

Unidentified Actor #1: (As Number Two) The new number two.

Mr. McGOOHAN: (As Number Six) Who is Number One?

Unidentified Actor #2: (As Number Two) You are Number Six.

Mr. McGOOHAN: (as Number Six) I am not a number. I am a free man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Tomorrow night, an updated version of "The Prisoner" debuts on the AMC channel. It's a six-hour miniseries starring Ian McKellen as Number Two and actor Jim Caviezel playing McGoohan's role, Number Six.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Prisoner")

Mr. IAN McKELLEN (Actor): (As Number Two) What were you doing in the mountains, Six?

Mr. JIM CAVIEZEL (Actor): (As Number Six) I have no idea how I got here. What did you call me? This is not - something's wrong here.

Mr. McKELLEN: (As Number Two) Yes. You are wrong, Six.

Mr. CAVIEZEL: (As Number Six) Do not call me that. I am not Six.

RAZ: Jim Caviezel joins me from NPR West in Southern California.

Welcome to the show.

Mr. CAVIEZEL: Thank you. Great to be here.

RAZ: Jim Caviezel, you've said this is not a remake of the British series, that it's a reinvention. What do you mean by that? What's different about this one?

Mr. CAVIEZEL: Well, I mean, this one is an homage to that one. We couldn't go and make a 1967 "Prisoner." There are different issues that are going on in the world today. During the Cold War, I remember thinking as a kid, you know, having a nuclear bomb go off in your backyard would be quite frightening. Well, nowadays we have a new form of terror. And in this "Prisoner," terrorism is dealt with.

RAZ: Were you a fan of the original series?

Mr. CAVIEZEL: I have not seen the original. I did not want to feel by comparison. Look, if I was going to fail at all, I wanted people to see what I had done and said, well, at least I didn't copy what he had done. And I'm pretty much a mimic by nature. I would have picked something up that he's doing subconsciously and probably would've been doing his performance and not mine.

RAZ: Did you ever have a chance to meet Patrick McGoohan, who was the original Number Six in the original series?

Mr. CAVIEZEL: No, sadly I didn't have that chance. He had been sick. And I kept asking and pushing to see if he could play a role, but I didn't realize how sick he was. And by that time, I didn't get that chance. You know, all I remember from Patrick McGoohan is when I was working with Mel Gibson and I said, hey, Mel, where'd you ever get that guy that played Longshanks?

RAZ: This is from "Braveheart," of course.

Mr. CAVIEZEL: From "Braveheart," yeah. And he had told me about "The Prisoner." And my agent, Brian Mann, called me up from ICM and he said, Jim, youve got to read this fast, brought the script to me and I thought, oh, "The Prisoner." Is this a rip-off of, you know, what Mel was telling me about? But I read the two episodes and I said, these are unbelievable.

And besides, Ian McKellen's doing this. I said, Ian McKellen's doing this? I said, get me the other two. And it's one of the greatest pieces of work I've ever done.

RAZ: You shot much of the series in Namibia, in the middle of the desert. What was it like to work there?

Mr. CAVIEZEL: You know, it fit the village perfectly. We didn't need a set designer.

RAZ: It was all there.

Mr. CAVIEZEL: It was already there. You have ocean on one side and the biggest sand dunes in the world on the other side. And in between that is this little town, and it's a little German town. Imagine taking a piece of Germany and having it float down to Africa 100 years ago. And so you have Germans there with this incredible dialect.

And you're surrounded by this, but you feel a little bit lost. And I use that in the character. I've never felt so disconnected before. But again, it really worked in the piece.

RAZ: So, now that the series is over, do you have any plans to sort of curl up on the couch and watch the original "Prisoner" series?


RAZ: The original 17 episodes? You will.

Mr. CAVIEZEL: Oh, absolutely. I have all of them in my house right now. And I'll be interested to see whatll happen, if I'm uncomfortable about it or what. Maybe feel like I maybe missed something or - but like I said, the other way seems to work for me pretty well.

RAZ: Well, I can tell you it's one of the most amazing television series I've ever seen, and our listeners can view it actually at You can see all of the original 17 episodes online for free - after, of course, you watch the version that Jim Caviezel is in.

Jim Caviezel stars as Number Six in the modern update of the old British television series, "The Prisoner." It debuts Sunday night on AMC.

Jim Caviezel, thank you so much.

Mr. CAVIEZEL: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

RAZ: And before you go, did you know, Jim Caviezel, that the son of the late Beatle George Harrison has a band called thenewno2, actually in honor of the original "Prisoner" series?

Mr. CAVIEZEL: No, I didn't know that. That's fantastic.

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