How excited is actor Robert Knepper about his mysterious new series, Cult? Best known as the scummy T-Bag on Prison Break, Knepper is conducting this interview while driving his truck to the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles for a TV blogger’s coffee chat along with some of his Cult co-stars. However, what really has him giddy on this early Friday morning is a billboard on Sunset Boulevard, featuring the Cult cast. Apparently, it’s the first time Knepper’s image has graced a large advertisement, so to commemorate the occasion, he tweeted that if he received a thousand dares, he would climb the billboard and take a picture up there. The extension ladder in the back of his truck makes his intentions pretty obvious.
In the meantime, Knepper is only too thrilled to discuss, or in some cases, keep tight-lipped, about the twisted Cult.
The premise for Cult is quite the mouthful. How would you describe the series and what struck you about the concept?
There’s a couple of different ways to describe it. The short version is older brother, Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis), is trying to find his younger brother, who has suddenly disappeared, because he has been watching this television show called Cult. He gets so wrapped up in it and then he disappears. The longer version is you are watching a TV show called Cult. It’s got typical things you might see involved in a cult. A cult leader with a family that loves him and will do anything to protect him and the family. One of his followers, Kelly (Alona Tal), and is now a cop and is trying to bring him down. This ain’t going to happen to the family. Then you pull back and realize you’re watching a show called Cult and you’re in the middle of a fandom mania that is loyal and addicted. They get closer and closer to watching this TV show and trying to find out who disappeared, why they disappeared and how. As they get closer, they start disappearing.
What attracted me to the show was it was sort of an answer to everything that I went through playing T-Bag on Prison Break. I had been kicking around for 25 years and suddenly, I got that gig. I was no longer anonymous. I was no longer a private person. And I was playing what ended up becoming an iconic monster. You can’t help but have an impression on somebody when some character makes you famous and people look up to you saying, “I hate you,” or “I love to hate you,” as opposed to being the nice-looking guy, who is the hero, and people coming up to you going, “I love you.”
What I realized is the bad boy, the dark boy, is a huge pinup for Mr. Sexy. I had women coming out of the woodwork, writing me, reaching out to me, saying, “I love T-Bag.” It’s been a real adjustment. Now, I hope Cult will be as big as Prison Break. It’s a really fun story. On one level, you think it’s about someone trying to find his brother. On another level, there’s this huge thing called network television or cable television or social media that can reach out to millions of people around the world and draw them in.
Who is the character Billy Grimm and what motivates him?
Billy Grimm never uses the word cult. He has a family and his m.o. is “If I give you unconditional love, if I accept you, I’m here for you. I’m reaching out to you. Someone will take care of you. Give me your love.” When I read that, I immediately thought back to Charlie Manson. Cult leaders have a negative reputation. They mess with people’s heads. Billy is a magnetic person that will draw you in. He has some very dark sides to him about why he started this family. There’s going to be hell to pay if you try and go against him. You’ll find that out in each episode.
How does what’s happening on the fictional TV show Cult seep into the real world and affect the viewers?
Well, I can’t really talk about that because it’s a spoiler. Our creator, Rockne (S. O’Brannon), called me up after the pilot was all finished and he said, “I have one word to describe this show. It is ‘cool.’ If you’re going to reach out to millions of people through television or social media, you’ve got to reach out to people that you can influence. And the way you influence them is make the show cool. It’s edgy and fun and sexy. Cult is not saying, “We are promoting violence or cultdom here.” We are expanding your mind to the possibility that when you step into this imaginary world, that fans of a very popular TV show are fanatical about it. They are fanatical about it and on their computer trading thoughts about it. Why did this happen? What does that clue mean?
You’ll see in the pilot… Every TV show usually ends with created by… fill in the blank. Whoever the real creator of a show is, sometimes they have a (credited by ) card. In our series, at the end of the inside show called Cult, a card pops up saying, “Created by Steven Rae.” And you start to wonder… Steven Rae? I thought this show was created by Rockne S. O’Bannon? So you start to realize something much larger is at play here. Who is Steven Rae? What is he doing to people? How is he drawing them in? Is Steven Rae a person or a group of people? The possibilities are endless and all that stuff will start to unfold beginning in the first season.
While investigating his brother’s disappearance, do Jeff and Billy butt heads?
Now remember, Billy is a character. That’s the tricky part. Once you see it, it all makes sense. It’s a little hard to explain it and I’ve gotten to the point where I just say, “You know what guys? Stop trying to explain and watch it.” It all becomes crystal clear when you watch it. Billy Grimm is the character of the cult leader in the show Cult. If Jeff has any dealings with anybody, it would be with Roger, who plays Billy Grimm.
At the end of the day, does Cult answer enough questions to satisfy people who have devoted 13 weeks to the show? And does the finale lay the groundwork for a second season?
Absolutely on every account. Will it keep people interested? Yes. Does it lay the groundwork for a second season? Absolutely. The ending of the first season is a huge cliff-hanger. When I first read it, I was shocked. This is a real page turner. Every episode of this, you will go, “Oh my God.”