Wentworth Miller’s Escape From Stigma

Finally free to be himself, the Prison Break star is helping others who struggle with depression or have faced adversity because of their sexuality.

Michael Scofield is back. The tattooed antihero of Prison Break was presumed dead when the Fox series wrapped after four seasons, disappointing its massive cult following. Eight years later, Michael returns in a new limited edition of the series—much as actor Wentworth Miller III came back from the dark, despairing pit he fell into after the original show ended.

In a widely publicized Facebook post last year, Miller said that 2010 was “the lowest point in my adult life.”  He also disclosed a lifelong struggle with depression, “a battle that’s cost me time, opportunities, relationships, and a thousand sleepless nights.”

It took a few years, but Miller climbed back to a good place both professionally and personally. His screenplay Stoker was released as an indie film in 2013, with Nicole Kidman playing a grieving mother in the psychological thriller. He had a couple of movie roles and did some guest-star stints on TV.

In January 2016, he returned to series television in the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow. Playing villain-turned-hero Captain Cold has a little extra zing for Miller, since he’s a comic-book lover from way back.

Perhaps not coincidentally, he hasn’t had another really bad bout of depression since deciding to publicly identify himself as a gay man in 2013.

“I haven’t experienced a major depressive episode in maybe three years,” he told People magazine in July 2016, a few months after his Facebook post went viral. “I try to stay really aware of where I’m at and what’s up for me.”

Miller also explained that his Facebook revelations were his way of coping with emotions stirred up by an Internet meme that had found a toxic second life.

The Lad Bible, a “bro” website, resurrected a paparazzi photo showing Miller with a head of curly dark hair and a bit of pudge around his midsection. That was paired with a buff promo shot of Miller as Michael—shaved head, toned abs, dangerous stare. The snarky caption read: “When you break out of prison and find out about McDonald’s….”

The 6-foot-1-inch actor’s cool, pansexual appeal on Prison Break turned him into an international sex symbol for women and men alike. He made People’s list of Sexiest Men Alive in 2007. The sight of a heartthrob-turned-average Joe may have been a groaner for his fans—but for Miller, it triggered painful memories of his lowest point.

“At the time I suffered in silence. As so many do,” he wrote of those bleak months. “Ashamed and in pain, I considered myself damaged goods. And the voices in my head urged me down the path to self-destruction. Not for the first time.”

Looking for some kind of relief, comfort or distraction, he continued, “I turned to food. It could have been anything. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. But eating became the one thing I could look forward to.… There were stretches when the highlight of my week was a favorite meal and a new episode of Top Chef.”

“You might have to be your own best friend … so start the work of loving yourself. Make sure you talk to yourself, in your head or out loud, like you talk to your best friend—or how you’d want your best friend to talk to you.”

Attitude magazine

The piece ends on a note of hope, with Miller rejecting the attempt at fat-shaming and choosing instead to see his own strength and healing. The final words urge others to find healing, as well: “If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Reach out. Text. Send an email. Pick up the phone. Someone cares.”

Thanks to his fame, Miller’s disclosure of struggling with depression got prominent play in media outlets. He has become more vocal as a mental health advocate in the past year, including voicing a PSA released for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September 2016.

This isn’t his first time at the anti-stigma rodeo, though. He’s been speaking out to LGBTQ audiences for several years about his painful confusion as a teenager trying to hide his sexual orientation, his youthful suicide attempts, and the suffocating mask of living as a closeted gay man in order to protect his career.

That changed in 2013 after he was invited to appear at the St. Petersburg International Film Festival in 2013. He declined because of Russia’s anti-homosexual policies. “People like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly,” he wrote in a letter that also became hot news.

Now that his inner and outer selves are aligned, Miller feels “more fully expressed.” He also finds that being able to share his innermost self—and knowing that what he’s sharing might help others—contributes to his own healing.

“Self-expression is so important, via whatever medium is available to you. Just find something that works for you and start the process of getting that thing inside you that’s causing pain, out,” he told Attitude, a gay-centric British magazine that named Miller its 2016 Man of the Year.

“If depression is part of your story, there is hope.… Don’t be afraid to take the first step.”

—Public service announcement for The Mighty website

Part of his new-found peace comes from maturity. Miller, who lives in Los Angeles, turns 45 on June 2. He says he focused almost exclusively on his career during his 20s and 30s, but now finds he’s more attuned to “friends, family, community.”

“Acting was always my dream, even though I had no idea or real plan for how to get to Hollywood,” recalls Miller, reflecting on his youthful drive. “I gave myself two years to make it in the business. As things turned out, it took me 10 years before I got my big breakthrough with Prison Break.”

Miller can see himself moving into directing and producing at some point, or pursuing writing. For now, though, he’s still eager to be in front of the camera.

“I can’t think of anything else that gives me that kind of buzz,” he says.


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Role Playing: Highlights from Wentworth Miller’s Acting Career

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1998): Miller’s earliest listed credit is in the “Go Fish” episode of this nerd-culture fave.

DINOTOPIA (2002-2003): Miller appears as David Scott, the younger brother in a family that crash-lands on a dinosaur-populated island, in TV adaptations of the popular children’s books.

THE HUMAN STAIN (2003): Based on Philip Roth’s novel, this movie put Miller on a set with Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris and Gary Sinese. Miller plays the younger version of Coleman Silk, the character played by Hopkins.

WE BELONG TOGETHER (2005): Miller shows off his chops as a brooding hunk in this music video for Mariah Carey’s hit single. Who wouldn’t leave her groom at the altar for all that?

PRISON BREAK (2005-2009): This Fox series made Miller an international star for his turn as Michael Scofield, an upstanding engineer who gets caught up in a web of crime and conspiracy after his older brother (played by Dominic Purcell) is sent to prison with a death sentence.

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2010): The fourth film of this video game-based franchise features Miller as soldier Chris Redfield—who, ironically, is imprisoned as the movie begins.

LOFT (2014): Miller’s character, Luke Seacord, is at the center of this twisty murder mystery about five married men go in together on an apartment for their trysts.

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (2016-present): Miller and Purcell reunite as the duo Captain Cold and Heat Wave, part of a time-traveling team racing to prevent Earth’s destruction. The pair originally popped up as villains on The Flash, another CW series borrowed from DC Comics.


Back on the Chain Gang

In the (former) final episode of Prison Break, which aired May 15, 2009, several major characters are seen visiting Michael Scofield’s grave. Turns out he’s not so dead: In the new reboot, we find him languishing in a prison in Yemen, a captive of ISIS.

“The new series picks up five years later and Michael’s sole objective is to return home to his wife and see his son whom he’s never met,” explains Wentworth Miller III, who plays the anti-hero.

“The big question is whether Michael, after all he’s been through, after going down a very dark road and getting his hands very dirty, is anything like the man she first fell in love with. … Is it possible to come back once you’ve crossed the line? That’s the central drama of the series, and why we’re drawn to him.”

Here’s what else Miller has to say about reprising the role that made him an international celebrity.

QUESTION: Is it exciting to return to this character who brought you so much recognition?

ANSWER: It’s a great privilege to have this opportunity. Returning to the series also gives me a chance to explore themes of brotherhood, family, loyalty, and sacrifice which I think meant a lot to audiences.

Q The character of Michael was notable for his incredible physique and tattoos. Did you have a say in coming up with that look? 

A I had been shaving my hair really short for 10 years, so I feel it was destiny that I would eventually wind up playing a convict! The tattoos are, of course, another big part of the character, except that it takes four hours in make-up to have them applied to my body.

Q Obviously your performance helped turn Michael into an iconic TV character. But what do you think are the specific qualities that make him such a fascinating character?

A I was initially afraid that audiences would hate him, because he’s very inaccessible, and it’s difficult at times to like him. Of course, that’s exactly part of his appeal.

Q How does your character Captain Cold on Legends of Tomorrow compare to Michael?

A Playing Captain Cold is a very different experience. It’s lighter, livelier, and more fun. Michael Scofield is a much darker personality. But in a way there are some similarities between the two characters. Michael also has a superhero quality to him and Prison Break has elements of a comic book story to it. … Captain Cold is a true superhero, but there’s also this very human dimension to his character.


Wentworth Miller Fun Facts

  • Miller attended Princeton University, earning a BA in English literature from the elite Ivy League school. Asked by People magazine what he would be doing if he wasn’t an actor, he replied: “There is no Plan B. Never has been.”
  • While in college, Miller sang baritone for an all-male a cappella group that knocked around Europe and the Middle East during summer breaks.
  • His father is of Afro-Caribbean and African-American descent and his mother is a mishmash of mostly European ancestry. His take on being of mixed race: “I’m hoping that what I am or what I’m not ethnically doesn’t limit me in anyone else’s eyes. I guarantee you it doesn’t in mine.”
  • His first name—shared by his father and grandfather—comes from the character Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion.
  • He has described himself as “kind of a dork,” more comfortable playing Scrabble or having dinner with friends than going out to bars or clubs. (Source: IMBD.com)


Printed as “Wentworth Miller’s Escape From Stigma”, Spring 2017

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