The pilot for J.J. Abrams’ FOX show Alcatraz is coming together quickly. Last week, three new actors and roles were announced, all of whom should at least ring a bell in the ear of TV fans. Sam Neill, recently of Showtime’s The Tudors, has been cast as a government boss. Petrelli family patriarch from Heroes, Robert Forster, will play a retired cop and bartender. And long-running ER star Parminder Nagra has been cast as lab technician – she should feel right at home in the white coat.
The trio join former Lost star Jorge Garcia, along with Sarah Jones, Jonny Coyne and Jason Butler Harner. Alcatraz follows the story of a group of felons and personnel who disappeared before the prison’s close over 40 years ago, only to re-appear in modern times. Jones would seem to have the lead role as a member of an FBI team assigned to track the inmates down. Garcia seems to be playing on his somewhat comedic role in Lost, since he’s cast as an expert on Alcatraz Island and a “hippie/geek.” Coyne and Harner are the time-displaced warden and assistant warden, respectively.
Neill is best known for his roles in Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October in the early 90s. His biggest role recently was in Legend of the Guardians, though recently he’s had more serious TV parts in The Tudors and Happy Town. In Alcatraz, he’ll play Emerson Hauser, the head of an as-yet unnamed government agency, though it’s a good bet that he’ll be Jones’ boss. Robert Forster’s biggest role lately was villain Arthur Petrelli in Heroes, though he’s played various cops and father-figure types for over 30 years. His most notable role was a bail bondsman in Jackie Brown in 1997. He’ll be playing a retired detective and bar owner named Archer, presumably a sounding board for the investigating FBI team. According to Deadline Hollywood, Forster is still in negotiations for the role.
Parminder Nagra, another veteran talent, is best known for her role in 2002 girl-power soccer movie Bend It Like Beckham and a leading role on ER from 2003-2009. The latter may make her the highest-profile TV star to join Alcatraz yet. The doctor role probably helped her land the current part, where she plays a lab technician in Neill’s division.
The project is shaping up to be quite promising indeed. I’m a fan of both Neill and Nagra’s work, and I’m excited at the prospect of them both returning to regular TV roles. It should be noted that at the moment Alcatraz is only a pilot, but with Abrams’ and his production powerhouse Bad Robot behind it, there’s no reason to think it won’t be picked up for a full season. Filming begins next month.