Even though Paul Adelstein '91 now stars on the Fox series "Prison Break," he still remembers his small victories as a beginning actor.
"When I didn't have to wait tables anymore, it was like I was Harrison Ford," he said in a phone interview with the Orient.
No critical comparisons to Ford have come yet, but Adelstein has made his mark on both the film and television industries. Before "Prison Break," he had roles in such films as "Intolerable Cruelty," "Be Cool," "Collateral," and "Bedazzled." On television, Adelstein appeared on episodes of "Without a Trace," "Hack," "ER," and "Scrubs."
In "Prison Break," which follows the quest of a man to break his brother, a man framed for the murder of the vice president's brother, out of prison, Adelstein plays Secret Service Special Agent Paul Kellerman. The show's fall finale added a new twist when Kellerman shot a fellow agent because Kellerman, like the brothers, wished to expose the government's corruption.
Adelstein describes his character as a "talented, efficient, dedicated Secret Service agent. He's a patriot above all else, maybe to a fault."
"I haven't gotten to play that kind of character before, and it's really enjoyable," Adelstein continued. "Being involved in something that people respond to is gratifying. [The show] gets its hooks in people."
In addition to shooting FBI Agent Alexander Mahone (William Fichtner), Adelstein's character participates in his share of violence on "Prison Break." While Adelstein was filming a water torture scene with a female character, there was an accident where the stuntwoman's face hit the bottom of a bathtub.
"I love playing the hardass killer, but some of the violence turns my stomach," Adelstein said.
While at Bowdoin, Adelstein acted in as many plays as he could, most of them in the black box theater at Wish Theater. Adelstein's break came when he returned to his native Chicago the summer between his sophomore and junior years and worked at John Cusack's commedia dell'arte theater company, New Crime.
During that summer, Adelstein met Cusack and now knows him "quite well. He was my first director and is a great guy."
After he volunteered at New Crime for the summer, the company offered Adelstein a chance to be onstage. He took their offer and spent his junior year in Chicago, earning credits at Northwestern while he acted.
"I spent my junior year abroad at my parents' house in Chicago," Adelstein said. "The theater company was like basic training with the physical demand, the emotional strain. I was the youngest person by a long shot."
Even though he could have continued acting instead of returning to Bowdoin for his senior year, Adelstein chose to earn his diploma. An English major, he wrote an honors thesis on James Joyce and Samuel Beckett with Professor of English Marilyn Reizbaum.
"Senior year was the most enjoyable because I knew where I was going," Adelstein said. "I was a total tool. I was studious and spent a lot of time in the library. Once I finished, it gave me permission to do what I wanted to do."
With that permission to embark on his acting career, Adelstein's film roles have been mostly comedic, while his television roles have been largely dramatic. Other than "Prison Break," highlights include working with Harold Ramis, one of his favorite actors and directors, on "Bedazzled," and filming "Intolerable Cruelty" with Joel and Ethan Coen, George Clooney, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
"Working with the Coen brothers was not even in my wildest dreams. They were two goofy guys in their T-shirts, but everybody was at the top of their craft," Adelstein said. "The higher up you go, the nicer and calmer you are. People at the top of their game don't feel the need to throw their weight around."
Though acting with George Clooney and shooting "Prison Break" with a "wonderful group of people" is hard to top, Adelstein did have his fun at Bowdoin. He added that while he was at the College, the female hockey team used to streak around campus wearing just their helmets.
"It was a bonding thing," he said. "I don't want to explore the psychology of that."