April 17, 2006 12:00 PM

SOUNDS OFF

He may play cell-block-agitating murderer T-Bag on FOX’s hit drama Prison Break, but for actor Robert Knepper, life on the prank-filled set is a riot of a different kind. The actor, 46, recently told PEOPLE about his despicable character and his new breakout celebrity.

HOW DO YOU GET INTO CHARACTER TO PLAY A THUG LIKE T-BAG?

I use 99 percent imagination and the other 1 percent, I don’t know where it comes from. I’m married. I have a child. I’m not a racist, I’m not a pedophile like T-Bag. I’ve always approached T-Bag as a smart, charming animal. He’s very crafty.

WHAT KIND OF RESPONSE DO YOU GET FROM FANS?

They’re astounded that they’re seeing me, first of all, because they think I should be in prison. Then they come up and go, “Wow, that’s right—it’s called acting.”

WHAT SORTS OF GAGS TAKE PLACE ON THE SET?

If a bunch of us have to pick up a table and move it, somebody will put peanut butter under the table. You lift it up and you have to keep doing the take as if it wasn’t there.

DO YOU HANG OUT WITH YOUR COSTARS OFF THE SET?

We don’t always get together as a group, but there’s this kind of retro, beautiful thing that goes on when we do go out. We’re like the Rat Pack.

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