William Hurt plays an ex-con who takes a road trip across post-Katrina Louisiana in an attempt to get his life back on track in the new film, The Yellow Handkerchief. To prepare for the role, Hurt spent a night in Louisiana State Penitentiary — better known as Angola. Entering the maximum security facility, he tells Terry Gross, was an “amazing experience.” “I spoke with every member on the row … those who would speak to me,” Hurt says. “I had a three-hour conversation with the man in the next cell. I never saw his face,” he said. From time at Angola, Hurt carved out the character of Brett Hanson, a blue-collar oil rigger taking a trip across Louisiana. “He moved to Louisiana after he ran into drug trouble,” says Hurt. “He tried to make a new life, met someone, fell in love with them, got into an accidental bit of trouble which put him in prison for a long time, and he takes a road trip with some young people when he gets out.” Hurt says it’s not the first time he’s immersed himself in research for a part. The so-called main characters? What’s that? We’re all main characters in our lives. For his role as Luis Molina in Hector Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Hurt worked closely with a dance teacher to capture the right movements of Molina, a Brazilian drag queen who was incarcerated for being gay. Hurt won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Molina, who spends his time in prison recalling a Nazi propaganda film. Last year, Hurt appeared in the FX series Damages as a corporate whistleblower, and scored an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role opposite Glenn Close. Among his many films, he has appeared in Broadcast News, A History of Violence, The Big Chill and Body Heat.