TCA 2018: Ben Stiller Breaks Down Dannemora Prison Break

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Beverly Hills, Calif. — Ben Stiller is behind the Showtime limited series Escape at Dannemora, about the prison break that took place in upstate New York in 2015. Stiller said he was interested in the story when it first broke, though he was filming a movie in Italy at the time. He became “fascinated by it,” Stiller said, when he saw the Dannemora script from Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, who knew each other from the writers room at Ray Donovan.

“The more you delve into the story, the realities of the story are so interesting,” Stiller said, referring to “the ecosystem of the prison” in Dannemora, New York.

Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro play the convicts who break out, David Sweat and Richard Matt. Patricia Arquette plays Tilly Mitchell, who worked at Clinton Correctional Facility, became sexually involved with both men, and helped bust them out.

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Johnson and Tolkin said the series differs from other prison-break projects because of Tilly.

“The intense cold of that area made me feel like my character was bored and wanted to feel alive,” said Arquette, who said she enjoyed exploring the sexuality of the prison employee.

Escape at Dannemora debuts Nov. 18. It will be an eight-hour series, with Stiller directing.

Del Toro said of Dannemora, “There’s something that tickles you, makes you laugh, but it’s not really funny.”

The residents of Dannemora were initially skeptical of the project, Stiller said, many assuming he was shooting a comedy, given his background. “Eventually a good relationship developed with people,” he said.

Dannemora has been “an amazing experience for me,” Stiller noted.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.