AARP Eye Center
Filmmaker/star Ben Stiller, 52, has grossed $2.8 billion (Zoolander, Tropic Thunder), mostly with comedies that tickle America’s wicked inner child. But his miniseries Escape at Dannemora (Showtime, Nov. 18) proves he can do epic, fact-based drama for grownups, too. It’s about the actual, bizarre 2015 jailbreak at Dannemora, N.Y., by murderers Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro, 51) and Paul Sweat (Paul Dano, 34), aided by their prison tailor shop boss — and both men’s sex partner — Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette, 50), who plotted but failed to kill her devoted husband Lyle (Eric Lange) and drive their getaway car to Mexico.
Now convict Sweat and Tilly are in prison — her husband still stoutly defends her! — and Stiller has immortalized them in an Emmy-magnet character study that doubles as a gritty, gripping thriller in the style of the ‘70s (Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 123). Stiller tells AARP about the new, seven-hour saga that marks his coming of age as a grownup movie master.
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AARP: The jailbreakers are fascinating characters, more ingenious tunnelers than Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, but Patricia Arquette’s Tilly, the femme fatale who helped them escape, is so weird it’s hard to believe she’s real. And it’s hard to believe that’s Patricia Arquette — it’s a more startling physical transformation of a famous beauty than Charlize Theron in Monster or Nicole Kidman in Destroyer.
Stiller: The story is all true — the more real stuff we discovered, the more crazy it seemed. Tilly wanted to get out of her humdrum, boring life, driving over an hour each way each day to the prison with the prison-worker husband she didn’t seem to be that into, even though he was devoted to her. When she walks into her tailor shop with 50 violent inmates with 13-inch cutting shears, she is the object of attention. It appeals to her ego.
AARP: So she made love with inmates Sweat and Matt in the back tailor shop room 100 times, and planned a whole new fantasy life with them. Like Etta Place, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid on the run.
Stiller: There were no video cameras, nobody monitoring what they were doing at all. She was a serial cheater, a very sexual person, who happened to be a 51-year-old grandmother. She was used to manipulating people in her own way.
AARP: The older inmate, Del Toro’s role, was a serious painter — and so is Del Toro, right?