‘Escape at Dannemora’: Eric Lange on Why Lyle Mitchell Is the ‘Human Cost’ of the Story

Showtime’s limited series “Escape at Dannemora” focuses on real-life escaped convicts Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) and the prison worker who aided their escape, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). But when you have a pair of hardened criminals and the woman who is carrying on an affair with both of them, it’s hard to figure out who the viewers should be rooting for.

That’s where Lyle Mitchell, the unaware husband of Joyce, comes in. “He’s very much a sympathetic character in the show,” Eric Lange, who plays Lyle, tells TheWrap, describing him as the “human cost of this tabloid-sensationalized thing.”

Lyle was one of the people involved in the ordeal who the show’s producers never got to speak with, co-showrunners Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin had previously told TheWrap. Which makes sense. After all, would you want to speak about one of the most embarrassing moments of your life: finding out your wife of 21 years was not only sleeping with two prisoners but also aided in their escape and might have even plotted to kill you?

Also Read: ‘Escape at Dannemora’: Co-Creators Went ‘Through the Looking Glass’ to Research Prison Break Drama

“He’s like shrapnel in all of this,” Lange continued. “He’s one of the big victims in this whole story.”

The limited series, which is directed and executive produced by Ben Stiller, is based on the 2015 prison break from Clinton Correctional Facility by Matt and Sweat. The two escapees — both convicted murderers — broke out of the Upstate New York facility, aided by Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, who reportedly carried on affairs with both men while supervising them in the tailor shop. It spawned the largest manhunt in the history of New York State.

The real Lyle Mitchell has only spoken once about it, in a 2015 interview with “Today” show. “I’ll never forget watching it and feeling so sorry for him. He genuinely seemed confused and angry,” Lange continued. “It was just so embarrassing on so many levels for him.”

Lange had to rely mostly on that one interview to help him capture Lyle’s speech patterns and facial tics, but also got information through stories from other people that work at the prison that knew him.

“We got to tour the prison [which is still in operation] when we first started production, so all the guards that I met I would ask, ‘Did you know Lyle?’” Lange said. “And all of them did, and all of them told me a little something about him.” He added that a lot of background actors for the show were also from the area. “They all had a story.”

Also Read: ‘Escape at Dannemora’: Did Richard Matt Really Have a Photo of Hillary Clinton in His Jail Cell?

The series paints Lyle as being mostly unaware of what his wife is up to, even if he does appear suspicious at times. But Lange explains that love can make you do crazy things, like look the other way when your wife might be sleeping with inmates and helping them break out of a maximum security prison.

“The great question is how much does he know? And how much is he going to let anyone else know he knows?” Lange said. “Love is deaf, dumb and blind.”

“Escape at Dannemora” airs Sundays on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT

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Showtime Launches Companion Podcast for Limited Series ‘Escape at Dannemora’ (Exclusive)

Showtime’s limited series “Escape at Dannemora” focuses on real-life escaped convicts Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) and the prison worker who aided their escape, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). But when you have a pair of hardened criminals and the woman who is carrying on an affair with both of them, it’s hard to figure out who the viewers should be rooting for.

That’s where Lyle Mitchell, the unaware husband of Joyce, comes in. “He’s very much a sympathetic character in the show,” Eric Lange, who plays Lyle, tells TheWrap, describing him as the “human cost of this tabloid-sensationalized thing.”

Lyle was one of the people involved in the ordeal who the show’s producers never got to speak with, co-showrunners Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin had previously told TheWrap. Which makes sense. After all, would you want to speak about one of the most embarrassing moments of your life: finding out your wife of 21 years was not only sleeping with two prisoners but also aided in their escape and might have even plotted to kill you?

“He’s like shrapnel in all of this,” Lange continued. “He’s one of the big victims in this whole story.”

The limited series, which is directed and executive produced by Ben Stiller, is based on the 2015 prison break from Clinton Correctional Facility by Matt and Sweat. The two escapees — both convicted murderers — broke out of the Upstate New York facility, aided by Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, who reportedly carried on affairs with both men while supervising them in the tailor shop. It spawned the largest manhunt in the history of New York State.

The real Lyle Mitchell has only spoken once about it, in a 2015 interview with “Today” show. “I’ll never forget watching it and feeling so sorry for him. He genuinely seemed confused and angry,” Lange continued. “It was just so embarrassing on so many levels for him.”

Lange had to rely mostly on that one interview to help him capture Lyle’s speech patterns and facial tics, but also got information through stories from other people that work at the prison that knew him.

“We got to tour the prison [which is still in operation] when we first started production, so all the guards that I met I would ask, ‘Did you know Lyle?'” Lange said. “And all of them did, and all of them told me a little something about him.” He added that a lot of background actors for the show were also from the area. “They all had a story.”

The series paints Lyle as being mostly unaware of what his wife is up to, even if he does appear suspicious at times. But Lange explains that love can make you do crazy things, like look the other way when your wife might be sleeping with inmates and helping them break out of a maximum security prison.

“The great question is how much does he know? And how much is he going to let anyone else know he knows?” Lange said. “Love is deaf, dumb and blind.”

“Escape at Dannemora” airs Sundays on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Escape at Dannemora': Did Richard Matt Really Have a Photo of Hillary Clinton in His Jail Cell?

'Escape at Dannemora': Co-Creators Went 'Through the Looking Glass' to Research Prison Break Drama

Showtime Launches Companion Podcast for Limited Series 'Escape at Dannemora' (Exclusive)

R. Kelly’s Ex-Wife on Gun Threat: ‘In Some Way, It’s Connected to Him’

R. Kelly’s ex-wife Drea says that she believes a gun threat that caused an evacuation at a New York City screening for Lifetime’s upcoming documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” was connected to the singer. “I can’t speak to what he would …

R. Kelly’s ex-wife Drea says that she believes a gun threat that caused an evacuation at a New York City screening for Lifetime’s upcoming documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” was connected to the singer. “I can’t speak to what he would or would not do because I don’t know what his mindset is right now,” she told […]

Suge Knight Is Hit With the Biggie Question in Trailer for Antoine Fuqua’s Showtime Documentary (Video)

Did Suge Knight have Notorious B.I.G. killed?
In the first trailer for “American Dream/American Knightmare,” Showtime’s long-in-the-works documentary on the incarcerated rap mogul, Knight is asked if he was involved in the 1997 murder…

Did Suge Knight have Notorious B.I.G. killed?

In the first trailer for “American Dream/American Knightmare,” Showtime’s long-in-the-works documentary on the incarcerated rap mogul, Knight is asked if he was involved in the 1997 murder of the rapper. But of course, you’ll have to tune in to hear Knight’s answer.

The documentary from “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua, which was first announced in 2011, will premiere on Dec. 21 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT.

In the doc, Fuqua delves deep into the life and storied exploits of the iconic Death Row Records co-founder, Marion “Suge” Knight, as well as the volatile and highly influential era in music that he presided over. Through a series of interviews with Knight, viewers are guided through his world as he personally reveals exactly how it all happened and why it all fell apart. Once described as the “most feared man in hip-hop,” Knight is currently in jail, sentenced to 28 years in prison after pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter in a 2015 hit-and-run death.

“In this documentary – which took years of research, production and labor to complete – Suge Knight discusses for the first time his complex life in detail,” said Fuqua. “The audience will learn how he built and lost Death Row Records and his views about the rap music scene. Suge also gives a first-person account and new details about the Las Vegas shooting that seriously injured him and that took the life of Tupac Shakur. This documentary will give viewers more access to Suge’s story than ever before. This is a cautionary tale of one man’s choices and the consequences of his decisions.”

“American Dream/American Knightmare” is directed by Fuqua and produced by him and his Fuqua Films banner, Bradley J. Fischer and Eva Gunz.

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CBS Chief Creative Officer David Nevins Promises Bigger Investment In CBS All Access In 2019

As other media companies talk up their plans for yet-to-launch streaming services, CBS chief creative officer David Nevins touted the rapid growth of CBS All Access and promised deeper investments in the coming year.
“They have a ton of content c…

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Tony Lynn Dies: Former Showtime, Playboy Entertainment Executive Was 66

Anthony (Tony) Lynn, whose four-decade career in the entertainment industry included executive positions at Showtime, Playboy Entertainment Group and MGM Telecommunications, died Dec. 1 following a brief battle with cancer. He was 66.
Lynn, whose death…

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Rupert Wyatt Steps Down as Director, Producer of Showtime’s ‘Halo’ Series

Director Rupert Wyatt has parted ways with Showtime’s “Halo” series, dropping out of the project as director and executive producer, Showtime announced on Monday.

Ordered to series earlier this year, the 10-episode series is an adaptation of the popular video game franchise from showrunner Kyle Killen. “Rise of the Planet the Apes” director Wyatt was attached to the project to serve as an executive producer and director of multiple episodes.

“Showtime’s adaptation of ‘HALO’ is evolving beautifully with rich characters, compelling stories and powerful scripts,” Gary Levine, president of programming for Showtime, said in a statement on Monday. “Obviously, the production demands of this series are enormous, and we have had to add time to the schedule in order to do it right. Sadly, this delay has created a conflict for Rupert, whom we warmly thank for all he has brought to the project.”

Also Read: Rupert Wyatt Steps Down as Director, Producer of Showtime’s ‘Halo’ Series

Added Wyatt, “It’s with great disappointment that changes to the production schedule of ‘HALO’ prevent me from continuing in my role as a director on the series. My time on ‘HALO’ has been a creatively rich and rewarding experience with a phenomenal team of people. I now join the legion of fans out there, excited to see the finished series and wishing everyone involved the very best.”

Showtime’s series will be loosely based on the original 2001 game, “Halo: Combat Evolved,” which takes place during the 26th-century. It involves a conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant.

The series is produced by Showtime in association with Microsoft/343 Industries, along with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television. It will begin production in early 2019. Scott Pennington, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank for Amblin Television will also executive produce.

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Director Rupert Wyatt has parted ways with Showtime’s “Halo” series, dropping out of the project as director and executive producer, Showtime announced on Monday.

Ordered to series earlier this year, the 10-episode series is an adaptation of the popular video game franchise from showrunner Kyle Killen. “Rise of the Planet the Apes” director Wyatt was attached to the project to serve as an executive producer and director of multiple episodes.

“Showtime’s adaptation of ‘HALO’ is evolving beautifully with rich characters, compelling stories and powerful scripts,” Gary Levine, president of programming for Showtime, said in a statement on Monday. “Obviously, the production demands of this series are enormous, and we have had to add time to the schedule in order to do it right. Sadly, this delay has created a conflict for Rupert, whom we warmly thank for all he has brought to the project.”

Added Wyatt, “It’s with great disappointment that changes to the production schedule of ‘HALO’ prevent me from continuing in my role as a director on the series. My time on ‘HALO’ has been a creatively rich and rewarding experience with a phenomenal team of people. I now join the legion of fans out there, excited to see the finished series and wishing everyone involved the very best.”

Showtime’s series will be loosely based on the original 2001 game, “Halo: Combat Evolved,” which takes place during the 26th-century. It involves a conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant.

The series is produced by Showtime in association with Microsoft/343 Industries, along with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television. It will begin production in early 2019. Scott Pennington, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank for Amblin Television will also executive produce.

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‘Halo’ Series at Showtime Loses Director Rupert Wyatt

Rupert Wyatt has stepped down as the director and executive producer of the “Halo” series currently in the works at Showtime. “It’s with great disappointment that changes to the production schedule of ‘Halo’ prevent …

Rupert Wyatt has stepped down as the director and executive producer of the “Halo” series currently in the works at Showtime. “It’s with great disappointment that changes to the production schedule of ‘Halo’ prevent me from continuing in my role as a director on the series,” Wyatt said in a statement. “My time on ‘Halo’ […]

Bruce Dern Back At Work On Showtime’s ‘Black Monday’ After Jogging Injury

Bruce Dern is back at work on Showtime’s new series Black Monday after fracturing a hip during a jog at the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles in October.
A tweet from Dern’s account went out today noting, “Can’t keep a good m…

Bruce Dern is back at work on Showtime’s new series Black Monday after fracturing a hip during a jog at the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles in October. A tweet from Dern’s account went out today noting, “Can’t keep a good man down. Back at work on #Black Monday.” The 82-year-old Dern, who recently finished filming on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood in the role of rancher George Spahn, was hospitalized briefly in October following the jogging…

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In today’s TV News Roundup, “Desus & Mero” gets a premiere date on Showtime and Jameela Jamil heads to TBS.  DATES Showtime will debut “Desus & Mero,” the weekly half-hour late-night series starring Desus Nice and …

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‘Desus & Mero’ Late-Night Show Gets February Premiere Date On Showtime

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Showtime has set a February premiere date for Desus & Mero, its first weekly late-night show starring Desus Nice and The Kid Mero. Desus & Mero will debut Thursday, February 21 at 11 PM ET/PT on Showtime. Airing from New York City, Desus & Mero will feature the popular TV and podcast personalities speaking off the cuff and chatting with guests at the intersection of pop culture, sports, music, politics and more. Longtime acquaintances Desus (real name Daniel Baker) and…

Bobby Brown Files Lawsuit Against Showtime and BBC Over Whitney Houston Documentary

Attorneys for Bobby Brown and the estate of Bobbi Kristina Brown have filed suit in a New York court over the documentary “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” alleging that Showtime, the BBC and several other defendants violated their rights by improper…

Attorneys for Bobby Brown and the estate of Bobbi Kristina Brown have filed suit in a New York court over the documentary “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” alleging that Showtime, the BBC and several other defendants violated their rights by improperly using footage from the production of the 2005 reality series “Being Bobby Brown.” Brown’s […]

Bobby Brown Sues Showtime & BBC For Multiple Millions Over Whitney Houston Docu

Bobby Brown says a 2017 documentary about his late wife Whitney Houston used more than a half-hour’s worth of footage of him and his children without his consent — and that’s good enough for a lawsuit. The one-time New Edition and solo R&B hitmaker has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Showtime and the BBC over their film Whitney: Can I Be Me.
“The film contains footage that Brown and [his late daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown] has never consented to have released,”…

Bobby Brown says a 2017 documentary about his late wife Whitney Houston used more than a half-hour’s worth of footage of him and his children without his consent — and that’s good enough for a lawsuit. The one-time New Edition and solo R&B hitmaker has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Showtime and the BBC over their film Whitney: Can I Be Me. “The film contains footage that Brown and [his late daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown] has never consented to have released,”…

Bobby Brown Sues Showtime, BBC Over Appearance in Whitney Houston Doc

The late Whitney Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown and the estate of daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown are suing Showtime, BBC and the producers of a Whitney Houston documentary entitled, “Can I Be Me? “

The Brown family is seeking $2 million in damages for their inclusion in the film, as well as a permanent injunction, according to documents filed in New York federal court Wednesday. Houston’s ex is citing misappropriated publicity rights and violation of the Lanham Act in his complaint.

“The film contains footage that Brown and BKB has never consented to have released,” the complaint states. “Brown and BKB appear in the film for a substantial period of time, in excess of thirty (30) minutes. The footage was actually recorded prior to the divorce in 2007 between Brown and Houston. Brown never signed or executed a release for the airing of the material that appears in the film. The footage of Brown is approximately fifteen (15) years old.”

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Brown is also suing B2 Entertainment, a dissolved company that collaborated with Brown’s company on the short-lived Bravo reality series “Being Bobby Brown,” for breach of contract. Brown claims B2 provided footage from the show to the producers of “Can I Be Me?” without obtaining written consent, a stipulation in their agreement.

Showtime and BBC both declined TheWrap’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

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The late Whitney Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown and the estate of daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown are suing Showtime, BBC and the producers of a Whitney Houston documentary entitled, “Can I Be Me? “

The Brown family is seeking $2 million in damages for their inclusion in the film, as well as a permanent injunction, according to documents filed in New York federal court Wednesday. Houston’s ex is citing misappropriated publicity rights and violation of the Lanham Act in his complaint.

“The film contains footage that Brown and BKB has never consented to have released,” the complaint states. “Brown and BKB appear in the film for a substantial period of time, in excess of thirty (30) minutes. The footage was actually recorded prior to the divorce in 2007 between Brown and Houston. Brown never signed or executed a release for the airing of the material that appears in the film. The footage of Brown is approximately fifteen (15) years old.”

Brown is also suing B2 Entertainment, a dissolved company that collaborated with Brown’s company on the short-lived Bravo reality series “Being Bobby Brown,” for breach of contract. Brown claims B2 provided footage from the show to the producers of “Can I Be Me?” without obtaining written consent, a stipulation in their agreement.

Showtime and BBC both declined TheWrap’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

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‘Escape at Dannemora’: Did Richard Matt Really Have a Photo of Hillary Clinton in His Jail Cell?

(Warning: This story contains spoilers from the second episode of Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora”)

Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin never strayed too far from the real-life events for Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora,” which tells the story of Richard Matt and David Sweat’s breakout from a New York state prison in 2015.

But a couple of scenes in the second episode of the series shows Matt (Benicio del Toro) painting a portrait of then-presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, complete with a photo of her in his jail cell. So, we asked Johnson and Tolkin if that was indeed true. Did Matt, who had a hobby of painting celebrities and political figures while incarcerated, actually have a photo of Clinton in his cell?

The answer is yes … and no.

Also Read: ‘Escape at Dannemora’: Co-Creators Went ‘Through the Looking Glass’ to Research Prison Break Drama

“It’s not a real story,” said Johnson, on whether or not Matt actually had a photo of the 2016 presidential runner-up. “But, it is true [that he painted a portrait of her in jail].” Basically, Johnson and Tolkin wanted to illustrate just how he would have been able to do his artwork.

“It just was too good to not use,” said Johnson, of depicting Matt’s artist side. “We always had him painting Hillary Clinton and some other guy not liking that he was painting Hillary Clinton. That was one of our first ideas.”

Tolkin and Johnson pointed to a story on Syracuse-based news channel, CNY, which interview with John Mulligan, who said he was a former inmate of Matt’s. He told CNY that he received paintings from Matt after Mulligan got out of prison, and these paintings included the likes of Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and even George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

“If you did a fictional story and said this is a murderer and he paints, who would think that he’s going to be painting Julia Roberts,” said Johnson.

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(Warning: This story contains spoilers from the second episode of Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora”)

Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin never strayed too far from the real-life events for Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora,” which tells the story of Richard Matt and David Sweat’s breakout from a New York state prison in 2015.

But a couple of scenes in the second episode of the series shows Matt (Benicio del Toro) painting a portrait of then-presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, complete with a photo of her in his jail cell. So, we asked Johnson and Tolkin if that was indeed true. Did Matt, who had a hobby of painting celebrities and political figures while incarcerated, actually have a photo of Clinton in his cell?

The answer is yes … and no.

“It’s not a real story,” said Johnson, on whether or not Matt actually had a photo of the 2016 presidential runner-up. “But, it is true [that he painted a portrait of her in jail].” Basically, Johnson and Tolkin wanted to illustrate just how he would have been able to do his artwork.

“It just was too good to not use,” said Johnson, of depicting Matt’s artist side. “We always had him painting Hillary Clinton and some other guy not liking that he was painting Hillary Clinton. That was one of our first ideas.”

Tolkin and Johnson pointed to a story on Syracuse-based news channel, CNY, which interview with John Mulligan, who said he was a former inmate of Matt’s. He told CNY that he received paintings from Matt after Mulligan got out of prison, and these paintings included the likes of Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and even George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

“If you did a fictional story and said this is a murderer and he paints, who would think that he’s going to be painting Julia Roberts,” said Johnson.

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Michael C. Hall is still threatening to make more Dexter

It’s been more than five years since Showtime’s Dexter came to its terrible conclusion, freeing the world from the burden of having to continue watching a TV show they don’t like anymore, but something even crueler took Dexter’s place: Seemingly consta…

It’s been more than five years since Showtime’s Dexter came to its terrible conclusion, freeing the world from the burden of having to continue watching a TV show they don’t like anymore, but something even crueler took Dexter’s place: Seemingly constant rumors about Showtime putting together a Dexter revival or…

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Showtime Offering Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury Fight Via Streaming App

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The app, which is available via Apple mobile and AppleTV devices as …

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Jim Carrey “Would Love” To See Kamala Harris & Beto O’Rourke Win The Presidential Race

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‘Escape at Dannemora’: Showrunners Went ‘Through the Looking Glass’ to Research Prison Break Drama

There is age-old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction,” which can definitely can be said about Showtime’s upcoming limited series, “Escape at Dannemora.”

But when trying to craft a scripted narrative from real-life events often finds the writers and directors behind it take creative liberties for dramatic effect (as critics of the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” can attest to). But for Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, who co-created the Showtime series that is based on a famous 2015 prison break, they didn’t have to veer too far from the real-life events.

“Once you get into the reality of the story, the pieces are just more fascinating than fiction can deliver sometimes,” Tolkin told TheWrap. “We definitely researched it a lot… Sometimes through the looking glass, in terms of research,” added Johnson.

Also Read: Showtime Launches Companion Podcast for Limited Series ‘Escape at Dannemora’ (Exclusive)

The limited series, which is directed and executive produced by Ben Stiller, is based on the 2015 prison break from Clinton Correctional Facility by Richard Matt and David Sweat. The two escapees — both convicted murderers — broke out of the Upstate New York facility, aided by a married female prison employee Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, who reportedly carried on affairs with both men while supervising them in the tailor shop. It spawned the largest manhunt in the history of New York State. The series stars Benicio Del Toro as Matt and Paul Dano as Sweat, while Patricia Arquette plays Mitchell.

While (spoiler alert) Matt was shot and killed after the escape, Sweat and Mitchell were both still alive, and Johnson and Tolkin got to speak with Sweat, and many of the people whose real-life escapades are depicted in the series, which debuts on Sunday. Along with Sweat, they also got to speak with Major Chuck Guess, the officer who is in charge of the manhunt,  as well as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Me and Micheal Imperoli [who plays Cuomo in the show] went and had like a two-hour meeting with [him],” said Johnson.

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Sgt. Jay Cook, who shot Sweat and put him in the hospital, was a technical advisor for the series. “He didn’t want to play himself because he was camera shy,” said Johnson. “But he actually hand-picked the guy who did play him.” Christopher Voss, who shot and killed Matt, also helped on the series, but he actually played himself. “They actually lent their [U.S. Customs and Border Patrol] team to us, the same team that took down Richard Matt,” continued Johnson.

But there was one key person who they decided themselves not to speak with: The woman at the center of the story.

“We decided early on to not meet with Joyce, for various reasons,” said Johnson, choosing instead to rely onher interviews with New York Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott (Bonnie Hunt). “There was so many thousands of pages of transcripts of police interviews and interrogations that we had access to,” added Tolkin.

“Escape at Dannemora” premiers Sunday, Nov. 18 on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT

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Showtime Orders ‘Penny Dreadful’ Spinoff, ‘City of Angels’

There is age-old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction,” which can definitely can be said about Showtime’s upcoming limited series, “Escape at Dannemora.”

But when trying to craft a scripted narrative from real-life events often finds the writers and directors behind it take creative liberties for dramatic effect (as critics of the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” can attest to). But for Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, who co-created the Showtime series that is based on a famous 2015 prison break, they didn’t have to veer too far from the real-life events.

“Once you get into the reality of the story, the pieces are just more fascinating than fiction can deliver sometimes,” Tolkin told TheWrap. “We definitely researched it a lot… Sometimes through the looking glass, in terms of research,” added Johnson.

The limited series, which is directed and executive produced by Ben Stiller, is based on the 2015 prison break from Clinton Correctional Facility by Richard Matt and David Sweat. The two escapees — both convicted murderers — broke out of the Upstate New York facility, aided by a married female prison employee Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, who reportedly carried on affairs with both men while supervising them in the tailor shop. It spawned the largest manhunt in the history of New York State. The series stars Benicio Del Toro as Matt and Paul Dano as Sweat, while Patricia Arquette plays Mitchell.

While (spoiler alert) Matt was shot and killed after the escape, Sweat and Mitchell were both still alive, and Johnson and Tolkin got to speak with Sweat, and many of the people whose real-life escapades are depicted in the series, which debuts on Sunday. Along with Sweat, they also got to speak with Major Chuck Guess, the officer who is in charge of the manhunt,  as well as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Me and Micheal Imperoli [who plays Cuomo in the show] went and had like a two-hour meeting with [him],” said Johnson.

Sgt. Jay Cook, who shot Sweat and put him in the hospital, was a technical advisor for the series. “He didn’t want to play himself because he was camera shy,” said Johnson. “But he actually hand-picked the guy who did play him.” Christopher Voss, who shot and killed Matt, also helped on the series, but he actually played himself. “They actually lent their [U.S. Customs and Border Patrol] team to us, the same team that took down Richard Matt,” continued Johnson.

But there was one key person who they decided themselves not to speak with: The woman at the center of the story.

“We decided early on to not meet with Joyce, for various reasons,” said Johnson, choosing instead to rely onher interviews with New York Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott (Bonnie Hunt). “There was so many thousands of pages of transcripts of police interviews and interrogations that we had access to,” added Tolkin.

“Escape at Dannemora” premiers Sunday, Nov. 18 on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Related stories from TheWrap:

Vanessa Bayer to Co-Create and Star in Showtime Comedy 'Big Deal'

Showtime Launches Companion Podcast for Limited Series 'Escape at Dannemora' (Exclusive)

Showtime Orders 'Penny Dreadful' Spinoff, 'City of Angels'

‘SMILF’ Season 2 Trailer: Frankie Shaw’s Showtime Comedy Is Back with a Vengeance

One of the best new shows of 2017 returns in January with plenty more stories from all sides of reality.

Get ready to head back to Boston. “SMILF,” one of 2017’s breakout new shows is returning for Season 2 next year and if the trailer for the new batch of episodes is any indication, no one involved has any intention of slowing down.

Series writer/creator Frankie Shaw is back as Bridgette, the single mother trying to navigate parenthood, the dating world, a complicated relationship with her boss, and the general predatory behavior of men in power.

Accompanied by a release date in January of next year, the full trailer shows that Bridgette’s life is still as unpredictable as it was in the opening eight-episode season. Weaving through the real life challenges of maintaining a relationship with her mother Tutu (Rosie O’Donnell) are plenty of whimsical fantasy sequences. Some surprises in store for Season 2 include a Wild West showdown, complete with a “Time’s up!’ declaration that might just have more meanings than one.

(Regardless of what side of reality it exists on, the single shot of Bridgette in a bath of milk with a figure who looks very similar to Harvey Weinstein seems like a spiritual follow-up to the piercing indictment of Woody Allen in last year’s season finale.)

Showtime also announced that one of the upcoming Season 2 episodes will give viewers a flashback to the birth of Larry, Bridgette’s son.

Many of the Season 1 cast favorites are back for more, including Connie Britton, Samara Weaving, Miguel Gomez, and Raven Goodwin. Sherie Rene Scott will also appear in Season 2 as Tutu’s younger sister, as will Melanie Griffith and Ally Sheedy. Kerry Washington is also set to direct an upcoming episode of the show.

Watch the full trailer (including a very eventful day at the racetrack) below:

“SMILF” Season 2 premieres January 20 on Showtime.

TV Review: ‘Escape at Dannemora’

When we meet Joyce Mitchell, she’s at a low moment, being questioned about her role in a prison breakout. She’s combative, bristling and insistent on being called by her nickname, Tilly, and evidently dissembling under the gaze of the state’s inspector…

When we meet Joyce Mitchell, she’s at a low moment, being questioned about her role in a prison breakout. She’s combative, bristling and insistent on being called by her nickname, Tilly, and evidently dissembling under the gaze of the state’s inspector general (Bonnie Hunt). When we shift back in time to see how her troubles […]

‘Escape at Dannemora’ Review: Ben Stiller’s Riveting Prison Drama, With a Stunning Performance by Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette, Benicio del Toro, and Paul Dano form an odd throuple in a thriller where the great escape comes down to hearts over smarts.

Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette were co-stars in David O. Russell’s 1996 “Flirting With Disaster.” At the time, Stiller’s directing career limited to “The Ben Stiller Show” and “Reality Bites;” his now-cult favorite “The Cable Guy” was about to flop. Arquette was a burgeoning star and indie film darling thanks to her work in “True Romance” and “Ed Wood,” but she had yet to snag her Oscar, let alone the preceding Golden Globe and Emmy nominations. (In between, there were a few rough years plugging “Stigmata” and “Little Nicky.”)

Now the two are reinventing themselves, again. Each transform for the viewer in real time — figuratively for Stiller, quite literally with Arquette — in “Escape at Dannemora,” Showtime’s seven-part limited series about two inmates breaking out of the Clinton Correctional facility in 2015 and the woman who helped them do it. It’s Stiller’s first real drama as a director, and he’s created a thriller with the cold, blue look and feel of classic prison stories like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Escape From Alcatraz.” Arquette, meanwhile, plays the drama’s pivotal assistant, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, ditching the soft voice and composed style of recent roles for a brazen upstate accent and 40 pounds gained for the part.

The efforts pay off. Along with stars Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro and writers Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, Stiller and Arquette make “Escape at Dannemora” an intense, exciting, and character-elevated miniseries. A focus on human error over institutional failings makes for a distinct and gripping experience.

Introduced first to Tilly, who’s already decked out in a black-and-white jumpsuit, “Escape at Dannemora” is told in flashback, but without cutaways to the present (a la “True Detective”) and with the insight of multiple perspectives. (The writers used a thorough report issued by the state to nail down the details.) Richard Matt (del Toro) and David Sweat (Dano) are two lifers living in the “Honor Block” of the Clinton Correctional facility, a very old, very cold prison housed in the northern New York village of Dannemora. Matt is well positioned on the inside. He can get whatever he wants through his close connection with a guard, Gene Palmer (David Morse), and he often trades original paintings (of everything from cute pugs to Tony Soprano) for favors with the art-loving officer.

Escape at Dannemora Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette in “Escape at Dannemora”

Chris Saunders / Showtime

Sweat is Matt’s friend, pupil, and a diligent worker. He studies under Matt to create his own original artwork, but he’s the supervisor in the inmates’ tailoring shop. It’s there he strikes up an affair with Tilly, the foreman, who’s married to one of the facility’s maintenance men, Lyle (played by Eric Lange, in a role far removed from his work on “Narcos”). What drives her to risk her job and her marriage by having sex in the back room of a sweatshop isn’t clear at first. The sex is utilitarian and quick, without any obvious romantic ties, but “Escape at Dannemora” slowly and assuredly peels back the layers to expose everyone involved.

While many escape narratives focus on finding and exploiting weaknesses in the prison, this series focuses on exploiting the weaknesses within people. Tilly is the key to getting the whole thing started, and how far she goes, where she draws the line, and what pushes her toward the decisions she made are all keenly explored. The seven episodes, especially the later entries, are also studiously observant of identity; specifically, how a person can assume (or craft) a persona based on the setting. As the old saying goes, prison changes people, but “Dannemora” is smart enough to realize it doesn’t change everyone into the same thing.

In turn, Stiller brings a lot of himself to the project. Pulsing with a diegetic soundtrack of classic rock and modern pop (Nick Jonas’ “Chains” plays a pivotal role, believe it or not), there’s a rebellious, if not outright comedic, tone that runs under the dramatic tension. The director has a bit of fun with Matt’s drawings (dropping them in the background of frames for unexpected levity) and Tilly’s wardrobe (a shopping montage is particularly boisterous), but there’s also a minutes- and miles-long tracking shot to kick off “Chapter 5” that churns with attitude. Not only does it show off the real-life locations that help ground the show, but it’s also a compelling presentation of how far the escapees have come — and how close they are to screwing it all up.

Escape at Dannemora Paul Dano

Paul Dano in “Escape at Dannemora”

Chris Saunders / Showtime

But if Tilly is the key to the plot, it’s Arquette’s performance that revs the story’s engine. Tilly could be written off as a bored housewife whose itch for excitement got out of hand, if not for the obvious glee she shows in taunting authority figures. Count the times the guard on duty rolls his eyes at Tilly when she invites one of the inmates to the back room; they know what she’s doing, and she knows they know it, too. Tilly enjoys lying to their faces, knowing they can’t do anything about it, and Arquette mines that devilish glint for all its worth.

Imbuing her quietly disliked authority figure with enough bossiness to warrant her co-workers’ frustrations, the actor balances well-earned animosity with a persistent victimhood. Her voice reaches a sharp pitch when she’s angry, one that’s only matched by the same high tone when she’s about to start crying. It’s as though she can insult someone and invite pity at the same time. She’ll yell at Lyle for an ill-timed advance or following too many rules — since he’s not bright enough to call out her contradictions — but even when he’s trying to protect her from herself, Tilly has a way of making him feel like he’s taking her for granted.

Though the contributions of the full cast and crew can’t go undervalued, it’s Stiller and Arquette who push “Escape at Dannemora” above solid genre and into immersive TV for just about anyone. More than 20 years after their first film together, both artists are still finding new ways to tell stories. They’re escaping, too. After all, nobody likes being put in a box.

Grade: B+

“Escape at Dannemora” premieres Sunday, November 18 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.