Who’s who in ‘Escape at Dannemora,’ Showtime’s take on the real-life NY prison break
Director Ben Stiller has assembled an all-star cast for “Escape at Dannemora,” a wild-but-true story of an upstate New York prison break that premieres Nov. 18 on Showtime.
The seven-episode limited series is inspired by the 2015 case of convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat, who broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility with the help of prison employee Joyce Mitchell. While their names may not be familiar to the average viewer, the actors playing them should be — Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano star.
Here’s a rundown on the star-studded cast:
Patricia Arquette (Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell)
Although called Tilly in the series, Arquette’s role is inspired by Joyce Mitchell, who was a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop before she befriended and became romantically involved with both Matt and Sweat. She provided the two prisoners power tools and cell phone access and planned to drive their getaway car before she backed out at the last minute. Mitchell, who was married to fellow prison employee Lyle Mitchell, told investigators that one of the men threatened that he would kill her husband. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Arquette has been playing complex characters for years, often as a wife or significant other contending with a variety of challenges. Viewers may know her from her exquisite, Oscar-winning performance as the matriarch in the 2014 drama “Boyhood,” or her role as a loving wife and psychic on the criminally underrated CBS drama “Medium,” which ended in 2011 after five seasons. She also immortalized the roles of a call girl entangled in a precarious love affair with a loner (Christian Slater) in “True Romance” in 1993, and a devoted wife of an idiosyncratic B-horror movie icon in “Ed Wood.” But what might have cinched her central spot among the cast in “Dannemora” was when she first caught the attention of director Stiller when they starred together as a married couple in the 1994 comedy, “Flirting with Disaster.
Benicio Del Toro (Richard Matt)
Del Toro plays a doomed man with the role of Richard Matt, who was serving 25 years to life for dismembering a man before he decided to escape with Sweat, with tailor shop supervisor Mitchell’s help. Four weeks into the police manhunt to find and recapture the two inmates, Matt was shot and killed by authorities in Malone, about 27 miles away from the correctional facility, after he was spotted firing a shot at a passing car — one day after his 49th birthday.
Few actors come close to Del Toro’s ability to seduce an audience with a performance so riveting that you’re never quite sure whether you should root for him or fear him. We saw that in his portrayal of a Department of Justice officer gone rogue in 2015’s “Sicario,” his Oscar-winning turn as a police officer in the cartel drama “Traffic,” a deranged lawyer in the 1998 psychedelic drama “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and as a man of dubious intent in the 1995 classic “The Usual Suspects.”
Bonnie Hunt (Catherine Scott)
Hunt portrays New York’s inspector general, Catherine Leahy Scott, whose office investigated the circumstances of the break-out. She concluded that there were “myriad failures” of “basic security standards” that allowed Matt and Sweat to escape.
You may most remember Hunt as Renee Zellweger’s bitter sister in “Jerry Maguire” in 1996, but the actress has been steadily performing on screen — in both live action and animated roles — since the ‘80s. She played Chrissy’s overbearing mom in the 1995 time-spanning drama “Now and Then,” a mother desperate to keep her kids and scene-stealing dog together in 1992’s “Beethoven,” and a woman traumatized after being trapped in a board game as a child in 1995’s “Jumanji.” In addition to lending her voice as the purple-haired Dolly in “Toy Story 3” (2010) and the upcoming “Toy Story 4,” Hunt was also the concerned mom bunny in the Oscar-winning “Zootopia” in 2016.
Paul Dano (David Sweat)
Sweat was serving a life sentence in prison for killing a sheriff’s deputy when he successfully plotted his escape from Dannemora. He and Matt used power tools to cut a hole in a back wall, removing air vents at night. Three weeks after breaking out, Sweat was shot by police and taken back into custody on June 28. Sweat and Matt had planned to flee to Mexico, but that plan dissolved after Mitchell failed to show up with a getaway car. On Feb. 3, 2016, he received a maximum sentence for prison escape after pleading guilty.
Dano is earning raves for his directorial debut “Wildlife,” but before moving behind the camera he cemented his A-list status playing calculating characters like Paul and Eli Sunday in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” and Jay in last year’s “Okja.” He’s also portrayed more threatening men like Alex Jones in “Prisoners” and the hateful John Tibeats in “12 Years a Slave,” both released in 2013. Family audiences might also know him for illuminating the character of Alexander in the 2009 animated film “Where the Wild Things Are,” and as the quiet and enigmatic older brother to Abigail Spencer in 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Eric Lange (Lyle Mitchell)
Lyle is the real-life Mitchell’s husband, who claimed he had no advance knowledge of Joyce’s involvement. He said she told him that Sweat and Matt threatened to kill him if she didn’t cooperate and he believed that both he and his wife would be dead if she had fully went through with the plan. After everything that went down, Lyle still said that he loved Joyce.
Lange might have low-key been in most of your favorite TV dramas, including this year’s fantastic miniseries “Waco,” detailing the real-life Branch Davidian siege in 1993 in Texas. He also played the Colombia-based CIA station chief in the third season of “Narcos,” and colleague and confidante alongside Oscar-nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno in the Mexican border drama “The Bridge,” which took its final bow in 2014 after just two seasons.