'Escape at Dannemora': Eric Lange on gaining 40 pounds to play Lyle Mitchell and trusting his "bullshit meter"
Lange plays the role of Joyce 'Tilly' Mitchell's husband who still believes his wife was unduly charged for aiding the infamous 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break
It's no easy task to resemble a personality from real life for a series adaptation. Things get exceptionally challenging when an actor/actress has to completely wire their appearance to look like the personality. 'Escape at Dannemora' is Based on the true incident of the infamous 2015 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility, New York. The show focuses on the inner workings of the minds of the escaped inmates, Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano). They are aided by prison employee Joyce 'Tilly' Mitchell (Patricia Arquette).
Playing the role of Tilly's husband, Lyle Mitchell, is Eric Lange, who not only gained 40 pounds to portray Lyle on-screen, but also showed a side of the seemingly decent, docile man, people wouldn't have imagined if not for this show.
So far, the show has been able to show Lyle as the caring, simple-minded husband of Tilly - something assumed to be the root cause for Tilly to indulge in reckless prison sex with the inmates, thus getting roped into their devious plan of escape. But according to Lange, it's also quite possible that Lyle chose to be so nonchalant about Tilly's involvement in the case because of his love for routine. And, at the same time, it is also quite possible Tilly did whatever she did because maybe Lyle hadn't been all that ideal a partner to her. So, how did Lange commit to the character and play it out so brilliantly?
"I have kind of a bulls**t meter that goes off if I'm doing something and I see that in the mirror and I don't buy it," he said about playing Lyle on the show, that is four episodes in currently. "It inspires me to keep going. But I also knew he (Lyle) didn't really know what was going on a lot of the time behind his back, so one of the things I did - that I don't normally do - was pull all the scenes out of my scripts, that weren't mine."
However, none of that was him being reckless about the script. Instead, it helped to be in that ignorant frame of mind like Lyle Mitchell was in real life when the incidents of Dannemora occurred. So, it was this trick, and of course, Ben Stiller's expert direction, that eased things out for Lange. To him, Stiller came in handy in these situations, not only as a "superb director, but as an actor too."
As Lange put it: "There are many moments when you're playing these people, they could become borderline caricature, if you're not careful. Their art, their eccentric can seem a little odd, and some of the things they say (as a character) can end up sounding funny, even though not intentionally." He warned that it can turn into a "sort of joke, where you lose the humanity of the person and just become a collection of text sounds."
This is where Stiller came in - every time Lange needed assurance he wasn't being too "out of the line" with his character. But there was little going out of the line after Lange put on 40 pounds of added weight and committed to the Lyle Mitchell's lifestyle by walking around with prosthetic teeth just to get into the core of where this man came from. "It was about seven months of wearing 40 extra pounds and a mustache," explained Lange. "I have two small kids, and that means being on the floor and playing with them, getting up, and picking them up - and I was just amazed at how much harder it was."
From going to the doctor periodically to just check in on blood pressure, to adjusting to this new costume that sort of accompanied him everywhere he went, Lange felt the challenges were big, but at the end of the day, he felt it was all worth the inconvenience. Why? Purely because despite the crazy amounts of media coverage the true incident got, playing it out on screen comes with the advantage of a creative license, meaning viewers get to see a side to the tale - with ample twists than they are already aware of - pan out right in front of their eyes.
"There are moments of creative license all over the show, because we don't know these people," remarked Lange, dropping yet another hint about how wholesome the journey of working under Stiller's direction, and with the magnificent cast, has been. "But the great thing about the show is that there's such dedication and the effort that went into researching exactly how everything happened. And viewers will get to see all about how everything happened step by step, everything that happened to them day by day, instead of just seeing them escape prison. Also, there is stuff in there that may or may not have happened, but they are in the show. So, there's certainly a lot to intrigue anyone who is already intrigued by it, to begin with. It's like the encyclopedia version of the true story!"
And it is this faith that got us believing Lange - whose role of CIA Agent Stechner on the Netflix show 'Narcos' garnered massive critical acclaim - is quite keen on true crime shows. As he put it himself: "That kind of stuff and the people working in it (limited crime series) are at the top of their game, so yeah, I'm definitely into true crime stories."
However, that, and despite the fact he's working on yet another true crime story for Netflix called 'Unbelievable' and another Amazon show called 'The Man of the High Castle', doesn't necessarily label him a true-crime-story actor. It's just his sheer love for the genre, as he - for the life of him - "cannot get enough of these documentaries about all those unsolved crimes and mysteries."