'Escape at Dannemora': Eric Lange believes Lyle Mitchell was a lot smarter than he let on
Lange portrays the role of Lyle as a man whose wife was accused of aiding the most sensationalized true prison break in the last decade. And he nails every bit of it.
Showtime's new limited series 'Escape at Dannemora' has managed to get a lot of buzz going — just like a dark, prison break drama from Ben Stiller was supposed to. True, it was a striking contrast for Stiller — who is known for his comedic genius — to choose such a sad, gritty true story about vile criminals escaping prison and then meeting with equally negative outcomes, but he managed to amaze us all with a well-executed plot that goes beyond the realms of sensationalism.
But alongside Stiller's expertise, it is also the actors' impeccable portrayal of real-life characters that has earned rave reviews for the seven-episode series. And thus emerges the brilliance of Eric Lange, as he beautifully brings out the shortcomings and significance of the character Lyle Mitchell, who was supposed to be just an audience from the sidelines.
The plot was one of the grittiest stories of the millennium. On June 6, 2015, prison inmates Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) were found missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility, New York. It led to a $23 million manhunt and investigation, where investigators found that the two had dug out tunnels under their cells to escape, with the help of the prison tailor shop in-charge, Joyce 'Tilly' Mitchell.
Though eventually Matt was found and shot fatally at sight, and Sweat was found, shot, and taken into custody — here's how the story gets remarkably cut out for a Hollywood adaptation. Tilly was married to our aforementioned Lyle Mitchell, who was also a prison employee. So why did she help the inmates? In exchange for risky, fulfilling, prison sex.
To start off, Lyle is a seemingly simple man, as Lange would assure you. "I always found it interesting that within this sort of story cut out for a sensationalized tabloid, there is this man — the husband — whose wife has been called all different kinds of things in the current media and how embarrassing and difficult that must have been," Lange starts off, almost making one pity his character who is just a loving, trusting husband, completely oblivious to his wife's prison-escapades.
"I remember watching the interview of him with Matt Lauer on 'The Today Show' and you know, we had heard about her and the prisoners for a long time, but no one really knew about him. But he does this interview and your heart sort of breaks. You realize that this guy was kind of the human toll that was taken in the background. This heightened the story," he continues, explaining what drew him to the character of Lyle.
What he was also indulging in was a character that comes off as totally oblivious to his wife's indiscretions, let alone the prison break plan for that matter. Lange believes it was neither out of foolish, blinded love, nor intentional denial. It was mostly because of how he was in love with the idea of a simple, peaceful routinely life he led with Tilly. "I've never met him. He didn't want to meet, and I respect and understand why, but when I talked to the guards who knew him, simple was the word I heard over and over," Lange explains.
"And the way his life comes off to the outside is very routinely. He wakes up every day, but he's just happy to have his job to himself and his wife when they come home. They pick places to have dinner, they go to sleep, and they do it again. And I think he appreciates that. I think there's like solace in that for him, in that regularity."
Still, he believes there's more to this 'simple' minded husband who just wants a routinely peaceful life. "You may see Lyle as someone who is simple but he is a lot smarter than a lot of people would give him credit for. He's picking up on things.
People are telling him things. He's hearing things," insists Lange. "I think his battle is how much of that he himself could believe — that what is happening could possibly be happening to him." And this is because of the twisted yet beautiful dynamics of the relationship and he and his wife are circling within.
"In my mind, when you're together for 21 years, and you're also literally together almost 24 hours a day, you can become a pain to the person. But you're also like a regular body part that they're living with," Lange explains.
"So I think the idea of him accepting that of the truth might be unthinkable. It might just be impossible for him to navigate those thoughts about whether she could actually be doing this, and if she is, whether that means he has to leave her — which is possibly not within his ability to even fathom. So I think it's sort of a mixed bag. I think he does know what is going on, at least some of it, I think."
And with such deeply researched insights on his on-screen avatar, Lange just sort of clarifies exactly why he would choose the role of a helpless spectator, despite that requiring him to add another 40 pounds to his weight, wear a prosthetic teeth for practice, and deal with several different lifestyle changes to ensure he was adapting to the role in the most appropriate way that the show demanded of him.
But real life inconveniences aren't the only challenging aspects of the show. For those who have any idea about the incident, the ending didn't turn out to be positive for anybody involved. Yet Lange looks beyond thrilled to be a part of it, which — as he calls it — was because of his on-screen wife Arquette's absolutely generous personality.
"I was nervous, mostly because she's one of the best. She's clearly one of the best actors alive and I was just like 'Oh my god!'," explains Lange. "With all these people (in the cast), with Ben too, you have to bring your A game. So I was so overly prepared! I prepared to the point where the moment I share screen with her, I'm not thinking about anything other than being present in the scene and listening to her and responding."
But as sweet as that seems, Lange will have fans believe that Arquette is even sweeter. "The first thing you realize is that she's a lovely lady, and instantly you get such a normalcy. And for our first scene, she was just like 'Oh my god, this is gonna be great!' And we were able to find a commonality as actors together. And what was the fun and ease of it was that we both had such admiration for the writing.
The mutual admiration for the script was something we got on with together, and just how interesting these two people were. But Patricia is just generous than anyone I've ever worked with, and I'd be with anything with her again."
And that sort of just answers the question exactly why despite being so dysfunctional as a couple, Tilly and Lyle aren't entirely a sore sight to witness. Tilly for one doesn't have faith in their marriage anymore; part of the reason why she did anything that she could to find an escape from her man.
Not because he was mistreating her, but because as Lange points out "They've been together for so long, and maybe there are times when he takes his wife for granted. And that could be part of the reason why. she is able to be manipulated and seduced by these prisoners."
This, however, isn't the only remaining puzzle piece that helps one come to a full closure about what exactly went on within the sinister tale of one of the most dramatic prison breaks of all time. Having been compared to the likes of 'The Shawshank Redemption' in terms of meticulously hatched plans, there will always be more to find out. And fans can do that by tuning into Showtime, where 'Escape at Dannemora' returns every Sunday at 9:30 pm ET/PT.