'Escape at Dannemora': Six episodes in, Ben Stiller unleashes Benicio del Torro's 'madness' as Richard Matt on us
Stiller chose to unleash a completely insane side of Richard Matt not right at the beginning of the show, but almost near its finale
Ever since the release of Ben Stiller's dark prison drama, 'Escape at Dannemora', a lot of buzz has been going on about how the comedic genius pretty much revolutionized the genre with a fresh take on and unique execution of the infamous 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape.
And most of that has been owing to the bonus ingredients Stiller incorporated in his story focusing on convicted inmates Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) tunneling out of prison using tools provided by prison employee Joyce 'Tillie' Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). On one hand there is del Toro's absolutely uninhibited, sporadic madness that comes out brilliantly with impeccable timing when the scenes call for it, and on the other hand there is a true-to-life portrayal of daily life at a correctional facility, which has been somewhat sensationalized in every on-screen portrayal before Stiller's ongoing Showtime series.
For starters, Stiller chose to unleash a completely insane side of del Toro not right at the beginning of the show. No, for weeks viewers were made to visualize the criminal mastermind that Matt was, as a relatively subtle personality within the prison, even though he was quite well regarded by the fellow inmates.
He's an art connoisseur and surely knows how to touch a woman to her core (excuse the pun, please). For five consecutive weeks, fans have seen his story progress within the four walls of the prison without him showing any kind of violence or outburst - making it almost impossible to believe that this very person, in real life, was in for kidnapping his former boss, before beating him to death, dismembering his body, and dumping it in a river close by.
But then happens the sixth (and latest) episode which suddenly shows Matt in a new light. With dark, sinister smiles and a flashback of his past unleashing the true, monstrous nature of crimes he's capable of, and suddenly, as a viewer, one's entire perception, despite being aware of the real-life incident, is shattered and rebuilt all within the span of minutes.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Stiller spilled how this was all del Toro's call, and at this point, we are beyond glad that Stiller chose to call the final shots keeping the inherent madness about the actor's portrayal intact.
"He (del Toro) felt very strongly, as I did, that this was where you had to see who this guy really was and why he was in prison, and because it's one of the least violent prison stories probably ever, on our show, in terms of what actually happens in the prison," Stiller shared with the outlet, adding: "[...] at one point, we had written in showing Matt being more violent in the yard in an early episode, and Benicio suggested holding off on that and not showing any violence from Matt until this episode, which I thought was a really great idea, and a brave idea, too, because you had to trust that he would be intimidating enough without seeing him actually do anything that's violent, just in terms of who he is and how people react to him."
And once this said madness behind the character was unleashed, it was too vocal and too loud even in its subtle, silent nature for viewers to keep thinking that the man was anything other than a stone-cold monster. From menacing threats to maniacal, raucous laughter - the sixth episode was a cornucopia of bitter realizations about the protagonist turning out to be exactly as devious as we had expected him to be. Which, frankly, was both relieving, yet disturbing to watch. But that just added to the excellence of the show and especially its portrayal of the character.
For example, take the scene in the latest episode where Matt's character can be seen scaring Tillie, just to assure that she still harbors legitimate fear for him, untampered by their illicit prison room sex. "What was so interesting to me about that moment," shares Stiller, "was it's very clear the moment before, when she laughs it off when he tells her, "Five years," and she doesn't take him seriously, that he in that moment realizes that he made a mistake in telling her and his next impulse is to scare the shit out of her. To me, that's his logic there in that moment, so even though it's this crazy moment, there's a logic to it. But that's Benicio. That's what's so great about him as an actor. It's never arbitrary. It's motivated, but it's very brave in terms of the choices."
It is pretty much these calls that has helped 'Escape at Dannemora' steer away from the stereotypical portrayal of inmates within the four walls of prison. But of course, we wouldn't have been able to envision these sudden, out of the blue jabs at our naivete as a viewer, had it not been for Stiller's actors-director attitude. So even on the brink of the limited series nearing its finale - which is due this coming Sunday - there's more to watch out for in terms of meticulous prison escape plans working out, and also more of del Toro's malicious madness behind the character of Matt waiting to unfold.