Break­ing free:

A jail­house af­fair which led to the es­cape of two con­victed mur­der­ers forms the ba­sis for a new SoHo drama, Es­cape At Dan­nemora. Julie Eley re­ports.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

A real-life prison es­cape by two con­victed killers forms the ba­sis of a new SoHo drama, Es­cape At Dan­nemora.

In the sum­mer of 2015, two con­victed killers be­came the first in­mates to break out of the 170-year-old Clin­ton Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in up­state New York.

Richard Matt and David Sweat made their es­cape with the help of a prison tai­lor shop su­per­vi­sor who had af­fairs with both men.

Now their story forms the ba­sis of SoHo’s new eight-week drama, Es­cape At Dan­nemora, star­ring Os­car-win­ning ac­tors Beni­cio Del Toro (Traf­fic) and Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette (Boy­hood) along with War And Peace star Paul Dano.

The series was filmed over seven months with much of it shot at the real Clin­ton prison in the vil­lage of Dan­nemora. It was a lo­ca­tion which leads Del Toro to say, “I didn’t do any­thing and I was in prison and I didn’t like it.”

He plays Richard Matt, a gifted artist who was serv­ing 25 years to life for dis­mem­ber­ing a man. It was Matt’s artis­tic abil­ity, along with the pres­ence of Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette as his ac­com­plice and lover Tilly Mitchell, that at­tracted the 51-year-old Puerto Ri­can ac­tor to the role.

While on the face of it Matt is hardly a sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter, get­ting in­side his mind prompted Del Toro, who is him­self a tal­ented artist, to think about what might have been.

“The story of Richard Matt is a re­ally sad story,” he says.

“He’s a guy who never meets his mom. He meets his fa­ther when he is in his late teens, when he goes to jail – that’s where he meets his fa­ther for the first time.

“He went from foster home to foster home to foster home. When you grow up like that you grow up with fear, cru­elty in or­der to sur­vive. You deal in lies to sur­vive. This man was like a bro­ken soul from the be­gin­ning and I don’t think he was born like that.”

Later he goes on to ex­pand on Matt’s plight say­ing, “In the end, he’s a hu­man be­ing. He has many feel­ings just like any­body else.

“I per­son­ally think that there was a tal­ent there. He had at least a tal­ent to get to or­gan­ise some­thing (a prison break), even if it’s a wrong thing. So I feel that had he not had the up­bring­ing that he had, I think he prob­a­bly would have been suc­cess­ful at some­thing le­gal or that could have been not where he ended up, you know.”

Matt’s up­bring­ing echoes that of fel­low prison es­ca­per David Sweat, who first went to jail at the age of 16 after spend­ing time in a series of foster homes.

When the drama opens he is in his early 30s and serv­ing a life sen­tence for the 2002 mur­der of a New York Sher­iff’s deputy.

It is his af­fair with Mitchell, a frumpy, 50-some­thing prison su­per­vi­sor mar­ried to a guard, that sows the seeds for their es­cape.

Ex­plain­ing the sex­ual at­trac­tion be­tween the two, he says, “To me, I mean, boy, this guy David Sweat has been in prison for 12 years. I think when some­body gives you a look of com­pas­sion or kind­ness or lust or love, I am, ‘ **** , that would be like wa­ter in the desert’.”

Film­ing in the real Clin­ton Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity proved an un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence for Dano who also met the real Sweat.

“There’s cer­tainly very, very lit­tle sense of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,” he says.

“It is pun­ish­ment and I found that in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, to be there, to see those guys ... You know some of them had prob­a­bly done some things that we’d be very un­com­fort­able speak­ing about, but to see hu­man be­ings in cages, it was re­ally hard.”

Work on a script for Es­cape At Dan­nemora be­gan just five days into the three-week man­hunt for Matt and Sweat.

Ben Stiller was ap­proached to di­rect the series but turned it down. He changed his mind, though, fol­low­ing the re­lease of a 170-page re­port from the In­spec­tor Gen­eral on the build-up to the es­cape and its af­ter­math.

“We went up to Dan­nemora,” says Stiller. “We met the district at­tor­ney up there. We started to meet peo­ple in­volved. We met David Sweat. We met a lot of peo­ple in­volved and were able to try to just in­fuse it with as much of the real stuff as pos­si­ble all the way through the process.”

But not ev­ery­one was en­thu­si­as­tic about the ar­rival of a film crew.

“It’s prob­a­bly some­thing they don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to re­live,” says Dano.

“This town of Dan­nemora is built around this prison es­sen­tially. The lo­cal econ­omy is the prison. The prison es­cape is not some­thing they want to cel­e­brate. I don’t think that was a good thing for them.”

“He went from foster home to foster home to foster home. When you grow up like that you grow up with fear, cru­elty in or­der to sur­vive. You deal in lies to sur­vive.” – Beni­cio Del Toro on his char­ac­ter Richard Matt. Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette (above) plays his ac­com­plice Mitchell.

Left: Paul Dano. Above: Beni­cio Del Toro

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