Ben Stiller gets se­ri­ous to di­rect ‘Es­cape at Dan­nemora,’ a gritty prison drama based on a true story

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Hol­ly­wood star Ben Stiller put away his clown face to pre­miere his di­rec­to­rial de­but in Cannes, a stranger-than-ic­tion prison-break drama that is based on a true story. The Amer­i­can ac­tor best known for the “Zoolan­der” and “Night at the Mu­seum” films directed all eight episodes of “Es­cape at Dan­nemora”, the irst of which was screened at MIPCOM, the world’s top tele­vi­sion and en­ter­tain­ment show­case in the French Riviera re­sort.

With a stel­lar cast that in­cludes Beni­cio del Toro, Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette and Paul Dano, Stiller puts on his au­teur hat to tell the gritty and fas­ci­nat­ing tale of a woman who helped two mur­der­ers es­cape from an up­state New York jail near the Cana­dian bor­der.

Their 2015 break-out from the Clin­ton Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity at Dan­nemora riv­eted Amer­ica.

The in­ter­est grew still more in­tense when it be­came clear that mid­dle-aged fe­male su­per­vi­sor in the jail, Tilly Mitchell, was hav­ing sex with both men and was smug­gling hack­saw blades and burger meat into them.

Stiller, whose ilms have grossed nearly $3 bil­lion (2.5 bil­lion eu­ros), said it would have been im­pos­si­ble to “do all the nu­ances of (prison) re­al­ity in two hours” on the big screen.

“You wouldn’t have been able to tell the sto­ries of all the char­ac­ters... or have the chance to lay out their world and build the ten­sion,” he said af­ter the screen­ing.

“Tele­vi­sion is now the place where you can make the kind of movies we are not mak­ing any­more,” he added.

Imag­ine, he ar­gued, try­ing to get over the re­al­ity of Mitchell work­ing with a lone guard in a room “full of 40 mur­der­ers and rapists, each with a pair of shears, work­ing for 35 cents an hour” for an out­side com­pany that was mak­ing a fat proit on all their backs.

Stiller spent nearly two years work­ing on “Es­cape at Dan­nemora”, vis­it­ing the sur­viv­ing es­ca­per David Sweat for ive hours and shoot­ing in the prison yards where he plot­ted the break with the Machi­avel­lian Richard Matt, a ta­lented painter who wrapped other in­mates and prison guards round his in­ger.

He said the script was based on the anti-cor­rup­tion re­port writ­ten by New York in­spec­tor gen­eral Cather­ine Leahy Scott, which Stiller said “read like a novel”.

“It is hard not to iden­tify with the pro­tag­o­nist in a prison es­cape, but we wanted to show who they were as peo­ple and why they were in jail,” Stiller added.

“You have the free­dom to tell these kind of sto­ries on TV and work in a way that is not just about bring­ing huge au­di­ences to the the­atres,” said the 52-yearold ac­tor.

“It is the kind of story that I have wanted to tell but I’ve never done un­til now.”

The first episode of “Es­cape at Dan­nemora” will go out on Show­time in the US on No­vem­ber 18.

ABOVE Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer/writ­ers Michael Tolkin (left), Brett John­son, ac­tor Paul Dano, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer/di­rec­tor Ben Stiller, ac­tors Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette, and Beni­cio Del Toro speak on­stage at the Show­time Net­work.

RIGHTBeni­cio Del Toro and Paul Danoa in ascene.

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