This story originally appeared in the Movies & Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Eric Lange took on the very real challenge of playing a very real person on Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora.” He plays Lyle Mitchell, the husband of prison worker Joyce Mitchell (played by Patricia Arquette), who allowed two convicts to escape. And while Lyle was unaware his wife is carrying on an affair with both criminals, neither Lange nor director Ben Stiller allowed him to become the butt of the joke.
What was it like working with Ben Stiller as a director?
It was nice having an actor as a director for this because of the out-on-a-limb quality of the character. It was nice coming over to him as an actor to say, “We’re not making fun of him, right? This isn’t a caricature?” And he’s like, “No, no, no.” It’s nice having that person’s eye, an actor’s eye, on that character.
Did you have any contact with the real Lyle Mitchell?
I never spoke to Lyle. He didn’t want to meet. We asked and offered a couple times, but he has a very strong opinion about the media and its effect on his life, so I respect that. And it sort of freed me a bit not to have someone sitting over me going, “That’s not me. I’m not like that.”
But, yes, since the show came out there has been some reaction from Joyce and some others, and I’m not surprised that they’re not thrilled. It’s a pretty embarrassing time for these people. That’s OK, that they have their reactions. We’re very proud of what we did and we really did as much due diligence as we could have possibly done.
How did you and Patricia go about crafting your onscreen relationship?
Patricia and I were kind of in the trenches together, because we both gained about 40 pounds, we both had these very eccentric teeth put in — looks that were very different from who we were. So that bonded us right away. I was a little nervous about working with Patricia — she’s one of the most substantial actresses alive — but the minute you meet her you’re put at ease. It was like a beautiful tennis match, you know?
Read more from the Movies & Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.