Sometimes, when one franchise closes, a limited series opens. So it goes with “Escape at Dannemora,” Ben Stiller’s seven-part Showtime drama that premiered last Sunday night. The series follows the trio at the center of the saga: the two inmates (played by Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro) who escaped Clinton Correctional Facility in 2015 and Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell (Patricia Arquette), the prison labor supervisor who was involved with both of them.
In an interview on The Watch podcast with hosts Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, Stiller explained that one of his recent career misfires gave him and writers Brett Johnson & Michael Tolkin the chance to give the project the attention it deserved.
“‘Zoolander 2’ was not a big hit,” Stiller conceded. “When the Inspector General report came out, I didn’t have a lot going on. I had the time to work on this with the guys and to go up there and start researching. I think if I’d been bombarded with other opportunities at that time, I might have not stuck with it as long as it took to actually get it made. Because it wasn’t that easy to find a home for it. Ultimately, we had battles along the way in terms of actually getting it to the point where it got greenlit and made because of budget and other things.”
Stiller also explained some of the ideas behind the show’s soundtrack of pop songs, sometimes heard as Dano and del Toro’s characters are shown making clothing in the Clinton Correctional Facility workshop. “That came purely from the fact that Joyce Mitchell did listen to the Top 40 radio station in the tailor shop all the time. She would play 95 Triple X,” Stiller said. “So we just went and got their playlist from January to June of 2015. That was the inspiration for any song you hear in there.”
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One of those tracks is Nick Jonas’ “Chains,” an inclusion that led to a very particular interaction for Stiller. “I actually think it’s a very good song,” Stiller said. “I ran into him about three weeks ago and was so excited to tell him that we were featuring his song in the show. He seemed kind of nonplussed.”
Listen to the full interview (which also digs into some of Stiller’s ’70s cinema inspirations) below:
“Escape at Dannemora” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime through the end of 2018.