“Escape at Dannemora” brings prison break back to life at North Country screening

WEB EXTRA: Ben Stiller on his fascination with the NY prison break, favorite parts of North Country

“You are the toughest audience,” Ben Stiller told a crowd of people in Plattsburgh Thursday evening.

The actor and director was in town to introduce the first episode of “Escape at Dannemora,” his new limited series on Showtime. 

The seven episodes tell the story of the escape and capture of Richard Matt and David Sweat, two inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, in June 2015. Matt was shot and killed by law enforcement. Sweat was shot a few days later but survived. He’s serving his life sentence in Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, NY.

For many in the audience at the special screening at Cumberland 12 Cinemas, the prison break was a lived experience before it was a TV show.

Rob Rabideau was one of the hundreds of people who lined up in below-freezing temperatures to get a seat in one of the theaters.

“We lived in Dannemora for 20 years so it really struck home,” he said.

Sharon Tyrell of Morrisonville said she thought Stiller, the cast and crew captured the essence of the North Country area and its residents.

“You just really felt like you were watching something happening in the North Country,” she said. “You almost got that heart pounding feeling when it first opened up with all the police, that same feeling that you had when you were going through it.”

Retired New York State Police Maj. Charles Guess helped lead the manhunt for Matt and Sweat. He attended the New York City premiere Wednesday night and posed Thursday in Plattsburgh with the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) that found Matt.

“I started off as just a technical advisor with this, just to try to make the law enforcement component, which comes much later in the series, as legitimate and authentic as possible,” said Guess.

 Stiller eventually convinced him to get in front of the camera.

“He said, ‘Where am I gonna find a guy with a haircut like that who knows the material?'” Guess said. “So I agreed and there’s a small cameo role for me there toward the end. There I am in uniform. All my partners are in uniform. The helicopter lands in the middle of the road. This tactical team approaches me, basically just like it happened in 2015 so it was a surreal moment for me.”

“It was intense,” said Stiller, who probably best known for his comedic roles.

But for the North Country, it doesn’t get any more serious than the prison break. Stiller says he took that to heart during the shooting. 

“I never experienced anything like that so it was helpful for us to shoot here, just because that experience people had was brought into the show I think by having people who experienced it actually be in the show,” said Stiller.

Stiller said he was surprised he was allowed to film inside Clinton Correctional Facility.

“It was stressful because we had a very short amount of time in there,” he said. “Also going in and out of there you feel it, you feel the heaviness of that place. I was amazed that we had access to the prison. We didn’t think we were going to until very close to filming. I was really just grateful every second we were there to have that authenticity.”

Stiller says he enjoyed filming in the Adirondacks.

“I think the whole Lake Champlain area is amazing. Went to Valcour Island with my son because I love history. There’s that whole little moment in the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold had,” he said. “Being from NYC just to have all this open space, the Adirondacks. Yea, I love it,” he said.said Stiller.

“Escape at Dannemora” premieres this Sunday at 10pm on Showtime.

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