Showtime confirmed a production order for “Escape at Dannemora,” which will be a new eight-hour limited series starring Academy Award winners Benicio del Toro (Traffic) and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood). The series will also feature Golden Globe nominee Paul Dano (Love & Mercy, There Will Be Blood).
Emmy winner Ben Stiller will executive produce and direct all eight episodes. The limited series is based on the stranger-than-fiction account of a prison break in upstate New York in the summer of 2015, which spawned a massive manhunt for two convicted murderers who were aided in their escape by a married female prison employee with whom they both became sexually entangled.
Production will begin later this year at the actual locations in upstate New York. Escape at Dannemora is the network’s next high-profile limited series, on the heels of the launch of the new Twin Peaks, which generated a record number of streaming service signups for Showtime. The announcement was made today by David Nevins, President and CEO, Showtime Networks Inc.
Del Toro will play convicted murderer Richard Matt, an artistic yet intimidating force within the prison, who masterminds the escape. Arquette will play Tilly Mitchell, a working class, married woman who supervises the prison tailor shop and becomes sexually involved with both convicts, inducing her to assist them with their escape. Dano will play David Sweat, a convicted cop-killer who uses his good looks to seduce Tilly and becomes a reluctant partner in Richard Matt’s plot.
Produced by SHOWTIME, ESCAPE AT Dannemora will be written and executive produced by Brett Johnson (Mad Men) and Oscar nominee Michael Tolkin (The Player) who met while working as writers on the SHOWTIME original series Ray Donovan. In addition to Stiller, Johnson and Tolkin, the executive producers will be Bryan Zuriff (Steve Jobs, RAY DONOVAN), three-time Academy Award nominee Michael De Luca (Captain Phillips, The Social Network, Fifty Shades of Grey) via Michael De Luca Productions, and Nicky Weinstock for Red Hour Productions.
“We are all very intent on trying to tell this singular story in a way that shows the reality and humanity of the people involved,” said Stiller. “While the genre is a prison escape story, at its core it is a story about real people, some criminals and some not, who make some bad choices that have huge consequences. I think that’s what’s so compelling about this.”
“I’m very excited about ESCAPE AT Dannemora and about working with Ben, Benicio, Michael, Brett and Showtime on this fascinating and dark American love story rooted in real and self-deceptive incarceration,” said Arquette.
In 2008, Richard Matt received a 25-years-to-life sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility without possibility of parole for the 1997 murder and dismemberment of his boss, William Rickerson. After that killing, Matt fled to Mexico, where he killed a man outside a bar and served nine years in jail before being extradited to the U.S. in 2007. In prison, he met Sweat, who was sentenced to life without parole in 2003 for the murder of a sheriff’s deputy. In June 2015, abetted by Mitchell and corrections officer Gene Palmer, the pair became the first escapees in the 170-year history of Clinton Correctional, the state of New York’s third-oldest prison and largest maximum security facility. They were at large for 20 days, until Matt was killed in a confrontation after being spotted by law enforcement, 50 miles from Clinton and less than 20 miles south of Canada. Two days later, Sweat was wounded and then apprehended, less than two miles from the Canadian border. Mitchell and Sweat pled guilty to multiple charges related to the prison break. Mitchell received a sentence of 28 months to seven years in prison, serving her sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County, New York, approximately 300 miles from Clinton. Sweat was officially sentenced to an additional 3½ to 7 years. In June 2016, a report from the Office of the Inspector General in New York declared that a total of 20 uniformed and civilian employees enabled the escape in some fashion.
ESCAPE AT Dannemora joins a growing list of SHOWTIME limited series including GUERRILLA created, written and executive produced by Academy Award winner John Ridley, starring Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay, and co-starring and executive produced by Idris Elba; the five-part limited series PATRICK MELROSE, starring and executive produced by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch; the 20-episode limited series PURITY, based on the novel of the same name from best-selling author Jonathan Franzen, written, directed and executive produced by Todd Field (In the Bedroom) and starring and executive produced by Daniel Craig; and the new 18-part limited event series TWIN PEAKS written and executive produced by series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and directed entirely by David Lynch.