Headliner Talks

Ben Stiller: Keynote Conversation at Variety TV Summit

Ben Stiller began his directorial career in 1994 with the Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke rom-com “Reality Bites,” but it wasn’t until last year’s “Escape at Dannemora” that the multi-talented star finally helmed a project without being in front of the camera.

During his keynote conversation at Variety‘s June 2019 TV Summit, Stiller talked about how his interest in making “Escape at Dannemora” kept increasing as he heard more and more about the real-life prison escape, and how not acting in the series proved to be a blessing.

“I loved not acting. Every movie I’ve directed I’ve acted in,” Stiller said. “I had so much more of an appreciation from being able to work with the actors, I found that really enjoyable.”

His enjoyment is hardly surprising given the A-list talent he got to direct, namely Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro.

Dano and del Toro star as two convicted murderers who famously escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Dano’s character, David Sweat, was shot by a state trooper only half a mile from escaping over the border into Canada.

Stiller, who has been making the rounds to help bolster the series’ Emmy chances, talked about his desire to keep the drama as authentic as possible, including having several prison guards play themselves. He also revealed that the New York state trooper who pulled the trigger on Sweat, Jay Cook, was in fact in charge of traffic control on the shoot.

“He’s a very humble guy. You would never know it and he never did an interview or anything,” Stiller said. “I asked him to take me out to where it happened and he walked me through it, which was very helpful. I asked him also to play himself, but he didn’t want to.”