Eric Lange (‘Escape at Dannemora’) on not going ‘off the rails’ with playing Lyle [Complete Interview Transcript]

Eric Lange is the breakout actor from Showtime’s buzzy limited series “Escape at Dannemora,” which was directed by Ben Stiller and stars Patricia Arquette, Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano. Lange plays Lyle, husband to Arquette’s character.

Lange recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow about what he did to get the part of Lyle, his reaction to getting nominated at the Critics’ Choice Awards and what’s coming up next in his career. Watch the exclusive video interview and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Eric, you put on 40 pounds for the role. Is gaining weight for a role something you had done before?

Eric Lange: No, not that I wouldn’t have if somebody offered me the opportunity because it feels like something that would be enjoyable for a while to eat a way that you wouldn’t eat otherwise and not really worry about any of it. I will say after the first couple weeks, it does begin to change. Your belt, the tightness of your clothes, the way you walk, the way you sweat, how you breathe, which is why I felt it was important to do. Ben suggested it because I was pretty lean when we started and I think it was important to do because it did change all of that for me and added an organic nature to the character but in terms of your health, no, it’s a horrible idea and I’m not recommending it to anyone.

GD: Was that part of you getting the job, like he says, “You can have it if you can gain all this weight and lose it very quickly”?

EL: No, we already had it and they had gone up to northern New York to do some scouting and he called and said, “You’re a little lean I’m thinking as we’re up here and talking to people so would you put on 10 or 15 pounds?” So I did that relatively quickly. That didn’t really look like much on me. I’m tall. I’m 5’11”, 6’0” and a slender frame by nature so the 10 or 15 pounds didn’t really have that much of an effect. We sort of kept going and I guess it was a month into production we had peaked and I started at 175 and wound up at about 212 and then we hung there for the duration of the shoot, which is about another seven months or so. Then, Ben had this idea to stop production for about six weeks, eight weeks, and have Patricia and I lose all the weight we could before we shot the flashback episode, which is Episode 6, which goes back about 20 years in time. That’s what we did. In the middle of that time off my son came earlier than expected so we got a little more time to lose a little more weight. We both ended up losing another 30 or 35 pounds during that period which was nice to have a deadline to do it by. If I didn’t have that it might’ve taken me a long time. That’s what’s amazing about it is you have six episodes where I’m basically 212 pounds and you have one episode in the middle of it where I was about 175, 180 again. That was a lot of physical fun that you don’t normally have the opportunity to do. Again, terribly unhealthy.

GD: We hosted a bunch of production designers including yours at a Gold Derby event last night and he was talking about how when he started the project he had all the scripts except for one. I’m wondering, was that the case for you and was that the flashback episode?

EL: Mark Ricker is brilliant by the way. I’m a huge fan of his. What he did with that show and the look of the show added so much realism. It was no acting required on all of his sets. He did a gorgeous job. I did have all the scripts. I don’t remember which one we didn’t have. It might’ve been the flashback. That was lovely to have all the scripts a month in advance. They were incredible well-prepared in that way. I had the show bible in addition to all that stuff. It really helps you wrap your head around what you’re about to do especially because we block-shot the thing, which is basically on Day 1, we would do Episode 1, 2 and 7. On Day 2 you’d do 3, 5 and 4. It was just every day you were doing all eight episodes. We also had two seasons that we shot across. We shot a summer stint upstate New York and then we came back and we shot a winter stint there. There’s scenes where we’re inside in the summer and when you walk out the door it cuts to the winter shoot. Collaboration on scripts and continuity and “Where were we, what were we when” was incredibly important on this show and they did a phenomenal job with it.

GD: I think you and the other actors have talked about Ben Stiller, he’s an actor normally so that really makes a difference when it comes to his directing. Can you give any specific examples about that affects things?

EL: I think as an actor and an actor with good taste and an actor who’s incredibly perfectionist, he’s got great taste about everything. You can just talk to another actor and that actor has a better sense, maybe, of tricks you’ll use or techniques you’ll use to get somewhere versus getting somewhere organically and honestly. I guess you would call one of those things being in the pocket, being in the zone of something and one of them may be pushing. There was always a danger, a fear of mine of turning Lyle into a caricature. It’s a very fine line with a guy like that who’s got an eccentric speech pattern, an eccentric look, a childlike view of the world sometimes. It can run off the rails real quick. My trust and my faith from the beginning that that wouldn’t happen was because of Ben. I really trust his eye. I think it’s finely tuned. I would walk up to him basically more often than not and say, “Is this off the rails?” And he would say, “No, no, no. We’re good. Stop worrying about it. Don’t worry about looking at yourself from the outside. I’ve got you.” That was a tremendous relief for me to know I could just trust that. He helped a lot in that way.

GD: This miniseries has gotten a lot of accolades and acclaim for its acting but that’s not a surprise when you have Oscar winners Patricia Arquette and Benicio del Toro and you’ve got Emmy nominee David Morse and Golden Globe nominee Paul Dano. You’re also in the main cast and I feel like you’re more of the breakthrough. How did they know that they should be casting you? Why did they feel that you would be right for this role?

EL: I guess it took me as much convincing to convince myself that I was right for this role. He was really far from me. That’s what the process of leading up to the audience was for me, was as much convincing myself that I could pull this off, as it was convincing them. I knew when I read the breakdown that Ben was directing it, that Benicio and Patricia were in it, that I’d be opposite Patricia 99% of the time, Paul Dano. So I recognized the opportunity that it was for someone like me. I’ve been in L.A. for 24 years. I’ve been working a very, very long time here, thankfully. Most of the stuff I’ve done doesn’t get Emmy recognition or Golden Globe recognition necessarily. It’s work and you continue your path that way. I knew this was an opportunity to be in something that might be a little more visible, that might be a little more in the spotlight or more high profile. To that end, I did exactly what I knew to do which was to give Ben a piece of tape that would alleviate any doubts or worries as much as possible. I went to a makeup supply store and I bought some fake teeth that I put in. I had a wig laying around the house from another production that I put on. I got the voice down as best I could and one night until 3:00 in the morning I just shot all these scenes with of these accouterments on and at many a moment I was going, “Man, is this crazy? Am I just really trying way too hard for this here?” The other part of me, I thought Ben would respect it and anyone watching would respect the lengths I went to because this guy isn’t just like anybody else. There’s a lot of artifice that’s required to bridge from me to him. I started in my kitchen and then the hair and makeup team on-set once I got the job took over, Art Sakamoto, who built my gorgeously horrible teeth, the wig that was perfected on-set, they replaced my eyebrows, the 40 pounds of fat. All of it eventually added up to the Lyle that everybody got to see. It did start in my kitchen late at night with some Austin Powers teeth and a really bad wig. I’m glad he bought it. I sold it as best I could. I guess it worked.

GD: You’ve already been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for your performance for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. How did you find out about that nomination?

EL: It’s funny, I wasn’t paying any attention, really, I guess. I never expect to be nominated for anything. I work as hard as I do on anything. Rewards or awards always seem like they’d be out of the blue. That’s kind of what happened that morning. We have two young kids and they were both sick that night and we were up and it was 4:00 in the morning and I was checking Twitter on a break from changing diapers or whatever I was doing and I just saw that the Critics’ Choice nominations were out and I thought, “Oh, cool. Maybe the show got another nomination.” I said, “Oh, the show got a nomination! Oh, Patricia got a nomination! Paul got a nomination!” And then I saw my name. It was the weirdest experience. I just had no connection that that meant that I was on the list for those awards. It was like it was a runner-up category or something, special mention. When I connected the dots and realized I’d been nominated, we all just started jumping around in the bedroom even though everybody was sick. It was a really beautiful little moment. I was just shocked. I was so honored and shocked and I still am. I still can’t believe that happened. I’m really grateful.

GD: You mention that you’ve been working for 24 years. Just going through your IMDb credits, you have all those credits going back and I feel like there’s a shift around maybe when you got “Lost.” Before that you’d been doing tons of single-episode roles and then after that you moved onto more substantial stuff. Can you talk a bit about navigating Hollywood for that long on that trajectory?

EL: You hit the nail on the head. That’s very astute of you. It was doing guest stars regularly but some of them were one-day guest stars, some of them were a couple scenes and I was just happy to be working and happy to be working as an actor. “Lost” happened and we did that all in Hawaii and I was only supposed to do two episodes and they liked what I was doing so it ended up being seven. I ended up being a big villain that season. We did it all in Hawaii and they said, “When you get back home, things will be different for you.” I didn’t believe them at all because again, I’ve done this for so long. I just never expect anything else other than the work, which is its own gift. So I got home and sure enough, Day 1 I had three people walk up to me on the street. That started a little shift, I guess, in my credibility or my stock in the business. After that, maybe there was a level shift and I got to do more things that were recurring, bigger jobs. “The Bridge,” I did 11 out of 13 episodes of that. I had a nice recurring arc on “Weeds.” This crazy teeny bopper show called “Victorious” I was doing at the same time as “Lost.” So yeah, I guess there was more recurring things and then pilots would follow and then series that were actually on the air like “Narcos” and gosh, I’m losing track of some of it now. There’s been a nice steady incline, I guess, and “Lost” was a really nice kickstart of all that. I just try to do a little better than I did a year before and I guess for the last little while that’s been happening. I’m grateful.

GD: It’s funny you mention that you were the big bad of that season and you were but they never got a chance to kill you off since they couldn’t.

EL: Yeah, he killed himself off later on. That was a phenomenal opportunity. I was such a fan of that show anyway so to get to go there felt like I had won a contest for a radio station or something, like, “Go to the set of ‘Lost.’” I couldn’t believe I was getting to do that. That was the highlight of my career, one of them, for sure.

GD: What do you have coming up next?

EL: I’ll be on “The Man in the High Castle” the next season they have coming out. I have another limited series for Netflix that’ll be coming out with Toni Collette and Merritt Wever. I just finished a movie for Lionsgate with Janelle Monáe that I can say next to nothing about.

GD: Does it have a title yet?

EL: It doesn’t have a title they’ll let me speak. It’s like the Marvel movies. I might come home and find something in my mailbox if I say the wrong thing. I’m terrified. I just started this week a pilot that, again, is shrouded in secrecy. I haven’t wet your whistle very much I’m sorry to say, but there is more of me coming out. It’s just I can’t talk about much of any of it.

GD: Thanks very much about talking about what you did, Eric.

EL: Thank you.

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