In the Showtime seven-part limited series Escape at Dannemora, Patricia Arquette plays a real person: Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell, a worker at the Clinton Correctional Facility who aided two prisoners in escaping in 2015. And these photos of Joyce Mitchell vs. Patricia Arquette prove just how in-character she got.
Arquette doesn't look much like Mitchell if you take them feature by feature, though they are both blondes. However, once Arquette is in full hair and makeup, dressed like Mitchell down to the glasses, the resemblance becomes a lot stronger. Arquette put a lot of work into transforming herself to play Mitchell, and she broke down all the steps she took while talking to the New York Post.
Arquette gained 40 pounds to play Mitchell, but that wasn't the only thing that played a part in making them look more similar. Arquette wore brown contact lenses to cover up her blue eyes, as well as false teeth and a wig. She laid off her typical skincare regime as well, saying, "I couldn't really wear face cream for a year."
Changing her appearance allowed Arquette the freedom to explore a different kind of female character, which was something she appreciated. The actress remarked on the fact that Tilly was manipulative and selfish, but also didn't fit into society's so-called accepted beauty norms.
Though Tilly was, in Arquette's words, "quote, unquote, unattractive," she was still an object of desire. "Tilly was very comfortable being a sexual person," she said. "So, can we talk about people sexual in their middle age? And seeing them on-screen? You're more likely to see a movie with dinosaurs taking over the earth than a movie with a middle-aged woman being sexual."
Arquette worked closely with makeup department head Bernadette Mazur to develop Tilly's look, which took inspiration from Mitchell's early life. Mazur spoke to Variety about some of the details they focused on, explaining that it could be challenging to depict a real person without it turning into a caricature.
A lot of work was done on Arquette's skin. "We started mottling her skin, adding freckles, age spots, broken blood vessels on her face," Mazur told Variety. "We sunk her eyes in to show the fatigue of the Dannemora life. [Arquette] didn't want movie makeup. She said, 'I'm ready to expose myself, so do whatever you can.'"
According to the publication, Arquette had the most trouble with the colored contacts because she felt they were a barrier when it came to connecting with the other actors. However, that ultimately ended up enhancing the character, because Tilly had emotional barriers up. Though many of the choices that made Arquette look more like Mitchell were external, they also helped to deepen her performance and aided the story.
The physical aspects of the character are important because they connect Arquette's fictionalized Tilly to her actual inspiration. But they're not the only contributing factors in creating the character. Arquette's performance relies on her own acting skills, as well as the script and direction. All of it works together to bring this surprising true story to life.
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