Red Stewart chats with Tyler Labine about Escape Room….
Tyler Labine is a Canadian actor who has been working in the film and television industries since the 1990s. He is best known for his work on projects like Deadbeat, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and New Amsterdam. His latest film is the psychological thriller Escape Room, which is set to be released in the UK on February 1st.
Mr. Labine, thank you so much for speaking with me. Obviously you’re known for doing comedy, though you’ve done a lot of drama as well. But what’s it like to do a movie like Escape Room where it’s a psychological thriller?
Yeah, I’m on a drama right now, and I do lots of drama, but I enjoyed Escape Room. It was a real challenge, physically, mentally. There was a lot going on, and we had to keep a lot of tension in the air all the time, which is the main challenge with doing any kind of movie like this: keeping your environment believable. That, a lot of times, takes a ton more acting than people see because, when we’re doing our jobs right, you just believe that we’re standing in a freezing room or we’re being suspended from the ceiling.
So it’s all about keeping this illusion alive, and it’s a constant suspension of disbelief. And it’s fun, it’s really fun to play, but also exhausting.
That makes a lot of sense. I kind of have this personal theory, but was wondering if you could confirm or deny it sir, as I’ve always said that if you know how to make people laugh, you can make them feel any emotion, and I think that was kind of proven with Jordan Peele and Get Out. But have you found that to be a plausible theory at all?
Absolutely. I feel like, what I’ve always said is, in order to know what’s funny, you need to know what’s not funny. You can’t stand on a platform if you don’t know what’s sort of the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. So I feel like, as a comedian, the way that we manipulate people is pretty formulaic- it’s because we can understand exactly what’s not funny, and then move you away from that. It’s almost like a magic trick, you know, it’s all about distraction and misdirection.
So I totally think that’s the case with most comedians, which is why audiences have been constantly and consistently dazzled by these funny actors taking dramatic turns. People turn in these amazing dramatic performances and everyone’s like “how did they do it? They’re so funny normally.” Yeah, but that’s why, because they’ve got a real darkness and an understanding of tragedy. Like the drama masks, you’ve got to have both happy and sad, you know?
No, that’s a great comparison to Greek plays, which had those two masks. As you said you’ve done a lot, and continue to do a lot, of television. I actually just spoke to the director Mr. Robitel, who is a great person, and he told me how this shoot was relatively quick. I’m curious, did your experience with television schedules help you with the quick principal photography on Escape Room?
Yeah, sure. It was definitely rushed for a feature. You know, I’m on an hour-long drama; we shoot each episode in eight days, which is a lot for 58 pages of shooting, so proficiency of your craft really gets honed in on T.V. And when you get into a situation like with Escape Room, where we didn’t have all the time in the world and we were shooting a pretty high page count as well, it feels familiar: it feels like I can rely on the fact that I know you can get what you need out of me in one or two takes. I don’t need 20 takes to nail something. That’s never the issue. I’ve been acting for 30 years, so I feel like I’ve gotten pretty proficient at getting what directors need right out of the gates.
The real issue, for a lot of actors who have been doing it a long time, is keeping it going. If you want to do 15-20 takes of me doing the same thing, I have to come through every time cause you could use any one of those takes. But with Escape Room it was like, yeah it was pretty rushed, but there were also a lot of big moments that Adam needed to get dramatically-speaking where we had to shoot them over and over again. And he knew which ones we could sort of blow past, and he knew which ones we really needed to hit.
So yeah, I think just my experience in general, T.V. or otherwise, helps me sort of get in shape for movies like this.
And I think it will show for sure because the trailer was amazing, and those dramatic moments depicted the great acting of you and the rest of the cast. Speaking of the trailer, I asked Mr. Robitel this question, but I’m interested in hearing your take on it as well from an actor’s perspective: one of the things I was disappointed to read in the comments was people kept comparing it to previous movies. I feel that’s toxic, in general, to indie productions, but how do you maintain genuine creativity when it does seem like a lot of stories have already been told?
Well you know, as an actor, it’s pretty common that you come across regurgitated and recycled material. But it starts there. You have to pick material that you believe has a unique voice. And that’s why I genuinely go for a lot of genre stuff because I feel like that’s where the most kind of creative and fun material is, you know? There’s no boundaries, it’s almost like we’re shooting a live action cartoon. And if you find yourself in a position where you are in a movie or a TV show that people are slamming for being exactly like something else, that was your fault from the get-go for picking that material.
And I can safely say that Escape Room is not like the movies that everyone is saying it’s like. It has a similar device- strangers have been trapped in something together. But outside of that it goes way further and it’s a very different film compared to the ones that people are drawing comparisons to. I’ve seen like Saw and Cube and all that. Yeah, it’s that similar device, but other than that, the character work, the sets, the visuals, everything, it’s totally different.
Audiences lose the opportunity to watch something sort of unfettered by the time it comes out because everyone is so busy comparing it to whatever they think it’s going to be like. So stop doing that, to all the people who do that.
No I agree entirely, and it truly does look like a unique spin on that narrative device you were talking about, especially with the psychological elements.
I have one last question Mr. Labine. It’s unrelated to Escape Room, but I know that you are one of the cast members on the Voltron: Legendary Defender series on Netflix. Anything you want to say about the eighth and final season?
Yeah, it’s been an honor and a privilege. You know, Voltron was my jam growing up, that was like my favorite cartoon growing up. That, He-Man, and M.A.S.K. were my favorite cartoons. And it was something that I jumped at when I found out that they were auditioning for it. I pushed my way into that because they wanted a 17-year-old kid [laughs].
But I went at it pretty hard and they put me through the ringer to get it. I had to jump through a lot of hoops and come in and re-audition and re-audition and go off probation and do like a three episode trial run- all this stuff. And I was just like there was no way I was not going to get it.
So I was ecstatic and I really loved the product that we put out. The final product of the show is, I think, unparalleled in animation these days. The voice cast have all become good friends of mine. It’s just been amazing.
The only thing that has been pretty weird about it is it’s gotten a bit of a toxic fandom. Things that go really well are very well-received, and the things that don’t go exactly the way that our fans want them to go they get really angry and agro and send threatening messages and all kinds of things.
So, if I had one message for the fans, I’d say ease up. It’s supposed to be fun, it’s a cartoon [laughs].
But otherwise it’s been an awesome experience.
No for sure. I also grew up with a lot of those shows you listed, alongside SWAT Kats and GI: Joe, and I’m glad that Voltron has been able to successfully introduce the franchise to a new generation. But thank you so much Mr. Labine for taking the time to speak with me. Like I said, I’m honesty looking forward to Escape Room.
Yeah, I hope you enjoy the movie!
Flickering Myth would like to thank Mr. Labine for sitting down with us. Escape Room is out in theaters on February 1st. Special thanks to Sony Pictures for making this interview possible.