Escape Room is a thriller whereby six strangers are mysteriously brought together, having to compete in a series of puzzles, with a big financial reward for the winner. It starts out as fun, but it seems the the stakes are somewhat more real than they’d anticipated. To celebrate the film’s release we spoke to Tyler Labine, who discusses this relative departure for him, having done a fair share of comedy in his career. He also discusses with us the notion of fame and how it changes people, and on the very final series of the animation Voltron.
So what was it that initially attracted you to getting involved in this project?
There’s a few things. Firstly, we were shooting in South Africa and that really appealed to me, to go there for a few months and see parts of the world I wouldn’t normally see. But as far as the project itself is concerned, I am a huge fan of escape rooms, I’ve done a few with my wife and I’m quite proficient at them, I’ll just toot my own horn for a second, I’m a bit of a master at these things. The topical nature of the film also appealed to me, and then also the stakes are high in a movie like this, the character are dealing with these crazy elements and you’re suspending your disbelief constantly, and our job is to keep all those balls in the air and that’s hard, to play fear, and to add humour, it’s almost like a boot camp for actors and I enjoy those kind of challengers.
Well my next question was going to be if you’re one of those people who are quite good at solving puzzles, but you’ve just answered that one…
I am. I’m excellent.
You’ve done comedy in your career, but there wasn’t too much room in this instance to be comedic. Was it quite nice in some ways to alleviate the pressure of having to make people laugh? Because as enjoyable as comedy is, at the same time it’s one of the most pressurising forms of acting.
Oh yeah, and I’m currently on a drama which is coming out in the UK soon called New Amsterdam and it’s a hospital drama, but I do a lot of comedy on TV and in film, and with Escape Room it’s the same as with New Amsterdam, I don’t want to say that it’s a relief because it suggests drama is lazy acting work and it’s not, but you’re right, it’s a whole different beast when you’re trying to hit the jokes and the humour, and a lot of times you forgo the story for a laugh and that’s the pitfall of a lot of comedies, that as long as there’s funny bits, who cares about the story? But this film is all about the story. It’s nice to get your teeth into the texture of a scene rather than all these little superfluous pops, you know? So yeah it was cool. I got to do a lot of stuff that was real emotion. But this film hit the sweet spot, because you do get to do humour too, but with real textured emotion, because that’s what life really is, you can’t have one without the other.
Another interesting aspect between these six strangers taking part in this escape room is that we dip into class differences. Your character is one of those who comes from quite a humble, modest background. As a successful actor can it ever be quite easy to forget where you’ve come from?
I’ve been dealing with that a little bit lately with some of my friends who blown up as they say, and it’s always disheartening to see someone change. What is that thing that means that all of a sudden you’re allowed, or encouraged to disconnect with your past? And it’s something that has always alluded me. But you know, I’m not famous, I don’t know what it’s like to be like Ryan Gosling famous, but that’s gotta do something to you. But as for me and the level of recognition that I’ve received, I dunno, maybe I’m just not built that way. I think it would be impossible for me to forget where I come from and why I do what I do, and remember that it’s always been the work and the experiences for me, not the fame or the money or the recognition. It’s my life and it’s what I’ve chosen to do and the joy that I get from it comes from a very different place than for some people I think. I’m all about gaining life experiences. Let’s say for example this movie never even got a release, I wouldn’t have really cared, because I got to go and do it, and I get to have the experience still, and I think maybe that’s maybe where I don’t fall into that trap or cliché of like ‘oh I’m too famous to do that sort of thing now’, I don’t think of things on those terms.
We sort of forget that choices to make stuff can boil down to signing up to a project because it was shot in South Africa and that’s somewhere you wanted to visit. As audience members we can forget that a lot of this isn’t just about serving the story at hand and making a movie, but the experience that you gain creating it.
Absolutely, all the joy comes from that, and the friendships I’ve made, as well as the location. But even still it’s the experience of shooting a movie like this which is a once in a lifetime because of the material itself too. I can’t spoil anything obviously, but the experience physically shooting a lot of those sequences and the elements that we were duplicating and replicating and everything about it, are all tools that you gotta keep sharp in your actor’s tool belt, you know? I had to do stuff I’d never done before, and that’s what I’m talking about when I say experience, I get to grow as a performer and as an artist, and I always choose material will help me with that, things I’ve never done before, or things I wanna get sharper at, or hone my skills at, and this movie had all of that, I knew it would be great if I got to pack it all into this really intense bootcamp of a shoot. Those are the experiences I’m talking about as well. It’s all about the work. Once I leave and I’m done with the work, that was the reward already. If the movie comes out and it’s big and allows me to do more work then great, but I don’t really care that much about the money or the fame or anything.
Voltron has a new series coming soon, you must be excited about that? And it must be great as well to make something that your kids can watch?
Yeah they really like Voltron. So do I, and I had to really push my way into this project. They weren’t too keen on hiring a 37 year old man to play a 17 year old boy, but I was like, I have to play this character, I gotta do it. It’s been so amazing for me on so many levels personally and professionally, and again the experience of learning what it was like to be on a big cartoon and learning from all these other voice actors. I don’t do a ton of voice acting, I’ve done some, but these guys do it for a living, sometimes they have three or four different gigs in a day and they’re the best of the best at it. So again I was learning and taking whatever I could from these actors. But yeah Voltron is done actually now, we’re finished, we’re not doing anymore. So it’s kind of a sad subject for me, it was a big chunk of my life, like three or four years of my life, and we’re finished. Voltron is over. But I will continue to support and encourage everyone to watch Voltron because I think it’s a really groundbreaking and cool and classy show, so go out there and check it out if you haven’t already.
Escape Room is released on February 1st