If you’re a fan of true crime, there’s a good chance you’re just as fascinated by prison escapes. Whether the stories of escape are successful or not, there’s something about the lengths humans will go to seek freedom that boggles the mind.
One of the most famous prison escapes in history is that of three South African men who escaped from Pretoria Central Prison in 1979 after meticulous planning. It’s an incredible story that plays out in the recent film Escape From Pretoria starring Australian actor Daniel Webber and Daniel Radcliffe as Stephen Lee and Tim Jenkin.
We spoke to Daniel Webber on the most recent episode of It’s Been A Big Day For… about what it’s like replicating a real-life prison escape for the big screen. LISTEN BELOW:
One of the most impressive aspects of Escape from Pretoria, is the film’s inclusion of elements from the actual 1979 prison escape, like the chisel that was used by Lee and Jenkin.
“The small details like the chisel, helped fuel us and give energy to the performances,” Webber explained. “When you’re using the chisel that was used in the final escape attempt – knowing what it did and how they used it, you handle it differently, knowing you’re part of history in telling that story.”
“Historical accuracy in a story like this is absolutely essential,” Webber said. “You know it’s going to be viewed through the lens of history and what was actually happening at the time.”
“On top of that, it’s a real person and they’re going to be watching their life portrayed up on screen. You really want to do them justice as much as you can.”
Speaking about working with Daniel Radcliffe, Webber said they developed a natural comradery before shooting even began. “Stephen and Tim were really good mates – they met during university, had to learn about aparteid and what was going on in South Africa,” Webber explained. “It was a similar experience for me and Dan [Radcliffe], we both had to study aparteid and we bonded in that.”
“The nature of filming, trying to figure out problems, is essentially what Stephen and Tim were trying to do on a daily basis in their attempts to escape prison,” he added.
As for why he thinks people are so fascinated by prison escapes, Webber puts it down to being taken “back to basics.”
“What is extraordinary, is the creativity you see that comes from human beings in a hard situation,” he said.
Webber is no stranger to portraying real-life characters. As well as Stephen Lee, he has also played Motley Crue singer Vince Neil in The Dirt, Lee Harvey Oswald in 11.22.63.
“For Vince Neil I was singing for months prior to shooting, we practiced performing – there’s very specific skill sets. With Stephen – because I aligned with his values and morals, it wasn’t about trying to reach for what he believed, but how far he went with it. He was a man willing to give up his freedom, and life if need be.”
You can rent Escape from Pretoria now from Apple TV, Fetch, Foxtel or Google Play.
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