‘Escape Room’ Star Tyler Labine Talks Killer Puzzles and Tense Situations in New Psychological Thriller (Interview)
This interview contains spoilers.
There’s no escaping this one! With the recent release of Adam Robitel’s Escape Room on Blu-ray and DVD, we thought it would only be fitting to highlight one of the twisted movies co-stars, Tyler Labine. Labine, who plays Mike Nolan, one of six strangers brought together under false pretenses to participate in a race against time in a series of sadistic escape room scenarios, had a lot of amazing things to say about his time on the movie. If you’re into severe mind meddling, with a hint of gore… Escape Room is for you! Death is looming around every corner, and seems almost inevitable for many of the characters, which makes it that much more stressful as you watch in the comfort of your own home.
Labine, who plays Mike, a simple, sweet soul, was forthcoming with the films deeper meaning and what thrillers in general often lack. We discussed his real-life love of escape rooms, and plot twists galore.
MCKENZIE MORRELL: So now how would you describe Escape Room and the character that you play to someone who has no clue what it is.
TYLER LABINE: Escape Room, somewhere straddles the line between psych thriller and horror film. I say it’s above and beyond anything. It’s tense. It’s a very tense ride. I like that in a movie and I think if people are looking for something that’s not stalkery and blood and guts but they’re looking for that same thrill… You get all of that with the tension of this movie. The movie is about 6 people that willingly show up to what they think is an escape room contest to win $10,000, if they escape the room and things turn a little deadly on them. I guess I’m allowed to spoil it a little bit now…Basically this maze of rooms that they’re in is just trying to kill them all. It’s a giant puzzle that’s trying to kill them. My character Mike Nolan is kind of like the old guy of the group… for lack of a better term. He’s maybe a little bit of a technophobe and is real sweet, and a team player. That’s the charm of that characters, you don’t want them to die. But I think more than anybody, Mike is sweet and I think that was really fun to play was the sweetness of that guy. He was just stuck in a simpler time maybe.
MM: Oh for sure. I know we were all rooting for everyone but Jason, but we’ll save that for another time.
TL: Well, Jason. He’s a dick. Yeah.
TL: Um, no. As I was reading it, I was sort of waiting for a twist. You know obviously movies like this are kind of all about the endings and “why are they there… what’s happening”, and honestly, I kept thinking from the get-go that Danny was the “Game’s Master”. That’s what I kept thinking. He died first but then I was like wait a minute, it could be any of us. What if it’s me? What if it’s Mike and then I got to the end and I was like “OK, not Mike”. But you have to remember too, do you actually see us die? I mean other then maybe Amanda who plummets a thousand feet to her death, are any of us actually proven to be dead? So that was kinda cool for me too. Who knows. But anyway, I felt the same way that the audience did watching the movie. I was kinda like, wow I don’t know what’s going on. I like that. That’s what drew me into it.
MM: No definitely. I watched it again last night and I was just like wait, what? What? It was one of those moments where you’re like kind of tense the whole time and had anxiety and then it was the end and you’re like ok, I’m ready for more.
TL: I think watching it again is a good idea and that’s not just to sell the DVD obviously but I think rewatch it and you notice things. I think also some of the things that critically people are like “oh well don’t pay too close attention to the plot, the details”…I’m like well actually there was quite a bit of attention paid during the writing and executing of this script to tie things together. So there are things that maybe didn’t at first glance seem to make sense or seem to tie in as a plot but it really does. There’s lots of Easter Eggs in there too. So, go back in and watch it again.
MM: Definitely! Now which character in the movie would you choose to be your partner in a real life escape room?
TL: Well, if I chose Mike we would probably die way sooner so I’m going to leave Mike out of it. He didn’t have a great advantage in the given situation. I would go with probably, to be honest… If I didn’t know the outcome of the movie I would probably have picked Jason. He’s just a killer. A shark. He’s also physically adept, I mean look at that guy. Have you seen him with his shirt off?
MM: Yep! That was definitely in the movie.
TL: Yeah, he’s quite the physical specimen. And also because of his mental state of kill or be killed. I’d be like “alright, I’m with you buddy, let’s go”.
MM: Well there were a couple of shirtless scenes in the film and you had one as well so…
TL: I did. I did like a portion of a shirtless…
MM: Kind of like a Superman flaunt
TL: Yeah, It was not the most flattering position to be lying like that. I sort of had to break my own back and lie on this bed with my legs dangling off and my belly hanging out but you know they make me look cool as I die. It did look pretty cool. I think it was a good death scene. I was pretty happy with that one.
MM: Well that’s good at least you were happy with it. I thought it was a great death scene.
TL: Or was it a death scene? He was lying there on a bed, not breathing but that doesn’t mean shit.
MM: Is anyone dead? We don’t know.
TL: We don’t know.
MM: And now as of late, many people know you from New Amsterdam. If Dr. Frome was to give Mike Nolan a piece of advice as he headed into the escape room, what do you think he’d say to him?
TL: Nice little cross-pollination there. What would Dr. Fromm say to Mike? I think he would say that you’re more valuable than you think and that as long as you stay calm and focused you could probably win this thing. I think Mike undervalued himself and I think that was his biggest issue from the beginning, he was like “I dunno, I’m just a guy… just some dude here”. But really what he should have been saying was “I’m THE dude here”.
MM: I totally agree with that.
TL: You could go a long way even if you have the right mindset.
MM: Right? I mean a lot of the people you didn’t think would be equipped for the escape room were the ones that might have made it to the end. So it’s one of those things where you’re like hmmm. Each of the escape rooms were designed with a character in mind. If someone made your life into an escape room that you had to conquer or figure out, what do you think the theme of it would be?
MM: That would be a common one for a lot.
TL: Yeah, I think it probably would look like whatever the inside of my brain looks like 90% of the time. Just trying to stay calm, to get out of that room. That blocked in anxiety room. You know what mine would probably be? Like a panic room that you couldn’t get out of. From the outside it seemed like a really good idea and a safe place to be but then you realized that you’re going to die in that panic room if you can’t get out. That would be pretty cool like you would have to reverse engineer your own defense mechanisms.
MM: You’re like I need to get out I don’t want to be in here anymore.
TL: Yeah. I don’t want to be trapped in my panic room, it was a mistake. I panicked prematurely, which I do and I’m an alarmist and now I want to get out but I can’t. What do I do?
MM: And now totally off topic but I have to add my signature question into every interview that I do… If you were to concoct a donut based off of Mike’s personality in Escape Room, what kind of donut would it be and what kind of toppings would be on it?
TL: I think it would be something surprisingly decadent but also really salt of the Earth. I think it would literally be a donut covered in sand. I’m kidding. A donut with like bacon, peanut butter and black cherries. Sweets. Crunchy, meaty. Kind of like Mike.
MM: Kind of like Mike. That’s actually the donut’s name “Like Mike”.
TL: Crunchy and meaty. Like Mike. That’s the donut’s name. I like that. I think we came up with something there.
MM: You can sell them with the DVD release. As we start to wind down, I read that you enjoy doing escape rooms in real life. Was there ever a time where you were participating in one and you felt uneasy or unsafe or that you weren’t going to be able to get out of it?
TL: Yeah, sure. There was one that I did with out here in California and it was the second one I’ve done. My wife and I went. It was my birthday and it was just the two of us. We went in this sort of Outbreak room where it was we’re trying to get away from this deadly virus that was in the air and we had to get into these rooms just ahead of the virus being airborne. We got to the last room pretty quickly and they tell you before you go in “don’t use force, you have to really figure things out with your brain”.
Of course my wife and I are both much more cerebral then we appear to be. So we were kinda in this last room and going over this crazy puzzle and I kept looking over in the corner and I could have sworn I kept seeing this guy in this suit behind these bars moving. I think they had it set up to make it look like that. It was really freaky and everything we were doing for the puzzle wouldn’t work and we were getting close to the end of our time limit and I thought that they were going to have some weird thing where this guy is going to jump out at the end and scare the shit out of us. We realized later on that you had to put on a glove and punch your way through this set of bars. We kept thinking because there is no way you’re supposed to use physical force I was like I’m not gonna do it and then my wife started thinking she saw this thing move as well and we just basically based on fear wanted to let the guy know that we knew he was in the suit.
I just started yelling at this suit and smashed the bars with the hand and then of course the whole thing triggered and the thing opened and there was nobody in the suit, it was like an animated suit. That was all you were supposed to do. They really engineered the room really well. It was quite an experience but I thought for sure that I had stumbled upon some weird element of the game and that was really making me uneasy. Of course it was all happening while the time was ticking down and we’re getting closer and closer to the virus. It was a great time.
MM: It only gets worse as the clock is ticking. To kind of wrap up, give me 3 words of why the audience should watch Escape Room.
TL: Tension. Tension. Tension.
MM: Tension to the 3rd power!
TL: I think that’s an element that’s missing in a lot of thrillers. You have moments of thrills here and there but I feel like this movie is just ratcheted it up from the opening scene. It’s tense. That’s the main thing that I think is really enjoyable about this movie is you realize that you’ve been clenching your fist and your jaw like almost the whole time. I honestly don’t remember the last time a movie made me do that and I already knew what was going to happen.
MM: And you were still clenching…
TL: This movie is tense. They did a really good job with the tension. We all did a really good job with the tension. Tension to the 3rd power.
MM: Right? That’s all I have for you today, Tyler. Thank you for chatting with me. I love the movie and hopefully Mike’s not actually dead and we see him in the next one.
TL: I like your thinking. I like your style. Thank you so much, McKenzie!