Escape Room: Deborah Ann Woll’s Love of Cooperative Gaming

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When Sony Pictures releases Escape Room for home entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD on April 23, 2019, a whole new audience of horror aficionados and escape room enthusiasts alike will have a chance to enjoy the thriller in which the dangers of what’s supposed to be a game become very real. Deborah Ann Woll was particularly well cast given her enthusiasm for cooperative gaming in Geek and Sundry’s Relics and Rarities, a Dungeons & Dragons campaign show, and she spoke with us about Amanda Harper, her character in Escape Room, and how her penchant for social games goes beyond the kind depicted in the movie.

Woll’s character in Escape Room joins five others at the Minos Escape Room Facility for a chance to solve a particularly immersive set of puzzles and win $10,000 in the process. “We all have reasons for why we wanted to come and try this out,” Woll explained. “However, we very quickly find out that each of us has actually been lured here for some specific reason and that we are part of sort of a gladiator system where they are trying to see who can actually survive what turns out to be a truly deadly escape room… and they’ve also geared these rooms to specifically trigger us based on certain traumas that we’ve had in our lives.”

Amanda Harper’s trauma has to do with her status as an Iraq war veteran, and Woll was quite aware of her need to play the role with sensitivity to those who have actually been in battle. “I wanted to be sure that I was respectful and did those experiences justice,” she said. “Even in a small thriller, the responsibility you have as an actor is to take it seriously no matter what you’re doing. I did a lot of research, and when we ended up in those scenes, I wanted it to be very clear that even though Amanda had been through these experiences, they still live within her and they still stall her from time to time. That doesn’t mean she isn’t an extremely tough, extremely powerful survivor. Both of those, the vulnerability of that experience as well as the strength she carries with her, can coexist within her.”

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Fans of Woll from her roles in True Blood and Daredevil are well aware of her ability to portray both vulnerability and strength simultaneously, but they might be surprised to learn that the famed Dungeon Master from Relics and Rarities has never had her own escape room experience. “Honestly, I’ve never done an escape room,” Woll admitted. “I love puzzles; I love cooperative problem solving and all that stuff, but I think something about the social aspect of escape rooms… all the stories I hear it’s like you go with a couple of friends, but you’re also with a bunch of other people you don’t know. I don’t know, that part always scared me off, so maybe if I could do it with just friends. With Dungeons & Dragons I basically do escape rooms in my mind.”

Relics and Rarities brings together longtime Geek and Sundry gamers Xander Jeanneret and Jasmine Bhullar with Woll and her fellow actor friends Julia Dennis and Tom Walker, the latter of whom she met on the set of Daredevil. “I just wanted to play D&D all the time, and I’m a D&D pusher. Everyone I meet I tell about D&D, and I try and get them to play with me at least once,” Woll told us. “So I got Tommy and Julia to play with me, and we started an ongoing campaign with them and a bunch of friends. And now they are bonafide Dungeons & Dragons celebrities, and I just love it! I think it’s so exciting.”

Like the Game Master of Escape Room, Woll lures other actors to play D&D with her and her friends, and some of them end up being avid converts. “We had Janina Gavankar on, who I know from True Blood, and she is also part of that gaming group with Tommy and Julia — she’s super hooked,” said Woll. “And then Sam Richardson, who had never played Dungeons & Dragons before. I know him a bit through the comedy world, and I invited him to come and play and he was very enthusiastic. He fit right in, and I love that episode of his! He’s so engaged and creative and committed. I was recently emailing with him, and he was like, ‘You know, I’m really ready for a full campaign,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, you are on my list!’”

Woll certainly understands the desire to create problems for others to solve like the Puzzle Maker in Escape Room, and the origin of Relics and Rarities came from Woll’s past just as it does with Amanda Harper in the movie. “My first time running a game publicly was at the Stream of Many Eyes, which was an event that Wizards of the Coast put on, who publish Dungeons & Dragons,” explained Woll. “I did a 90-minute adventure, a very quick one-shot with some really cool players including Tommy and Julia, and that was all I’d done. I was very nervous! I’m newer to D&D in the grand scope of most players… but it went very well, and Geek and Sundry off of that reached out and said, ‘We’re looking to make a show; would you like to come in and work on this?’ And they were so great! I’ve never gotten to work on something from that initial creative planning stage.”

With Escape Room’s modest budget and its $154 million worldwide box office gross, it’s no surprise that a sequel is in the works, and Woll is happy to have played her part in the first movie’s success. “It’s exciting to see we were a part of something that people really liked, and I feel good that Sony and my bosses and everyone are pleased with it, and that it had a good return for them,” said Woll. “Hopefully that will mean that they trust me and will want to use me again.” Woll’s performance in Escape Room can be enjoyed by viewers everywhere when the movie gets its home entertainment release on April 23, 2019.

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