While the HBO Max series “The Staircase” chronicles a true-crime case, the show’s creator Antonio Campos didn’t see the limited series as an attempt to solve the crime in question.
Based on the 2004 docuseries of the same name, “The Staircase” dramatizes the trial and conviction of Michael Peterson (played by Colin Firth), who was convicted of murdering his wife Kathleen (played by Toni Collette), who was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their home.
“The show wasn’t an attempt to either indict or exonerate Michael Peterson. We explore the different versions and as we were exploring them I try to keep as open a mind as I could,” executive producer Campos said in the latest installment of TheWrap’s “How I Did It” series alongside series star Parker Posey. This episode is sponsored by HBO Max.
While Campos understands the audience will walk away from the show with some opinion on what really happened, he hopes the show also provides fodder for additional thought-provoking questions. “At the end of this you’ll have a very strong feeling about what could have happened, but I think the question of did he or didn’t he, I hope that you leave with deeper, more complex questions than that.”
Campos came into “The Staircase” with first-hand experience with the case in question. “I was in the courtroom in 2011 for a hearing that happened… there’s a very well-known clip from the documentary which is Candace, Kathleen’s sister, giving her sort of victim’s statement and yelling very directly at Michael Peterson,” Campos said. “And I was there, and if you watch the documentary – Episode 9 – I’m in the background with my blackberry.”
As work began on the HBO Max series and Campos’ focus turned to casting, he knew Parker Posey was the perfect person to bring the character of prosecutor Freda Black to life.
“I just knew that Parker would be able to deliver a performance that was complex and human and also just delicious and funny, and I knew that Parker was the only person that could translate this person into a character,” Campos said.
“I just felt like it was an honor, because Freda is no longer with us,” Posey said of taking on the role. “Just thinking of her as a woman having won this case in such an aggressive way and such a theatrical way. She was criticized, there were blogs written about her, she was called like Cleopatra, and it really hurt her. She was very confident in court, but in her own life she had no self-esteem and not a solid sense of self, which I can relate to.”
Campos explained that it was important to him to flesh out every character in the show.
“I think one of my favorite moments in the entire series is it’s late at night and you and Jim are talking about the case, and you’re just having a bit of small talk,” said to Posey, discussing how the mundane nature of the conversation adds dimension to both characters. “We intentionally wanted to humanize those people with our versions of them and complicate them and understand where they were coming from.”
Watch the full episode in the player above.