To play convicted real-life killer Pam Hupp in “The Thing About Pam,” NBC’s upcoming series based on the wildly popular “Dateline” podcast of the same name, Renée Zellweger underwent hours in the makeup chair.
The limited series about the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria, which debuts on NBC on March 8, also stars Glenn Fleshler as Betsy’s husband Russ Faria, Josh Duhamel as his defense attorney Joel Schwartz, and Judy Greer as Leah Askey, the prosecutor who tried Russ Faria twice for his wife’s murder. All three wore wigs to transform into their real-life counterparts.
The creative decision to put Zellweger in a fat suit has drawn sharp criticism online, as did Sarah Paulson’s recent prosthetics-heavy portrayal of Linda Tripp on “Impeachment: American Crime Story.” However, cast and crew sidestepped the issue during a “The Thing About Pam” TCA panel on Friday.
When asked why producers didn’t select an actress who is the same size as Hupp, executive producer Chris McCumber said, “When a two-time Oscar winner calls and says, ‘I’m obsessed with this story and I want to play Pam and I want to produce, you say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes.’ And our job at that point is to provide Renee and the rest of the cast with all the tools they need to embody these characters.”
Added Zellweger, “It’s pretty well established, [Pam’s] look, so we did what we could to come as close as we could.” As for the use of the prosthetics, she said it was part of her “toolkit” and she even enjoyed the process, as uncomfortable and lengthy as it was.
“I think everybody here would agree that’s part of your toolkit that makes it easier to achieve what you’re trying to, in terms of someone else’s story,” she said. “The further away you are from yourself, the safer you feel to explore. Josh and Genn and Judy went through pretty remarkable transformations [too], to represent these people in this project. Judy, don’t you think that’s half the fun?”
Greer, who dons a black wig and contact lenses for her role, said, “It certainly makes it a lot easier when you have all that stuff on.”
Both actresses said they felt that “hiding” in their costumes was a bonus. “You don’t feel as vulnerable,” Greer said. “And the crew is always surprised to see what you really look like when you do show up.'”
While Zellweger famously gained and lost weight for the first two “Bridget Jones” films, going full bodysuit was new to her. “I’m new to it, with the exception of tiny bits and pieces that I’d used in performances before. This was the most comprehensive and involved, ” she said. “Every day I learned something new, how the pieces are built, how they have minds of their own and what they become during the day isn’t quite what they begin [as]. Also learned it’s a different kind of skill to work with your entire body covered in prosthetics. It took about four hours to start and [the crew] whittled it down to about two hours.”
Fleshler added, “What Renee did, the amount of hours doing that and then to show up on set with the spirit that she had and has every day, is really remarkable. It’s not easy, although she did find a way to enjoy it. It’s not easy to sit through all that and be that hot and to feel like you don’t necessarily have control of your whole self.”
“It was entertaining, every day, these things are dynamic. It was fun, creatively. That might make me a crazy person, to find that fun, gluing stuff to your head every day. But I did find it fun,” said Renée.
Before the panel, TheWrap reached out to Blumhouse Television about the online backlash, but the company, who produced the series along with NBC News Studios and Big Picture Co., declined to comment. Reps for Zellweger did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.