Michael Peterson hasn’t watched “The Staircase” but he knows the HBO Max true crime series is “wrong, wrong, wrong” in its depiction of late wife Kathleen’s death.
North Carolina novelist turned politician Peterson stood trial for allegedly murdering Kathleen in 2001 and was convicted in 2003. Peterson later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in an Alford plea in 2017 and was released from prison. The Peterson family story was at the center of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 documentary “The Staircase” before inspiring the HBO Max series of the same name, helmed by Antonio Campos.
“Oh God, no,” Peterson told Variety about watching the series. “There was this two-and-a-half-minute trailer and I turned it off after one minute because there are my children screaming at each other. And I said, ‘What family is this? Where did this come from?’ So, I did not watch anymore. I realized I cannot under any circumstances watch this.”
Peterson slammed the portrayal of his children onscreen, saying actor Dane DeHaan “looks like a drugged out individual” with “bags under his eyes” as son Clayton. “It’s just an appalling desecration of their lives,” Peterson added, while saying Toni Collette as Kathleen is a “screaming shrew” onscreen.
But it’s Colin Firth’s portrayal of Peterson himself that has the former politician especially “annoyed.” Firth did not consult with Peterson during “The Staircase” production despite Peterson saying he probably would have spoken with the Oscar winner.
“I will forever be known as Colin Firth. It could be worse, I suppose,” Peterson lamented. “He’s not my favorite actor. Get Brad Pitt! But to be fair, I haven’t seen his portrayal, but I heard he got [my] voice right and [my] mannerisms. But he didn’t capture my energy or my humor.”
Peterson continued, “To me, Colin’s a great actor but I can’t think of any roles that weren’t dull as dirt that he’s ever played and that’s fine. I’m not denigrating him, but I would have thought about talking to him. He said he wanted to do it himself — make his own creature, I thought, ‘What are you talking about? I’m the real person. If you want to know what I think and feel, read my book or talk to me.’”
And the sex scenes in the HBO Max series are “both wrong and salacious,” according to Peterson, who is bisexual.
“The rest of the gratuitous sex in the series is, from what I’ve also heard, homophobic, as my trial certainly was — and definitely a contributing factor in my conviction,” Peterson stated. “That completely fabricated episode with me killing Kathleen is grossly homophobic when she finds pornography on my computer late at night, though the prosecution expert testified that the computer was not accessed after 4 p.m. Creating a false and fictional sexual reason for me to kill her is disgustingly homophobic as well as wrong, as proven in court. How could [director and co-showrunner] Campos create a scene that was completely disproved in trial testimony? That shows his total disregard for truth, and his denigration of my bisexuality. He invented a reason for killing Kathleen based on my bisexuality. That also maligns Kathleen, who was a kind and understanding person.”
Peterson also announced he is taking legal action against the series.
“What I hope is that an entertainment lawyer can at least settle out of court with Antonio [Campos], Annapurna, and HBO so that my children can get the money,” Peterson summed up. “But the real goal is to stop this thing. The HBO show, the more I hear about it, is just awful. It’s just terrible. In it, my children are fighting, and totally different storylines are being made about them and that’s just wrong.”
“The Staircase” writer, producer, and co-showrunner Cohn previously told IndieWire that the “meta” series was a “risk” since the truth over Kathleen’s death has never become clear.
“The show is about multiple perspectives and being like, everyone has the right to their own perspective,” Cohn said, “and it doesn’t make anyone fully right and it doesn’t make anyone fully wrong.”
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