‘The Staircase’: Michael Peterson wanted Brad Pitt to play him
Peterson hasn’t watched the HBO Max series and thinks Colin Firth is “a great actor but I can’t think of any role that wasn’t boring as dirt that he’s ever played.”
Michael Peterson hasn’t watched “The Staircase,” but he knows HBO Max’s true-crime series is “wrong, wrong, wrong” in its depiction of the death of his late wife Kathleen.
North Carolina novelist turned politician Peterson stood trial for the alleged murder of Kathleen in 2001 and was convicted in 2003. Peterson later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in an Alford plea in 2017 and was released from jail. The Peterson family story was the focus of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 documentary “The Staircase” before inspiring the HBO Max series of the same name, directed by Antonio Campos.
“Oh my God, no,” said Peterson Variety to watch the series. “There was this two-and-a-half-minute trailer and I turned it off after a minute because there’s my kids yelling at each other. And I said, ‘What family is this from? does it work? Where does it come from?’ So I didn’t watch anymore. I realized that there was no way I could watch this.
Peterson has criticized his on-screen portrayal of his children, saying actor Dane DeHaan “looks like a drug-addicted individual” with “bags under his eyes” as son Clayton. “It’s just an appalling desecration of their lives,” Peterson added, while saying that Toni Collette as Kathleen is a “screaming shrew” on screen.
But it was Colin Firth’s portrayal of Peterson himself that particularly “annoyed” the former politician. Firth did not consult Peterson during the production of “The Staircase,” although Peterson said he likely would have spoken with the Oscar-winning actor.
“I’ll always be known as Colin Firth. It could be worse, I guess,” Peterson lamented. “He’s not my favorite actor. Get Brad Pitt! But to be fair, I haven’t seen his performance, but I heard he had [my] right voice and [my] mannerisms. But he didn’t capture my energy or my humor.
Peterson continued, “To me, Colin is a great actor but I can’t think of any role that wasn’t boring as dirt that he’s ever played and that’s fine. I’m not denigrating him, but I thought I’d talk to him. He said he wanted to do it himself — create his own creature, I thought, “What are you talking about? I am the real person. If you want to know what I think and feel, read my book or talk to me.
And the HBO Max series’ sex scenes are “both fake and salacious,” according to Peterson, who is bisexual.
“The rest of the gratuitous sex on the show is, from what I also heard, homophobic, as my trial certainly was – and certainly a contributing factor to my conviction,” Peterson said. “This completely fabricated episode with me killing Kathleen is grossly homophobic when she finds porn on my computer late at night, although the prosecution expert testified that the computer was not accessed after 4 p.m. Creating a fake, fictitious sexual reason for me to kill her is disgustingly homophobic as well as fake as proven in court. [director and co-showrunner] Did Campos create a scene that was completely denied by trial testimony? It shows his total disregard for the truth and his disparagement of my bisexuality. He made up a reason to kill Kathleen based on my bisexuality. It also denigrates Kathleen, who was a kind and understanding person.
Peterson also announced that he was taking legal action against the series.
“What I hope is that an entertainment lawyer can at least settle with Antonio [Campos], Annapurna and HBO so my kids can get 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 awful. In this one, my kids are fighting, and totally different stories are being made about them and it’s just plain wrong.
“The Staircase” writer, producer and co-showrunner Cohn previously told IndieWire that the “meta” series was a “risk” since the truth about Kathleen’s death never became clear.
“The show is about multiple perspectives and being like, everyone’s entitled to their own perspective,” Cohn said, “and that doesn’t make anyone entirely right and that doesn’t make anyone entirely wrong.”