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The Staircase

May 05, 2023 | HBO Max | 8 episodes á 50 minutes
Directed by: Antonio Campos, Leigh Janiak | Written by: Maggie Cohn, Antonio Campos | Cinematography: Lyle Vincent, Michael Svitak | Editing: Christopher Rand, Eric Spang, Sofía Subercaseaux, Shelby Siegel | Costume Design: Jennifer Starzyk | Production Design: Michael Shaw | Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Based on the docuseries of the same name and various books and reports on the Michael Peterson (Colin Firth) case. Peterson was accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen (Toni Collette), in 2001. He claimed she died after falling down the stairs at their home after consuming alcohol and Valium, but police suspected he bludgeoned her to death and staged the scene to look like an accident. An autopsy revealed that Kathleen died from blows to the back of her head with a blunt object and other injuries.
Cast: Colin Firth (Michael Peterson), Toni Collette (Kathleen), Michael Stuhlbarg (David Rudolf), Parker Posey (Freda Black), Juliette Binoche, Sophie Turner (Margaret Ratliff), Dane DeHaan (Clayton Peterson), Rosemarie DeWitt (Candace Zamperini), Kevin Sizemore (Mark Zamperini), Odessa Young (Martha Ratliff), Patrick Schwarzenegger (Todd Peterson), Olivia DeJonge (Caitlin), Tim Guinee (Bill Peterson), Hannah Pniewski (Becky), Cory Scott Allen (Art Holland), Robert Crayton (Don Guerette), Justice Leak (Tom Maher), Ryan Lewis (Bruce Campbell), Trini Alvarado (Patty Peterson), Joel McKinnon Miller (Larry Pollard), Daniela Lee (Devon), Teri Wyble (Sonya Pfeiffer), Cullen Moss (Jim Hardin), Frank Feys (Denis Poncet), Erik J. Jensen (J-Smoke), Jean-Luc McMurtry (Gaultier), Jean V. Alexander (Mary Lou Pollard), Maria Dizzia (Lori Campbell), Susan Pourfar (Dr. Deborah Radisch), James Healy Jr. (Steven Blair), Karson Kern (Nate), Ian Gregg (Lucas), David Silverman (Carl), Kate Sanford (Veronica Hunt), Scott Daniel Johnson (Jay Trehy), Mark Helms (Bailiff), Kevin Howell (Michaels Dad)

Production Notes

The documentary “The Staircase” has often been called the mothership of true crime series. Its subject, the mysterious death of Durham resident Kathleen Peterson, and the conviction of her husband, crime novelist Michael Peterson, was chronicled in a French documentary in 2004, with additional episodes in 2012 and three final episodes in 2018, which premiered on Netflix and brought the saga to a whole new audience.

Among the many watchers hooked by the story was director Antonio Campos, who spent years developing a feature, befriending the doc’s filmmakers, and visiting Durham as the drama evolved. Despite the lack of resolution in the case, Campos and co-showrunner Maggie Cohn focused on three time spans to offer a fresh view on the story, making Kathleen one of the show’s anchors, as she unknowingly lives out her final days. Collette was convinced to take on this pivotal role in an effort to give Kathleen a voice and elevate the person from a series of gruesome forensic photographs in the doc.

A person died and there is such a responsibility that goes along with that. I just wanted to bring something real and bring something that honored her life. On the page, Kathleen seemed pretty clear. In a way, I had a certain amount of freedom because everybody else is still alive, and I didn’t really have much more to go on, other than what they say about her in the documentary. Getting to know her just makes it all the more tragic. (Toni Collette, Collider, May 27, 2022)

The limited series premiered on HBO Max on May 05, 2022, to critical acclaim. Coleman Spide of The Daily Beast praised Collette’s performance as one of her career’s best: “In just two measly minutes, Toni Collette’s staggering work in The Staircase managed to blow her petrifying performances in Hereditary and The Sixth Sense out of the water. Her characters in those films became standouts in her career because Collette has always been disturbingly good at portraying how the challenges of motherhood and the instinct to protect your children war with the interference of the supernatural. But in The Staircase, she manages to say even more with less screen time.”

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