HBO Max’s “The Staircase,” the well-reviewed account of the murder case against Michael Peterson, turned out to be a step too far from the truth for the filmmakers behind the original docuseries of the same name.
The eight-part crime drama, directed by Antonio Campos and starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, is based on the groundbreaking Peabody Award-winning docuseries “The Staircase,” created by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade.
For more than a decade, the French director and his team have followed Peterson, who was accused and later convicted of killing his wife Kathleen after she was found dead at the bottom of the back stairs of their North Carolina home. in 2001.
The making of the documentary is integrated into the plot of the HBO Max series, with actors representing Lestrade and his crew, who are now criticizing the production for misrepresenting their directing process.
“I have to protect my job,” de Lestrade told Vanity Fair in a recent interview. “A series on HBO like this will get a lot of attention. And if people think what they’re watching is real, it’s really damaging to us. I’m really sorry, because I don’t want to hurt the career of a talented director like Antonio. Because he’s a very talented director. But in this case, he did something wrong.
The filmmaker said he felt ‘betrayed’ by the way his crew are portrayed in the show’s fifth episode, which he says suggests they manipulated footage in the editing room to portray Peterson as a nicer day.
“We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man,” de Lestrade said, noting that he shared stock footage, notes and tips with Campos during production. “That’s why today I’m very uncomfortable, because I feel like I’ve been betrayed in some way.”
“I understand if you overreact,” he added. “But when you attack the credibility of my work, that’s really not acceptable to me.”
De Lestrade has clearly denied editing the documentary in favor of Peterson, adding that he still doesn’t know if the novelist “had anything to do with” Kathleen’s death. (Peterson was released from prison eight years after his conviction and was granted a new trial when it was discovered that a key witness in the prosecution case had given misleading testimony. He eventually submitted a plea of Alford and remains a free man.)
The HBO Max series also erroneously proposes that a romantic relationship between Peterson and documentary editor Sophie Brunet (played by Juliette Binoche) occurred during filming, potentially further damaging the reputation of the project.
The two actually had a relationship, but Brunet insists it only started after she left the documentary or considered how she edited the show.
“My relationship with Michael never affected my editing,” Brunet told Vanity Fair, noting that they split before she finished editing the three additional episodes released on Netflix in 2018. “I have never, ever cut anything that would be detrimental to it. I think too highly of my work to even be remotely tempted to do something like that.
Campos has yet to respond to the accusations, but de Lestrade and his team are asking the director to correct the inaccuracies before the disputed episode arrives on Thursday.
Filmmaker and producer Matthieu Belghiti asked Campos to either excise “offensive allegations” or include a disclaimer that says the show is “inspired” by real events at the start of each episode.