Toni Collette on ‘Staircase’ Dying Scenes, Talking to Kathleen

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Every morning as Toni Collette brushes her enamel, an owl stares again at her.

The stoic hen of prey will not be perched exterior her window however relatively ornately sitting on her countertop, contorted into the form of a ceramic espresso mug that she locations her toothbrush into earlier than she begins her day.

“It’s there me every day — twice a day if I’m dentally trustworthy,” Collette says. “Perhaps I want a brand new receptacle.”

Even when its days as her morning companion are numbered, the mug is a surreal artifact of her newly Emmy-nominated flip as Kathleen Peterson, a North Carolina girl discovered lifeless on the backside of her stairs in 2001 — a case dramatized by HBO Max’s true crime restricted collection “The Staircase.”

The stunning dying occupied headlines for months as her husband, Michael Peterson (performed by Colin Firth), was tried and convicted of her homicide — all of it later chronicled in a 2004 French documentary additionally referred to as “The Staircase.” The making of that doc was a part of the 2022 collection.

After years behind bars and later home arrest, Peterson was launched in 2017 when he accepted an Alford plea, a paradoxical settlement through which he pleaded responsible however maintained his innocence. Whereas he was in jail, nevertheless, a now-infamous idea circulated that positioned the blame for Kathleen’s dying on the talons of an offended neighborhood owl — therefore why somebody linked to the collection gifted her the mug.

Collette has been on a sizzling streak of TV initiatives currently, coming off two Netflix restricted collection “Items of Her” and “Unbelievable,” which scored her an Emmy nomination in 2020. She beforehand gained the Emmy for lead comedy actress for Showtime’s “United States of Tara.”

However “The Staircase” posed an intriguing problem for the Australian actor. Regardless of being the life misplaced on the heart of the case, Kathleen was largely uncared for by the information protection and the next documentary, the crew of which was embedded with Michael and his youngsters who maintained his innocence through the trial. That lack of perception into the true Kathleen gave Collette a objective with the position.

“I suppose she is all the time sort of there as a result of it’s all concerning the fallout from the lack of her,” she says. “However this telling of this story was a possibility to offer Kathleen a voice, to make her actual and complete, to permit her to reside past the notion of ‘sufferer.’”

This takes many varieties within the collection, primarily by way of flashbacks to Kathleen’s once-charmed however more and more fraught relationship with Michael, and her life with their blended household — her daughter Caitlin (Olivia DeJonge) and Michael’s youngsters (performed by Dane DeHaan, Sophie Turner, Odessa Younger and Patrick Schwarzenegger). She can also be given dimension by the presence of her skeptical sisters (portrayed by Rosemarie DeWitt and Maria Dizzia), each of whom rapidly turned on Michael after her dying.

Few individuals know this case higher than collection creator, author and director Antonio Campos, who studied it for years after seeing the documentary, which resurfaced with new episodes on Netflix in 2018. A lot of the forged has acknowledged they pored over these episodes and information reviews for perception into their characters and the way they’ve been portrayed to date in in style tradition. However Collette relied on Campos’ information and the scripts to organize for the position as an alternative of venturing down the rabbit gap herself.

However the collection does extra than simply flesh out Kathleen’s life earlier than its abrupt finish. With Collette on board, Campos additionally intricately re-created the endlessly scrutinized scenarios of her death on the backside of the steps — taking part in out the three dominant theories in full, as if every had been true.


First, the collection ponders what would have occurred if Michael had been telling the reality and Kathleen merely tripped, cracked her head on the steps and struggled to face as blood poured down her head. Then, Campos imagines the situation the prosecution efficiently argued towards Michael, one through which he brutally killed his spouse after she discovered of his affairs with males. Lastly, later within the season, after the now-ridiculed owl idea is raised by these preventing for Michael’s launch, Kathleen is ambushed by the menacing nocturnal hen exterior the Petersons’ dwelling earlier than she turns into delirious sufficient from her talon-induced accidents to fall down the steps.

“I need to admit, appearing with a non-existent, aggressive hen was a primary for me,” she quips of the ultimate sequence.

Collette has loads of expertise within the bloody horror style, having been Oscar-nominated for her position in “The Sixth Sense” and incomes reward for her critically adored and masterfully terrifying efficiency in “Hereditary,” which additionally encompasses a memorable dying sequence. Whereas there are definitely similarities in what she would in the end do thrice on the titular staircase, the

recreation of an actual dying required extra introspection than even she anticipated.

“Sure, there’s a number of blood, however it’s a very completely different kettle of fish, each in our collective intention and the context,” she says.

Including to the strain, Collette solely had one probability to movie every of the three scenes.

With the quantity of choreographed blood spatter and actions essential to match the grisly situation through which the true Kathleen was discovered, Campos, Collette and her stunt double, Linda Kessler, extensively rehearsed and ready for the scenes — two of which had been shot at 4 and 5 a.m.

Whereas she supposed to deal with these scenes as some other, she shocked even herself with what she needed to do to mentally put together. “I needed to actually clear my thoughts and get out of the best way for every take,” she recollects. “I keep in mind sitting on the backside of the steps earlier than a take, shutting every little thing out and speaking to Kathleen in my head. I didn’t anticipate this to occur however it did. I do know it sounds bizarre. I believe it was about permission and getting it proper for her.”

Collette’s work instructions each second of these essential scenes, every one powerfully acted and but, virtually too private and devastatingly visceral to observe. On that reconstructed staircase, surrounded by inexperienced display screen and copious quantities of faux blood, the present phases its personal interrogation of the trifecta of prospects which have outlined the case and the obsession round it.

In these scenes, Collette turned intimately accustomed to the tragedy of the girl she was taking part in. However she’s nonetheless torn on which theory is more likely to have happened.

“I actually don’t know,” she admits. “It’s like life itself: The extra you realize, the extra you notice you don’t know.”

That’s what intrigued her concerning the mission within the first place. Together with the promise of attending to work with Campos, she was simply as fascinated by the twists and turns of the Peterson household because the viewers.

“By nature, the present lacks information about what actually occurred to Kathleen as a result of in actuality no one is aware of, besides possibly Michael Peterson,” says Collette. “I used to be enthusiastic about taking part in out a couple of completely different concepts of what could have occurred. It was additionally a giant duty.”

Nonetheless, solely a kind of theories is staring again at her each morning as she brushes her enamel. Whereas it may be the toughest one to swallow, Collette says “The Staircase” has, if nothing else, opened her eyes to the prevalence of owls, the one suspect unable to talk for itself on this sophisticated true-crime saga.

She notes, “They actually do seem all over the place.”

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