Colin Firth is tackling a character far removed from the British gentlemen he’s played throughout much of his career in HBO Max’s The Staircasepremiering in the Spring.
The eight-episode limited series—based on a true story— sees Firth portray Michael Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife Kathleen (portrayed by Toni Collette) on December 9, 2001, though he claimed a fall down the stairs at their home caused her death. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter after it was discovered a key witness for the prosecution gave misleading testimony.
Although Peterson was released in 2017 and is still alive, Firth did not connect with him for the limited series.
“I didn’t communicate with Michael Peterson,” Firth told Xdigitalnews during The Staircase‘s CTAM presentation on Tuesday. “I felt the way the script was structured and just the whole approach of this was its own ecosystem, so to speak. These are created characters but we all know what the source is. We all know that these characters have names of living people, but it’s very carefully calibrated to tell the story in a certain way. I felt that I wanted to keep my inspiration, my motivation, and the sense of the source material, as much as possible contained within the script and the way it was written.”
He continued, “I felt that that could have been skewed in some way if I had personal connections, during the shooting of this, with Michael Peters and other people concerned. If I’d had a personal response to the meeting, it might have prevented me from tuning into this world of varying possibilities that had been created.”
The Staircase—based on the French miniseries from Jean-Xavier de Lestrade—is created by Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn, who also executive produced and showrunners. Campos also directs. The series is a co-production between HBO Max and Annapurna TV.