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The Staircase: Does Colin Firth think Michael Peterson is guilty?

Oscar winner Colin Firth plays a real life murderer in his new crime drama, but what does he think of the true story?

Colin Firth doesn’t know whodunit. Nor does he know why or how Kathleen Peterson died.

And that was precisely why he felt compelled to accept the lead role in new Binge* drama The Staircasewhich premieres on May 5.

Ever since the outgoing mother-of-five was discovered in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs of her family home in 2001, there has been wild speculation as to how Kathleen ended up there.

Kathleen’s husband, Michael Peterson (who maintains it was simply a terrible accident), was eventually convicted of her murder and the entire saga was captured in an award-winning 2004 documentary, also called The Staircase.

The high-profile case mostly passed Firth, now 61, by, with the Oscar-winner admitting he isn’t a true-crime fan and had never seen the doco before playing Michael in the thought-provoking eight-part HBO drama.

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Even now, having devoured all available material on the case, Firth refuses to make any judgments about Peterson’s guilt and thinks his new series will leave viewers scratching their heads about it, too.

“What’s interesting about the approach here is it, I think, deftly avoids taking up a single position,” Firth explains.

“That’s the nature of the exercise here. To keep doubt alive, to mess with your expectations, to tease you with a potential resolution into thinking perhaps you now can find some certainty, and then it subverts that constantly.”

Colin Firth’s TV comeback

Firth’s co-star, Toni Collette (Kathleen), has thrown her hat at a string of TV projects lately, including United States of Tara, the gritty mother-daughter espionage series Pieces of Her and Unbelievable (a true-crime drama about a serial rapist).

On the other hand, Firth – who became a household name thanks to the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and that sexy pond swimming scene back in 1995 – has been largely film-focused for the past 20 years.

Getting reacquainted with the rhythms of episodic TV provided a challenge for Firth, especially since he hadn’t been given the entire script before filming.

firth awning Vanity Fair that embracing the gray areas of Michael’s story in The Staircase had made him question some of the choices he made for past performances.

Toni Collette on filming confronting scenes

From a simple accident to an argument between the couple that turns very ugly, Collette filmed multiple grisly death scenes so that the series could explore different theories as to what happened.

she told Vanity Fair that shooting these macabre re-enactments was akin to choreography, balancing her acting performance with the precision of knowing just where to land her body. The Aussie actress says of filming these confronting scenes: “It’s a very weird thing to have to do because: (a) it’s horrible; (b) it really happened; and (c) these are all the things that people don’t like to think about in life actually coming to the fore – and I have to bring some honesty to it.”

Did Colin Firth meet Michael Peterson?

The answer is no. Firth won his 2011 Academy Award for playing Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George VI in the movie The King’s Speech.

Unlike with that performance, which came many decades after the death of the monarch, Michael is still very much alive and now free from prison.

Firth, however, was in no rush to meet the real man, saying everything he needed for his performance was in the pages of the script.

“I felt that that [performance] could have been skewed in some way if I had personal connections during the shooting of this with Michael Peterson or the people concerned,” he explains of avoiding contact with the real players in the story.

Why Firth enjoyed playing a bad guy

As with his frequent co-star Hugh Grant, who has been relishing playing villains (including Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal, the pantomime baddie in Paddington 2 and, of course, Nicole Kidman’s morally corrupt husband in The Undoing) after decades of rom-coms, seeing Firth embrace a darker role is both refreshing and confronting.

While he enjoyed playing such a complex character, he says it “wasn’t a conscious career choice” to go bad.

Firth captures Michael’s brash speaking voice and self-contained charisma, however it is a shock to see Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr Darcy choking his wife to death and cruising for men at the video store before heading home to play happy families.

Patrick Schwarzenegger – Arnie’s son – is in The Staircase

Patrick Schwarzenegger plays Michael’s fiercely loyal son Todd, who is left devastated when his father’s family-man image is destroyed.

This scenario must have felt somewhat familiar for Schwarzenegger, whose own The Terminator-star father was revealed in 2011 to have fathered a then-teenage son with the family’s housekeeper.

The scandal resulted in a blaze of publicity for the family and the break-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long marriage to Maria Shriver.

streaming The Staircase on BINGE from May 5.

*News Corp, publisher of this website, is majority owner of Binge

Siobhan Duck is a freelance journalist with over 20 years experience writing about entertainment and television. Read more about her skills and her experience here

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