“The actual point of the show is that you can never actually know anything.”
That’s Maggie Cohn, co-showrunner, EP, and writer on “The Staircase” about the new HBO Max original series, created and directed by Antonio Campos. But one thing the creative team on the series did know for certain was early-2000s fashion and makeup — to the consternation of star Sophie Turner in one case.
The story of Michael and Kathleen Peterson (played by Colin Firth and Toni Collette on the new series) was originally told by French documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade across 13 episodes, the first of which — in a mark of how much distribution for true crime has changed — aired in an abbreviated form on ABC’s “Primetime Thursday” in 2004.
At the IndieWire Consider This Brunch May 12, Cohn, along with makeup artist Elle Favorule and costume designer Jennifer Starzyk, told IndieWire’s Jim Hemphill about how recreating a time from 20 years ago can be more complicated than recreating the distant past.
“I did a lot of research on ‘90s fashions and what women wore in office settings,” Favorule said. “Sophie Turner hated it because we made her eyebrows really thin, which was the style then. Then Odessa [Young] and Olivia [DeJonge] have the Cindy Crawford brows.”
Nothing draws audiences from all backgrounds like true crime. And now the HBO Max original “The Staircase” is going back to the story that in many ways kicked off the boom of long-form stories based on murder and mayhem in the first place in the early aughts.
“I was fascinated by that medium-blue stonewash denim, where the belts would sit, why the suits fit so poorly, the chunky sneakers,” Starzyk said of the period looks. “Someone brought in a photo album of growing up in Durham: pearls, pearls, pearls.”
“It was fun to reference all the [fashion] mistakes I made in the early 2000s and bring those to life,” Cohn said.
In the HBO Max scripted drama series, the production of the original docuseries is depicted along with the murder plot. In December 2001, corporate executive Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the foot of a staircase in her sprawling Durham, North Carolina home. A number of mysterious wounds on her body led the police to suspect foul play by her husband, author and aspiring politician Michael. Read IndieWire’s review of “The Staircase,” win which Colin Firth “slays” as Peterson, here.
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