Turns out, Colin Firth can convincingly portray a convicted killer — a little too well.
Firth stars as socialite novelist Michael Peterson, who was accused of murdering his wife Kathleen (played by Toni Collette) in 2001. The decade-spanning true-crime saga is untangled in HBO Max’s “The Staircase,” and Firth’s co-stars couldn’t help but be scared of Firth’s transformation.
“We all freaked out at the Zoom readings,” Parker Posey, who plays assistant district attorney Freda Black, told The New Yorker, citing the Brit Firth’s eerie voice as American Peterson in character. “I just got creeped out because he was so uncanny. He just really stepped it up.”
In real-life, Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison. However, a judge vacated the verdict in 2011 after it was revealed one of the prosecution’s witnesses had allegedly lied under oat. Peterson was later released from jail in 2017 for time served.
“Every weekend, we got together and talked about [whether he did it],” Posey added. “You go up and down the staircase, and think, Is he guilty? Is he innocent? Did he do it? Did he?”
She added, “I don’t want to think that he did something like that. He’s such an interesting person. He’s such a character.”
Co-star Sophie Turner, who plays Collette and Firth’s onscreen daughter, also gushed about working with Firth, telling The Cut that watching the “King’s Speech” star become Peterson was aspirational.
“I’ve never really worked on something necessarily where an actor has had such a physical transformation,” Turner said. “His voice, the way he had held himself — I didn’t see Colin anymore. I drew inspiration, not only from their process and how Colin would get into character, and I just felt like I’d won a competition, but I feel like that way with everything I do. I’m like, ‘How did I get here?'”
IndieWire critic Ben Travers praised Firth for his (pun intended) “killer performance” in the series, writing, “Firth finds an American accent that works for him and builds Michael from the script, not the news cycle. He’s not trying to remind you of what you’ve already seen, but hold focus on the person in front of you now.”