HBO’s new documentary series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is an uncompromising examination of gender, crime, and the hunt for the Golden State Killer who terrorized Northern and Southern California between the 1970s and 1980s. But to talk to director Liz Garbus and actor/comedian Patton Oswalt — husband of the late Michelle McNamara, the author and amateur sleuth who devoted her life to finding the elusive serial rapist — they express a desire to bring hope to the material. (On June 29, Joseph James DeAngelo, a 74-year-old former police officer, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery, and admitted he was the Golden State Killer.)
“I was into true crime, but not with the depth and humanity that Michelle was,” Oswalt said. McNamara, whose writing was regularly praised for bringing humanity to the victims, anchors the majority of the documentary, with her words being read by actress Amy Ryan.
The author wanted to avoid the typical pratfalls associated with the complicated true crime genre. “Michelle approached it from a point of view of justice,” said director Garbus, and praised McNamara’s ability to conjure up empathy with an added sensitivity and intelligence.
As laid out in the documentary, McNamara’s personal struggles to be a wife and mother, coupled with hunting down a killer, are discussed. When asked how Oswalt felts about his marriage being seen as “relationship goals,” he’s surprised. “If it’s any reassurance to people that feel like this is some kind of relationship goal, that was something we had to work on,” he said, admitting that it was a “trial and error” process.
Garbus called Oswalt a feminist, and that she found their relationship highly relatable. “Patton had a very public career,” she said, “And what you see in this relationship is Patton saying, ‘Okay, now you go [to work], Michelle,’ and I found that extremely moving.”
Both Garbus and Oswalt agree there wasn’t anything that was off limits during filming. “I don’t think there was ever a time you [Patton] said ‘Don’t go there,'” Garbus said. Oswalt agreed, turning over McNamara’s manuscript, notes, laptops and cell phones. At one point, the production had to deal with an encrypted cell phone of McNamara’s that, if the wrong password was entered too many times, would wipe everything.
You can hear more from Garbus and Oswalt in the video above.
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” airs on HBO June 28.