Hulu’s The Act launched in March with a focus on true crime, a format like True Detective and a star from True Romance. On Sunday at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys, that star, Patricia Arquette, told moderator Pete Hammond that the show’s allure is a reminder that fact is often stranger (and more messed-up) than fiction.
“In cases of extreme co-dependency, who are you if you don’t have a strong sense of self and you have to show to the world, ‘Look I deserve to be here’?” said Arquette, who portrays Dee Dee Blanchard in the season-long tale of murder in Springfield, MO. “It’s a case of extreme co-dependency mixed with extreme narcissism.”
The suspect is her teen daughter, Gypsy Blanchard, who was medically mistreated by her mother in an effort to earn sympathy and acclaim as the doting mother of a chronically ill child. “If Gypsy was not in Dee Dee’s life, she would not exist,” Arquette said. “When Gypsy wins the child of the year award, the entire speech is about Dee Dee.”
The panel featured the co-showrunners of The Act, Nick Antosca and Michelle Dean, as well as Arquette and fellow cast member Joey King, who portrays Gypsy Blanchard, Dee Dee’s daughter and the target of the elaborately fabricated tales of medical maladies. The truly toxic relationship between the mother and daughter set the stage for a shocking murder that left neighbors aghast.
Written by Dean and Antosca and directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (Mustang), The Act is based on Dean’s 2016 Buzzfeed article: “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered.” The audience at the Paramount Theater on the studio’s lot gasped when Dean explained that Gypsy Blanchard’s teeth fell out after her mother had her saliva glands removed and that the child was forced to use a wheelchair she didn’t need. The shocking case was already explored in Mommy Dead and Dearest, the HBO documentary originally presented in 2017.
Antosca and Dean co-created the Hulu show. Antosca was a writer/producer on NBC’s Hannibal and MTV’s Teen Wolf, and also created Syfy’s horror anthology, Channel Zero. The Act is also an anthology series, with a new story arc each season based on a true crime story. “The idea is that it’s not about the act of crime, it’s about the people behind the crime,” Antosca said. “The Act refers not only to the act of murder, but to the performance they put on for the world, the relationship of the mother and daughter, and the deception.”
As Hammond noted, Arquette’s career gleams with accolades. Arquette picked up an Emmy in 2005 for the CBS supernatural hit Medium. The Chicago native then won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2015 for her work in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. She has also won two Golden Globes (the first for Boyhood and another this year for Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora). It’s a prestigious mantle indeed for an actress whose first feature film credit was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors in 1987.
King has been acting since age 4, but her breakout performance arrived last year in the form of The Kissing Booth, Netflix’s most-re-watched movie of 2018. On Valentine’s Day, Netflix announced that a sequel was underway, with King returning for the rom-com reunion. Arquette told the audience that she developed very strong maternal feelings toward her young costar — at which point ,the Oscar-winning actress pantomimed giving the teenager an inoculation in the arm, a light moment in an otherwise heavy conversation. The sunny King was not dour — she cheerfully pointed out that she and Arquette had just spent a day at Disneyland.
The Act also features Chloë Sevigny as Mel, AnnaSophia Robb as Lacey, and Calum Worthy as Nick Godejohn. Arquette and King came into the project with history; they also worked together on Arquette’s CBS series, Medium, which put an Emmy on Arquette’s mantle.