A four-time nominee at this year’s Golden Globes, Netflix’s eight-part series Unbelievable gripped and enraged viewers in equal measure, mostly because its tale of injustice is very much rooted in fact.
Based on the 2015 ProPublica article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, and the This American Life podcast about the same case, it tells the story of Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), a teenager who is accused of lying after reporting a sexual assault. Toni Colette and Merritt Wever play the detectives who pursue the case to find out what really happened and put the true villain behind bars.
Speaking on a panel for Deadline’s Contenders Television virtual event, showrunner Susannah Grant—Oscar nominated for her powerful screenplay to 2000’s Erin Brockovich—explained that the story appealed to her from the outset.
“We all immediately saw the tremendous potential for it,” she said. “It’s such a gripping story, and [we wanted] to bring it to a wider audience—this issue, which is endemic in our society, of people disbelieving victims of sexual assault and their cases getting ignored or worse. [We wanted to] make people realize that this isn’t about statistics. These are human beings; these are your friends.”
Added executive producer Sarah Timberman: “Our partners at Netflix and CBS just immediately responded to it. It was an interesting matter of timing, because this was well in advance of the #MeToo movement.”
For Dever, her wish to respect the real Marie’s privacy added yet another layer to the challenge of an already difficult role. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career,” she said, “and I wanted to be sensitive to her story and to the entire thing as a whole. It doesn’t come around that often, being given a role that is a person still living in the world, and a person that went through something so, so traumatic—something that will affect her for the rest of her life. You want to know as much as you can about that person in order to play them as best as possible, [but] I had enough source material to really get to know her and who she was and how she coped.
“Really, how I dealt with it was that it kind of overtook me,” she added. “I’m not a method actor, but I had a deep connection [to the material] and I was really only thinking about her the entire time.”
Check out the panel video above.