Staircase: Michael Peterson Blasts HBO Series and Documentary Director

Staircase: Michael Peterson Blasts HBO Series and Documentary Director

Antonio Campos’ portrayal of documentarians Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Sophie Brunet in HBO Max’s “The Staircase” led to a public row over their portrayal in the miniseries adaptation. But now the actual main subject of both series – Michael Peterson – speaks out in an exclusive series of emails to Variety.

Peterson’s wife, Kathleen, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their North Carolina home in 2001. Authorities discovered that Peterson, who identifies as bisexual, had sex with men. He was charged with the murder of his wife and convicted in 2003. He is now free, after charges were reduced to manslaughter in a retrial.

Peterson allowed a camera crew to film him and his family as he awaited trial, which became a long-running documentary series that premiered in 2004 (it’s streaming on Netflix). Although Peterson isn’t happy with Campos’ HBO series, he’s furious with de Lestrade.

“I read about Jean de Lestrade’s feeling of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of ‘The Staircase’, but what was forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored was his betrayal of me and my family,” he said. “We believe Jean pimped us – sold OUR story to Campos for money – what word other than pimp describes what he did?”

De Lestrade produced and directed the docuseries. In addition to the fee, he received co-executive producer credit on the adaptation starring Colin Firth as Peterson.

“He handed over his archives to Campos, who then created a fictionalized account of events, most of which trashed me (which I really don’t care about) and my kids — who I really care about,” Peterson says. “There are gross fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, far beyond what can be considered ‘artistic’ license.”

One of the revelations in the case is that Peterson knew a second acquaintance, a neighbor in Germany, who also died when he fell down a flight of stairs.

De Lestrade suggests that Campos would have made the miniseries without his involvement. He says that when he met with Campos over a decade ago to discuss the fiction of “The Staircase,” the eventual showrunner made it clear to him that Peterson and his case were in the public domain. At the time, Fox Searchlight was committed to making the story an independent film. Eventually, de Lestrade decided to sell Campos the rights to his materials, the actual amount of which is disputed by de Lestrade and Peterson.

“Since I knew Antonio had in mind to tell the story of Michael and the documentary, I thought it was better to cooperate and be involved in the process than to stay totally outside as a stranger,” de Lestrade said. “In a way, I thought I was protecting Michael and his family by being involved, but I was wrong.”

In an interview with Varietyde Lestrade says he never watched Campos’ scripts and was not involved in the HBO Max production despite his producing credit on the series.

“Antonio and I have talked a lot over the years, and I really thought he got the story right,” de Lestrade says. “So when they started the writing process, there were writers in the same room with many ideas and they worked for many hours. I couldn’t be involved in this process from Paris. Also, since I really trusted Antonio, I didn’t ask for the script. I know it’s hard to understand, but I know now that I can’t trust anyone in this business. I should have asked. C is my mistake.”

Campos did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Peterson’s statements about the miniseries, which aired its June 9 finale. HBO Max has not commented on the disputes swirling around the fictional series. Each episode contains a disclaimer that it is “a dramatization based on certain facts”.

In his email to Variety, Peterson states that de Lestrade never informed him that he was selling materials to Campos. De Lestrade disputes this, saying he told the Peterson family around 2008 that Campos wanted to make a docuseries feature film. De Lestrade doesn’t recall if he told Peterson about the HBO Max series.

“If I hadn’t, I should have,” admits de Lestrade.

While de Lestrade maintains he was only paid €7,500 ($9,370) for the materials he sold to Campos, Peterson says the director should have been wary of the deal and worried. for the Peterson family. He also claims that the filmmaker received much more than that amount.

“Jean should have known that when you sell your ass/property, you assume the risk of being screwed/betrayed,” Peterson says. “Every prostitute knows that. So he was betrayed/fucked. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated – paid. But we didn’t sell our story to Campos – we were never even consulted or informed that Jean had done that. We are the ones who have been betrayed, falsely portrayed as fighting each other (which NEVER happened), and with made up scenarios that disparage us all in the eyes of millions.

Campos’ dramatization portrays de Lestrade and Brunet as an ethically compromised documentary filmmaker and editor. Shortly after the May 5 premiere of the first episode of “The Staircase,” de Lestrade and Brunet publicly accused Campos, along with co-showrunner Maggie Cohn, of taking their artistic license too far. But Peterson feels no sympathy for de Lestrade.

“It is dishonest and hypocritical for Jean to talk about his integrity being questioned when he sold out to Campos and showed no integrity or sense of responsibility to us,” Peterson says.

Peterson continues, “He is the individual responsible for what happened to us, and while I am deeply annoyed with Campos for all the liberties he took with the truth (and for stealing my book ‘Behind the Stairs ” – the only source of his prison scenes, and for which I have of course not been compensated), I am more angry at Jean who should have had our interests in mind when he sold our story. I have no sympathy for him any more than I would for a prostitute who contracted an STD after peddling her ass. Sounds harsh, but look at the outcome for our family for what he did.

De Lestrade feels empathy for Peterson. “I’m working in France on a big drama series,” he says. “I don’t need to sell the rights to [‘The Staircase’] make money. But I can really understand Michael’s position because [the series is] terrible for him and his family. But I think in the documentary, I really tried to do that with tremendous respect for Michael and all of his children.

Peterson claims de Lestrade received $75,000 for selling the rights to the docuseries material, pointing to his knowledge of prior deals to adapt the project, but the filmmaker strongly refutes this, stating that the production company may have received more money than him. In Peterson’s opinion, even this disputed higher figure was too small a sum for the damage the miniseries inflicted on his family.

“I love and respect Jean, but no matter how hard he tries to spin it, he received about $75,000 for our story, a pittance, certainly in light of the horrific damage my family has suffered,” said Peterson. “And he failed to mention how he opened all his image archives on us to Antonio.”

Peterson told Variety he plans to be in New York this weekend for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Subject,” a documentary that explores the subject of ethics in documentaries. Peterson’s daughter, Margaret Ratliff, herself a documentary filmmaker, is involved, as is her father.

Peterson writes, “I intend to address the issue of documentary filmmaker ethics by selling their documentary to others who might exploit them, like Antonio and HBO did to us.”

This is Peterson’s first email to Variety:

Dear Mrs. Morfoot,

These are my first public remarks on HBO Max and the French documentary Staircase. Warning: obscenities to follow. Blame my daughter Margaret – she gave me your email address.

I’ve read about Jean de Lastrade’s sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of Staircase, but what was overlooked or overlooked or simply ignored was his betrayal of me and my family.

We think John pimped us – sold OUR story to Campos for money – what word other than pimp describes what he did? He handed over his archives to Campos who then created a fictionalized account of events, most of which ransacked me (which I really don’t care about) and my kids – which I really care about. There are gross fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, far beyond what can be considered “artistic” license.

Jean should have known that when you sell your ass/property, you take the risk of being screwed/betrayed. Every prostitute knows that. So he was betrayed/fucked. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated – paid.

But we didn’t sell our story to Campos – we were never even consulted or informed that Jean had done that. We are the ones who have been betrayed, falsely portrayed as fighting each other (which NEVER happened), and with made up scenarios that disparage us all in the eyes of millions.

It is dishonest and hypocritical of Jean to say that his integrity was called into question when he sold himself to Campos, and that he showed no integrity or sense of responsibility towards us. He’s the individual responsible for what happened to us, and while I’m deeply pissed at Campos for all the liberties he’s taken with the truth (and for stealing my book Behind the Stairs – the only source of his prison scenes, and for which I of course have not been compensated), I am more angry at Jean who should have had our best interests in mind when he sold our story. I have no sympathy for him any more than I would a prostitute who contracted an STD from peddling her ass.

Sounds harsh – but look at the outcome for our family for what he did.

Sincerely and with best wishes, Michael Peterson

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.