Why is the director of 'The Staircase' docuseries so upset by HBO Max's dramatization?

Théoden Janes and Brooke Cain, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Entertainment News

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the more than two decades since Michael Peterson’s wife Kathleen was found at the bottom of a staircase in their Durham home, the plot has thickened over and over and over again, so often that the whole story probably should have long ago hardened into a big block of cement.

All these years later, however, North Carolina’s infamous true-crime saga keeps cranking out wildly unexpected twists and turns.

This month, the director of the acclaimed 2018 Netflix docuseries “The Staircase,” which entered the case into the national pop-cultural lexicon, alleged that the creator of a new “inspired-by-true-events” HBO Max limited series — which is also titled “The Staircase” and dramatizes both the case and the making of that docuseries — is unfairly depicting how his docuseries was made.

Or, to put it in simpler terms: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the director of the documentary, says Antonio Campos, the creator of the dramatized series, is telling a story that could tarnish his documentary’s reputation.

The cause of all the fuss? Her name is Sophie Brunet, and in real-life, she did work as one of multiple editors on the docuseries for de Lestrade. She is also becoming an eyebrow-raising though relatively minor part of the behind-the-scenes story after a pen-pal relationship with Michael Peterson turned into an in-person romance.

But in Campos’s “Staircase,” a fictionalized version of Brunet is a major character who figures heavily in the fifth episode, which debuted Thursday on HBO Max. She’s depicted not only as the sole editor of the docuseries, but also as having an ulterior motive that looks an awful lot like a conflict of interest.


It’s something de Lestrade calls “a misrepresentation” and “a huge damage on my work.”

It’s a kerfuffle that could get ugly. “It may be interesting to explore a legal way to (deal with this),” the French documentarian told The Charlotte Observer in a phone call from Paris on Wednesday.

And — just like everything else related to the story of Kathleen Peterson’s death, and to the 2003 trial that ended with Michael Peterson being sent to prison for her murder, and to the quirky machinations of the justice system that led to his being set free years later — it’s complicated.

Very, very complicated.


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