Josh Duhamel (L) and Renee Zellweger can now be seen in the limited series, "The Thing About Pam." Photo courtesy of NBC
NEW YORK, March 8 (UPI) -- Double Oscar winner Renee Zellweger says playing real-life murderer Pam Hupp reinforced her belief that truth is stranger than fiction.
Zellweger's six-part, black dramedy, The Thing About Pam, debuts Tuesday on NBC. It was inspired by the podcast of the same name and Dateline NBC's coverage of the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria.
Faria's husband, Russ, was convicted of stabbing her to death, but always maintained his innocence. Years later, he was exonerated, and Hupp, who claimed to be Faria's closest friend, is serving a life sentence for her slaying.
Zellweger recalled binging the podcast as she drove up and down the freeway in California, taking her dog to vet appointments for his hip replacement.
"This is one of those stories that you couldn't make up," Zellweger told reporters on a recent Zoom chat promoting The Thing About Pam.
"I couldn't believe it. It was, like, just an experience of escalating absurdities," she added."I was just thinking a lot, and asking myself, 'How?' And it just felt like it would be something really interesting to explore further. And it seems like this case, it kind of opens the door to discuss some really important, current, relevant social issues."
This isn't the first time Zellweger has played a real person; she won her second Oscar for her portrayal of the late entertainer Judy Garland in Judy.
This was a different experience, however, since there is an immense amount of footage of Garland performing and speaking to interviewers, whereas the documentation of Hupp is limited to a handful of media and court appearances.
"I don't know that that gives you more creative freedom, especially in the telling of this story, with the importance of representing or at least establishing an approximation of this kind of person, the kind of person who seems familiar to most people," Zellweger said.
"That's important, I think, in illuminating one of the very important topics that we are addressing subtly in telling this story, about our ability to sort of make assumptions," she said. "It seemed important that we were accurate in that way, so that it might be you could imagine: 'Yes, of course, I could see that people project their own life experiences in making assumptions about the character of this person, whom they think they know.'"
Zellweger emphasized that prosthetics, hair, makeup and body padding went a long way in transforming her into Hupp.
"It's pretty well established, her looks. So, we did what we could to come as close as we could," she said.
"That's part of your toolkit," she added. "The further you are away from yourself, the safer you feel to explore."
Producer Chris McCumber said it wasn't a difficult choice to cast Zellweger as opposed to an actress who more naturally looks like the real Hupp.
"When a two-time Oscar winner calls and says, 'I'm obsessed with this story, and I want to play Pam, and I want to produce,' you say, 'Yes, yes, yes, and yes!'" McCumber said. "And our job, at that point, is to, you know, provide Renee, and the rest of the cast, with all the tools that they need to embody these characters."
According to producer Jenny Klein, everyone involved in the production worked hard to balance the tone so that it was respectful to the survivors while also calling out for Hupp her awfulness.
"You have this story that's so tragic, and it's so disturbing and unspeakable, and then, on the other side of the very same coin, you have these absurd details that Pam really did or said," Klein noted.
"Always at the heart of the show, you have Betsy and her family, and that grounding emotional center with Russ, or Betsy's daughter Mariah. And so, when you're really feeling their raw pain and frustration, it can actually make Pam's actions all the more upsetting. So, I'd say it's a real push and pull between the levity and the drama. It's like a hybrid."
McCumber said they were going for a tone akin to Fargo, another crime story that walks that tightrope of grit, pitch-black humor and lunacy.
"I've never seen a character like Pam on TV," Klein said.
"Someone who's just completely unfazed when caught in a lie, and changing her story so much. It almost creates like a game for the viewer, where they're the only ones actually tracking Pam's lies through her world because they're the only ones taking in the show as a whole."
Best known for her roles in films like Jerry Maguire, Chicago, Cold Mountain, Cinderella Man and the Bridget Jones' Diary trilogy, Zellweger lately has been looking toward TV and streaming services for juicy roles.
Before The Thing About Pam, she starred in the Netflix thriller, What/If.
"I think it suits me," Zellweger said of acting for the small screen. "I like the pace. I love that it's quick, and you have to think fast on your feet. Yeah, I enjoyed it a lot. Not so different from making independent films. You know, you've got to make the most of the little bit of time that you have."
The Thing About Pam co-stars Josh Duhamel, Katy Mixon, Gideon Adlon, Judy Greer, Sean Bridgers and Glenn Fleshler.