Antonio Campos interview: ‘The Staircase’ creator
“My journey with it is a long one,” says “The Staircase” creator Antonio Campos about how he became involved in telling the true story of a murder case that spanned two decades. Campos was initially approached to adapt the story into a feature film. That was back in 2008, and when Campos watched the documentary series about the case he was “completely immersed.” But the case was far from resolved at that point. We talked with Campos as part of our “Meet the Experts” Writers Guild Award nominees panel. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
The story began in 2001 when crime novelist Michael Peterson‘s wife Kathleen was found dead at the bottom of the staircase in their home. He was tried for murder and convicted in 2003. But in 2011 the conviction was overturned and a new trial was ordered. Finally, in 2017 Peterson pleaded guilty while still asserting innocence and was sentenced to time served, ending the saga but never definitively settling the question of whether or not he committed the crime. “What really grabbed me about Michael Peterson, and why I felt like he was such a great character to explore in a mystery and a true crime story was that he himself feels like an enigma,” Campos explains. “So he’s an enigma in the middle of this mystery. He’s like a maze within a maze.”
For their efforts in navigating that maze, Campos and his team were nominated by the WGA for Best Limited Series. But when considering the criminal justice system that the HBO series depicts, “it’s hard not to be a little disillusioned with the way that things work,” Campos admits. “Trials are just a competition for who’s telling the better story, and not necessarily a search for the truth.” So “the notion of storytelling is kind of what a trial is about,” and that became one of the prevailing themes of “The Staircase” overall. That was “the big takeaway for me and what I think the audience takes away from the show.”