The Staircase, HBO Max’s limited series starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, has been a hit with viewers and critics (our own Carrie Whitmer called it a “masterpiece”). But the real people both at the center of the 2001 death of Kathleen Peterson, and the 13-part docuseries it inspired, aren’t part of its fan club.
In an exclusive interview with Variety, Michael Peterson—Kathleen’s husband, who was convicted of murdering her in 2003 in a homicide case that turned into a legal roller coaster—expressed his dismay with the series, which he ultimately blames on Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who directed the original 2004 documentary series. (Got that?)
Just last month, de Lestrade spoke with Vanity Fair about how he and his fellow filmmakers felt “betrayed” by Antonio Campos, who created the fictionalized HBO Max series. The French filmmaker took particular issue with the way in which the series suggests that de Lestrade and his editor Sophie Brunet (who began a romantic relationship with Peterson in real life—again, got that?) crafted their documentary in a favorable way so that it might help Peterson with his appeal. “I understand if you dramatize,” de Lestrade said. “But when you attack the credibility of my work, that’s really not acceptable to me.”
Peterson himself has heard de Lestrade’s complaints, but believes the fault in these negative portrayals ultimately rests with the documentarian. “I have read about Jean de Lestrade’s sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of The Staircase,” Peterson told Variety. “But what has been forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family. We feel that Jean pimped us out—sold OUR story to Campos for money—what word other than pimped describes what he did?”
De Lestrade did sell Campos his archive of documents and footage, which is a big part of why the documentarian feels betrayed. “I really trusted the man,” he told Vanity Fair. While he did receive an executive producer credit on the HBO Max series, de Lestrade never read any of the scripts or participated beyond sharing the information he had. Which is exactly what Peterson is taking issue with.
“He released his archive to Campos who then created a fictional account of events, most of which trashed me (which I really don’t care about) and my children—which I really do care about,” Peterson told Variety. “There are egregious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, well beyond what may be considered ‘artistic’ license.”
While Peterson claims that de Lestrade never told him that he had sold his archived material to Campos, the documentarian disagrees. He says he informed Michael and his family of the transaction around 2008. “Since I knew that Antonio had in mind to tell the story of Michael and the documentary, I thought that it would be better to cooperate, and be involved in the process then to stay totally outside as a stranger,” de Lestrade told Variety. “In a way I thought I was protecting Michael and his family by being involved, but I was wrong.”
De Lestrade can’t recall whether he informed Peterson that the HBO Max series was happening (oops!), and told Variety that, “If I didn’t, I should have.” While the documentarian claims he was paid just over $9,000 for his materials, Peterson believes that number is a lie.
“Jean should have known that when you sell your ass/property, you assume the risk of getting f**ked/betrayed,” Peterson said. “Every hooker knows this. So he got betrayed/f**ked. Why should he be surprised?”
Someone should make a documentary about this.