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The Staircase Documentary Director Feels 'Betrayed' by the HBO Max Series

"When you attack the credibility of my work, that's really not acceptable," says Jean-Xavier de Lestrade.
  • Colin Firth as Michael Peterson in The Staircase (Photo: HBO Max)
    Colin Firth as Michael Peterson in The Staircase (Photo: HBO Max)

    The creative team behind the Peabody Award-winning docuseriesThe Staircase believes they are being misrepresented by HBO Max's scripted series adaptation. Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the director of the original documentary, tells Vanity Fair that he feels "betrayed" by the HBO series' depiction of his relationship with Michael Peterson and the filmmaking process.

    De Lestrade tells Vanity Fair that he initially collaborated with the scripted team when creator Antonio Campos came to him with the idea for a dramatized adaptation of the 13-episode docuseries (de Lestrade is credited as a co-executive producer on HBO Max series). But after seeing the series, particularly the upcoming fifth episode, "The Beating Heart," de Lestrade feels that Campos "crossed the line" by presenting a false narrative about his crew.

    “We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man,” said de Lestrade. “So that’s why today I’m very uncomfortable because I feel that I’ve been betrayed in a way ... Because I trust Antonio, I didn’t ask him to read the script. I was respecting his liberty as an author, as a creator, as a filmmaker. And I never asked to watch the episodes before they were shown because I was quite confident."

    De Lestrade, who is played by Vincent Vermignon in the drama series, claims Campos went too far by insinuating that the documentary team intentionally hid incriminating footage of Peterson (played by Colin Firth) to make him look innocent. “I understand if you dramatize. But when you attack the credibility of my work, that’s really not acceptable to me,” he said. “It’s alleged that we cut the documentary series in a way to help Peterson’s appeal, which is not true... I can’t tell you if he had something to do with the death of Kathleen, because I don’t know.”

    According to the documentarian, The Staircase also falsely depicts the romantic relationship between Peterson and editor Sophie Brunet (played by Juliette Binoche). Although de Lestrade, Peterson, and Brunet have all confirmed that the couple did have a relationship, they insist it did not occur during the documentary's filming, as depicted in the HBO series, and it did not affect Brunet's approach to editing. In fact, Brunet said she and Peterson were broken up when she edited the final three episodes, which were released on Netflix in 2018.

    De Lestrade went on to say that he and Matthieu Belghiti, another producer on The Staircase docuseries, have sent a letter to Campos demanding that the "offending allegations be removed from episode five before it airs publicly."

    “A series on HBO like this will get huge attention. And if people think what they’re watching is true, that’s really damaging for us," he said. "I’m really sorry, because I don’t want to damage the career of a talented director like Antonio. Because he is a very talented director. But in this case, he did something wrong.”

    Primetimer has reached out to HBO Max for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

    Episode 5 of The Staircase is scheduled for release May 19 on HBO Max.

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    Kirstie Renae is a writer, blogger, and Austin-based actress with a penchant for binge-watching TV with her dogs. Follow her on Twitter @KirstieRenae.

    TOPICS: The Staircase (2022), HBO Max, Netflix, The Staircase (2004), Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, Michael Peterson