Marcia Gay Harden has had an eclectic career, playing roles from the glamorous Ava Gardner in Sinatra. to the down and out Celeste in Mystic River, to her Academy Award winning performance as artist Lee Krasner in Pollack.
In Lifetime TV’s new movie Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial in Italy, she portrays Edda Mellas, the mother of Amanda Knox (Hayden Panettiere), who was convicted by an Italian court of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher (Amanda Fernando Steven), in 2007, while both were studying in Perugia, Italy.
Although the Knox’s went to court to stop the movie from being aired, because Amanda’s appeal against her 26 years prison sentence is set to go back to court next month, their efforts were unsuccessful. And this week Knox’s parents were convicted of slandering the Italian police, whom the couple accused of mistreating their daughter.
Marcia Gay Harden talked with TV critics about this controversial case at their bi-yearly tour.
What fascinated you about this story?
There’s a story beyond true and guilty, which is a story of emotion, a story of families being destroyed, mothers losing their daughters. These are real people going through real things and still in the midst of their own heartache. At the end of the day, it’s an emotional story about crises.
We’ll all say it’s a who dunit, but you’ll make your own decisions. I hope it brings up lively debate. It’s a story about crises and the dignity with which both of these families have undergone the unimaginable.
This movie is said to be based on fact, where do those facts come from?
From Judge Massei’s report. It’s 400 pages long, and it was available to anyone who wanted to read it, and most of us did read it. And within that report is absolutely specific details about what happened in the courtroom, the DNA, or the situation that each side presented for the case. So you read it, and then you allow that to influence you in whatever way it will and whatever way your decision’s going to be.
Fortunately for us, Lifetime TV is extraordinarily specific about checking their facts, and if there was some discrepancy in the script, it would go right back to the proper sources to make sure everything that was said was fact-based.
Were there any facts that you found unlikely to be factual?
Not in the judge’s report. To be specific about that answer, obviously the prosecution brings in their side, and the defense brings in their side. And you read it and you make your opinion.
I personally found an opportunity, playing her mom, to find reasons as her mother, to question that she wasn’t guilty, to believe fiercely in her while I was shooting the film. Because in the report, and this is Marcia Gay’s opinion, I thought there was conjecture and facts that weren’t necessarily played out, and so I become my own detective in it so that during that time, I could fiercely believe as her mom in her innocence.
Like [giving her the moniker of] ‘Foxy Knoxy.’ If your name is Veronica and you’re playing volleyball, you’re ‘Vicious Veronica’ who plays volleyball. Fantastic headlines are exciting and titillating, and that’s what it did, which is excite the world to find out why was this beautiful young girl in this situation?
Did you and Hayden form some sort of bond as you were in a foreign country, shooting in Italy, and you were playing mother and daughter?
I have to say this one thing about Hayden: There was a day she was doing the courtroom scene, and we’d already become close, and we knew where each other stood. I had seen Hayden working, but I just didn’t know the depth that she could go to and the tenacity and stamina that she would have.
She did the courtroom scene where she’s basically [dragged] away sobbing. Even when she was off-camera, it was as full, or more full, for the rest of us who are still on camera. No matter how many times she did it, it was so full and beautiful. And right then, I just adored her in a personal and deeper way.
I think we were all fairly close. People still went home on their own at night, but you do form a bond on something like this. Basically, we argued every day about whether she was innocent or guilty. I would be on page 398 of The Massei Report going, ‘Well, what about that, huh?’ It was very difficult not to stand behind your position as the character.
And then, it’s Rome, and there is something that happens with the cast when you’re aware form the vagaries of your own life and in a place as magical as Rome, where every single place that you turn is art. I had my children there. I home school my kids. They were like, ‘Mom, let’s go to the gelato place behind the Pantheon,’ and they’re saying Pantheon as if it’s the deli. It’s crazy.