If you think your relationship with your mom is complicated, Hulu’s new series “The Act” will offer a dose of perspective.
The first season of the anthology drama, starring Patricia Arquette and Joey King, follows the strange real-life case of Dee Dee Blanchard and her daughter, Gypsy Rose. For years, Dee Dee (Arquette), a single mom living in Missouri, convinced the public that her wheelchair-using daughter (King) was chronically ill — all while collecting donations and gifts from charity organizations.
That is, until Gypsy Rose, after figuring out the sham, plotted her mother’s murder. The pair gained national attention after a 2016 BuzzFeed article and an HBO documentary, “Mommy Dead and Dearest,” chronicled their troubled and tragic mother-daughter relationship. (Gypsy is serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to her role in her mother’s death.)
Experts have said Gypsy likely was the victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental disorder in which a caretaker induces or fabricates illness in another person to gain attention or sympathy. Pop culture most recently put that form of abuse into view in HBO’s “Sharp Objects.”
“There are two people whose main desire is to love and be loved; they just go about it in the most unhealthy way,” says King, seated alongside Arquette, during a recent interview.
“Yes,” adds Arquette, “These were two people on a collision course. Nothing good was going to come of this. One of them was always going to end up dead.”
Hulu’s scripted dramatization, which premieres Wednesday, is based on the BuzzFeed article by Michelle Dean, who is also a writer and executive producer on the series. (Dean served as co-showrunner along with “Channel Zero’s” Nick Antosca.) It follows Lifetime’s take on the events (“Love You to Death”) earlier this year.
In an interview, Arquette and King talked about diving into the stranger-than-fiction story, portraying a troubled mother-daughter relationship, and being untethered to Hollywood’s standards of beauty. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.
There are two people whose main desire is to love and be loved; they just go about it in the most unhealthy way.
With stories like these — that are just so bizarre and wild — it’s easy to lose sight that there are real people involved and to go for the sensational. Were you worried about that going into this project?
Arquette: I think there’s a lot of things that lend themselves in this story to turning it into some kitschy thing. They love Disney, and their house was pink, and their room was purple, and the way that Gypsy’s voice had this affectation, and all the layers of deception. But I think people can understand a maternal relationship, even their mom over-mothering them. [And] I think most people make humor out of something that they can’t really imagine. They’re in utter shock that someone’s mom would intentionally harm them in any kind of way or make sense of how they could harm their own child.
Then there’s this kind of overarching thing of what happens at the end. It’s like [Gypsy] claims back her power, and there is a serious price to pay. Was that the right choice or the wrong choice? Were there other choices? But when you have Stockholm syndrome, on top of Munchausen by proxy victim, can you even see the choices that are ahead of you?
What sort of research did you both do before digging in?
King: I watched the documentary countless times. I found any interviews, any home videos I could scramble on the internet. It was really helpful to have Michelle Dean on our show, because I would go to her a lot. I would call her up a lot just for stories and information. The craziest thing for me was watching interviews of Gypsy now versus seeing footage of her home when she was younger and how different she is.
Gypsy’s kind of become a master manipulator herself. So it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. It was difficult to grasp on to anything, because I personally can’t say I can relate to anything about Gypsy.
Arquette: My daughter happened to be going away to school when we started this. There’s a natural instinct I as a mom have, to want to keep my daughter close, to want to keep her safe, to be worried about her in the world, to miss her so much, to wanna hug her so much, to miss her childhood, she’s growing up. I’m gonna take all those normal feelings but exploit them to perverse levels. I did kind of pull from my own normal feelings to a distorted feeling.
We haven’t really seen this kind of complex mother-daughter relationship on-screen until recently.
Arquette: I don’t know that in the past there was a ton of value people found in a mother-daughter relationship — especially one like this that’s kind of sick. You might have a “Gilmore Girls” kind of thing. But to have a relationship like this — that’s deadly, that’s toxic — we haven’t really seen that. I don’t think I’ve ever played a mom this dysfunctional before. Well, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell [in “Escape at Dannemora”] was dysfunctional. But I mean where the dysfunction is focused on the child-parent relationship.
Full interview: latimes.com