With the Scott Peterson murder case still in pretrial maneuvering, Dean Cain had to make a choice.
Should he play the defendant as being guilty or innocent of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn child, Conner, in USA Network’s movie about the highly publicized case.
“I had to play him innocent, although there are an awful lot of things he does that make him appear very guilty,” says Cain of his leading role in “The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story,” which premieres 8 p.m. ET Friday.
Peterson has pleaded innocent to two counts of murder and his trial may finally start later this month in Redwood City, south of San Francisco, where it was moved because of extensive publicity in the couple’s Central Valley hometown of Modesto. If convicted, Peterson could face the death penalty.
The movie covers only the period from Laci Peterson’s disappearance on Christmas Eve 2002 to the arrest of her husband on April 18, 2003.
However during filming last November, it was necessary to make some script adjustments as additional evidence came to light — most notably the revelation that Peterson had offered some jewelry to Amber Frey, the woman with whom he was having an affair.
What was the appeal of re-creating events that have been so extensively and sensationally covered by the news media?
“I think true crime is a wildly interesting topic,” says executive producer Diane Sokolow says. “Check Willy Shakespeare, the original ripped-from-the headlines man.”
Sokolow says what fascinated her about this tragedy was “the very beauty of everything — the couple, the place, the time of year and then I guess what really got my ear perked was when the affair was revealed. It was pretty shocking. I don’t know anything about who is guilty of this crime ... but I thought, ’Nothing here seems to be what it is.”’
The script, based on available evidence and extensive research, was written by David Erickson, whose credits include the USA true-crime movies “Murder in Greenwich,” and “D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear.”
Roger Young, who won a Directors Guild Award for the docudrama “Murder in Mississippi,” says he signed on to direct because “I thought this is a really intelligent look at this situation. It is fair. It goes out of its way to say to you this is what happened and this is why it happened. Not the disappearance of Laci, but (what happened) to the people who knew her. I hope very much it is not exploitive.”
Cinema veriteCain explains the film is less about Scott Peterson and more about how “an entire family, an entire community, an entire country would believe a man is one particular way and see him revealed in a completely different light.”
“We unfold the facts. There isn’t a point of view. We are just showing what there is, like you would in cinema verite,” says Sokolow, who produced the documentary “Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson.”
“What’s interesting is even though all of this dramatic evidence — and I put ’evidence’ in quotes — seems to point the finger, at the same time the teleplay allows you to go, ‘You know, not necessarily,”’ says Dee Wallace Stone, who plays Laci’s mother.
Peterson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, had no comment on the timing of the USA docudrama, citing a gag order in the case.
The film includes several composite characters, including two detectives and a couple named Tommy and Kate Vignatti (David Denman and Sarah Joy Brown) who represent friends shattered to learn of Scott’s affair with Frey.
Best known as Superman in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” Cain had never played a real person before and was hesitant to sign on.
But a conversation with his father, director Christopher Cain — about the high quality of the script, the complexity of the character, Cain’s physical resemblance to Peterson and the acting challenge — changed his mind.
He tried to avoid being an exact mimic, except in the footage which recreates a notorious interview Peterson gave to Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “because it was something so contemporary and so widely seen that I wanted to make sure it was exact.”
He put on a bit of weight, cut his dark hair to match and in the final scenes, prior to arrest, put on false orange hair to create Peterson’s dyed and goateed disguise.
One mannerism Cain says he did aim for was the way Peterson “seems to sort of jut his bottom chin out, which gives him an appearance of being pompous and-or cocky. He tends to be sort of stern looking and serious, but in a weird sort of spacy way.”