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What the actors and their real-life counterparts have to say about 'The Thing About Pam'

Some of the actors got to know their characters in the Pam Hupp case, others didn't.

ST. LOUIS — The cast has been set, the scenes filmed. The red carpet was rolled out.

And now, a miniseries based on the Dateline specials about the Pam Hupp case has started airing on NBC.

It is titled, “The Thing About Pam.”

The real story began in Lincoln County in 2011 with the stabbing death of Betsy Faria.

So, how do the real-life victims who have lived the saga for the past 10 years feel about their portrayal in the miniseries? And how closely did the actors who are portraying them get to know them?

Depends on who you ask.

We spoke with the actors and the real-life people involved before the series began. What they had to say is detailed below.

First, here’s a refresher on the basics of the case.

Real story behind 'The Thing About Pam'

Credit: St. Charles County Police / NBC / AP
A side-by-side photo shows Pam Hupp's mugshot, her character on 'The Thing About Pam' and Renee Zellweger on the red carpet for the premiere

Betsy Faria was murdered on Dec. 27, 2011 in her Lincoln County home. She had been terminally ill with cancer.

Then-Lincoln County Prosecutor Leah Askey, now Leah Chaney, charged Faria's husband, Russ, with her murder, noting how he reported his wife’s death as a suicide to 911 dispatchers even though she had been stabbed 55 times and had a knife protruding from her neck when he found her body.

His attorney, Joel Schwartz, appealed the conviction arguing Betsy Faria’s friend Pam Hupp was the more likely suspect because she convinced Betsy Faria to sign over a $150,000 life insurance policy to her just four days before her murder.

Ultimately, his conviction was overturned in a second trial and he was freed from prison after three years behind bars.

In 2016, Hupp was accused of killing Louis Gumpenberger, who had developmental delays due to a traumatic brain injury. Prosecutors said she tried to say she killed him in self-defense because Russ Faria sent him to kidnap her. Hupp entered an Alford plea in the case. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which she is currently serving. 

In 2021, current Lincoln County Prosecutor Mike Wood charged Hupp with Betsy Faria’s murder. The murder case is still ongoing.

Wood had previously beat Chaney in the election and campaigned by pledging to reopen the Faria case and investigate Chaney and the police for any misconduct.

In an exclusive interview with 5 On Your Side, Chaney denied any wrongdoing and said she had numerous eyes on the case with her including the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the Major Case Squad, and that no one believed Hupp was physically capable of the murder.

Pam Hupp, played by Renee Zellweger

Academy award-winning actress Renee Zellweger did not get to meet or talk to Hupp, who she is portraying in the mini-series. Hupp is currently in prison.

To prepare for the role, Zellweger said during a recent red carpet interview she read psychological studies about human behavior.

"I tried to piece those things together with what's available in public record and things she'd wanted on the record herself, her interviews, her testimony, all of those things and sort of filling in the blanks, and filling out the bigger picture from there," she said.

Zellweger said she believes there is a "different responsibility" that comes along with playing a real-life character.

"I can't really look at it in terms of playing a character or creating a character because, you know, there's been so much established on the public record that the guidelines were pretty generous and the materials were plentiful," she said. "So lots to resource, and I looked at it more as an examination of human behavior and social and sort of personal bias, social bias, confirmation bias. 

"And I try to sort of understand the case a little bit better from a bigger picture perspective."  

Leah Askey (Chaney), played by Judy Greer

Credit: KSDK / NBC
A side-by-side photo shows Leah Chaney (Askey) and actress Judy Greer portraying her on 'The Thing About Pam'

Chaney said she had virtually no input on "The Thing About Pam" miniseries.

“The way that they're portraying me on this miniseries is the way that I have been portrayed over the last decade in all of the podcasts or the Dateline episodes, social media, or you name it,” she said. “It’s not at all me, and it's not at all what happened.”

She continued: “It's fundamentally false, 100% false.”

Before the series debuted, Chaney said she had only seen the trailers for the show so far.

“It seems to allude that I in some way have some or had some relationship with Pam Hupp, which couldn't be further from the truth,” she said. “The first time I ever had interaction with her was after the first trial.”

Chaney said Hupp came to her window at her office after Schwartz sent her a subpoena to testify during Russ Faria's second trial with the address to the former courthouse on it, and Hupp was confused.

Chaney said she refused to talk to Hupp without the conversation being recorded both audibly and visually, so they talked inside an interrogation room at the police department.

“I wanted to make sure that that conversation was 100% visible to the public, if ever necessary, because I know that she had made some allegations that people had swayed her one way or another or pressured her one way or another and I wanted to make sure that my conversation with her was completely transparent,” Chaney said.

Chaney said she saw pictures from that conversation used in a book Schwartz co-authored about the case called "Bone Deep."

She said she had one Zoom call with the writers of the miniseries.

“I wanted to make sure that if I were going to agree to the interview that at least they would listen to what I had to say and make sure that that was accurately portrayed,” Chaney said. “They asked me if I knew Pam Hupp and what my relationship was with Pam Hupp, and I explicitly told them the same thing that I just told you. I didn't have a relationship, I didn't know her before the first trial at all, I never even had spoken to her other than a pleasantry maybe before a deposition.”

Chaney grew emotional talking about what it’s been like to watch her story be told without her.

“This has been my life for literally almost 10 years now,” she said. “It's extremely difficult and I'm always concerned about my family. I have a lot of people that have supported me for a long time because they know me. I have children that have to deal with this on a daily basis. I have friends who have stood behind me through thick and thin because they know me as a person.

“To be continually persecuted for literally just doing my job, for me, that's just, it's hard. I don't know what I was supposed to do. I don't know what the alternative was.”

She continued: “When you're on this side of it, and you look back, you're like, ‘Wow, I wish that would have happened or wish we'd done this better.’ But at the time, nobody was saying that. Not the Major Case commander, or the people on the Major Case Squad, not even Joel Schwartz at the time. Not until he lost. And then it was like all hell broke loose.”

Chaney said she’s never talked to the actress who portrays her in the series, Judy Greer.

If she had talked to her, Chaney said she would have explained that prosecutors present cases based on the evidence they are given, and she was never given evidence to suggest Hupp was the more likely suspect.

“Our job isn't to go and look into all of these different leads or go and delve into different thoughts for different scenarios,” she said. “Our job is to take what law enforcement brings us and then to present that case to the best of our ability to the jury.

“And that's what we did. And so I think I would I would have hoped that it would have resonated with her, that we came to work to do our job. That's it. And that's what we did. And we did it successfully. And the aftermath of it has been unfortunate for a lot of people, but not because we or I did anything wrong. And that's the way that it's been portrayed. And that is very just heartening for me because there was never a time in that case or any other case where I would ever have prosecuted someone that I didn't believe was guilty.”

Greer acknowledged during a red carpet interview that she never talked to or met Chaney before playing her in the miniseries.

“It is a bit of a challenge to take on the role of a real-life person, I mean, you want to get it right but you also have your own interpretation,” Greer said. “We are actors, so we’re not making a documentary, we’re making an interpretation of a true story. We have to be allowed to have an element of interpretation when we bring our characters.”

Greer said she wanted to meet her real-life counterpart at first.

“Once we were in it, I was good. I read so much, all the reporting from Dateline, I read transcripts, watched the videos, I feel like if I would have met her maybe it would have swayed me in one direction or another,” she said. “I think it would have changed my performance. Maybe that would have been a good thing, I don’t know, I’ll never know.”

Greer said she thought the writers did well with the script.

“What I was so impressed with was the tone we were able to maintain while still explaining the tragedy and still being dumbfounded by how it was handled,” she said.

She added: “The case is not closed against Pam or my character Leah Askey (Chaney). She is no longer the DA but yes, she’s being investigated as well. Maybe there’ll be a sequel.”

Joel Schwartz, played by Josh Duhamel

Credit: UPI / NBC
A side-by-side photo shows Joel Schwartz and actor Josh Duhamel portraying him in 'The Thing About Pam' NBC miniseries

Russ Faria and Joel Schwartz said they talked to the actors who portray them in the series.

The writers and the showrunner spent upwards of probably 60 hours just with Russ and myself in communication to make sure that they were true to the actual story they have,” Schwartz said.

Actor Josh Duhamel plays Schwartz in the miniseries, and now considers Schwartz a “good friend.”

“He’s a good dude,” Duhamel said during a red carpet interview. “He’s a really fun guy.

“He has a band called Joel’s (expletive) band, which is awesome, so on weekends, he’s playing music and during the week he’s in a suit and tie defending murderers. This guy defends some of the worst of the worst and he’s a really decent man. That’s got to be hard to separate work from personal life.

“I’ve always been fascinated by that with defense attorneys when you know the person you’re defending, you’re trying to get him to walk free, and I think that probably weighed on him. That’s why this case was so important to him. When he realized Russ was innocent and was being railroaded and then after losing the case in this perfect storm of ineptitude that was this first trial, he became dogged about making sure he found justice for Russ and I think that’s where I really had fun with this character finding the redemption and finding that one thing he wants to go out and make sure he gets right.”

Duhamel said meeting Schwartz made it easier to play him.

“I wanted to get inside of his head,” he said. “This particular role is one of the more difficult ones I’ve ever done just because of the amount of legalese.

“The dialogue is not the way I speak, or a lot of it I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. So I had to really study, I spent a lot of time asking him, ‘What does this mean exactly, why would you take this route vs. that route.’ It was more figuring out how he felt emotionally about some of this stuff. You can tell me all about the legal side of it, but I want to know what you were going through, how did that make you feel when you walked out of that courtroom and you know that an innocent man was going to jail and then what did it feel like when you were able to get him off? I wanted to know how frustrating it was knowing that all this stuff was happening and there was nothing he could really do about it.”

Russ Faria, played by Glenn Fleshler

Credit: Family photo / NBC

Russ Faria said he talked with actor Glenn Fleshler by phone.

“I think they've done a really good job of staying true to the story as much as they could,” Faria said. “It's a little surreal, I guess, and sometimes a little overwhelming. But it's also exciting at the same time because it's raising awareness for some really good causes out there.”

He continued: “I spoke with the writers just last week and they were very excited and wanted to let me know and thank me for all the hard work and my time working with them.”

Fleshler said he was nervous to talk to Faria.

“Normally, I would jump at the chance to meet somebody I was playing, but I was so daunted by this project that I quickly scrambled to wrap my brain around playing Russ,” Fleshler said.

Ultimately, Fleshler said he was glad he talked to Russ Faria.

“He took me so much deeper into his story and the pain and the humanity of it all,” he said.

Chaney said she finds it “telling” about how the miniseries will unfold given how much effort the show writers and actors put into their time with the defense.

“Just consider the fact that that it is out there for entertainment purposes, and consider the fact that the sources that have been utilized to create the miniseries have not at all been the prosecution, not at all been law enforcement,” she said. “One-hundred percent of all of the information is derived from the defense and the defense attorney.”

Mariah Day, played by Gideon Adlon

Credit: KSDK, NBC
Mariah Day (left) present day, played by Gideon Adlon (right) on the NBC miniseries, "The Thing About Pam."

Betsy Faria's daughter, Mariah Day, said she talked with the actress who plays her, interviewing with producers for the show, but the style of the show caught her off guard.

Day was not expecting the heavy styling, bright colors and upbeat music seen in the preview of the series. Day hopes it's not presented as a dramatic comedy, inviting people to mock her mother's murder.

Day is not ready to watch the show yet. When we talked with her in early March, she was nine months pregnant with her daughter, who is due on Betsy's birthday.

"It just brings back all of those feelings and all of that trauma," Day told 5 On Your Side.

"People tend to forget about the victims that were involved because Pam Hupps' name is everywhere but I hope they show that my mom was more than her death story."

"This is still her everyday life," said actress Gideon Adlon. "She's, she's living in it."

The two women met ahead of filming, and Adlon says she tries to be respectful of the story and the people involved. Adlon said Day was very sweet and strong.

Betsy Faria is portrayed by Katy Mixon.

Credit: Family photo / NBC
A side-by-side photo shows Betsy Faria and actress Katy Mixon portraying her on the NBC miniseries 'The Thing About Pam'

'The Thing About Pam'

‘The Thing About Pam’ is a miniseries airing at 9 p.m. CST on NBC.

It stars Renee Zellweger as Pam Hupp, Katy Mixon as Betsy Faria, Glenn Fleshler as Russ Faria, Judy Greer as Leah Askey, Gideon Adlon as Mariah Day and Josh Duhamel as Joel Schwartz.

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