ST. LOUIS — Gain some weight.
And hire a good makeup artist.
That’s the advice Russ Faria has for Academy award-winning actress Renee Zellweger, who will be playing Pamela Hupp in an upcoming series titled, “The Thing About Pam.”
“I think she’s an attractive woman and she might have to use a little Hollywood magic to make her look like the evil person that she’s going to play,” Faria said.
Faria has good reason to despise Hupp.
And he said he’s hoping the series will stay true to the real-life events he experienced to help spread a message about wrongful arrests and convictions.
“Yeah it's a story about people, but it's also about how the system can fail and how people can be corrupt,” he said during an interview with 5 On Your Side Friday. “Even the people that we depend on and think of as good guys are not always good guys.”
In 2011, Russ Faria’s wife of 12 years was found stabbed to death in their Lincoln County home. She had been battling cancer, and Hupp claimed to be her best friend and lover. She had a life insurance policy put in her name not long before the murder.
A botched investigation led to Russ Faria's arrest and conviction. He spent 3 1/2 years in prison before attorney Joel Schwartz ultimately got his conviction overturned by showing how police and prosecutors missed evidence that pointed at Hupp.
But Hupp’s quest to see Russ Faria put behind bars for his wife’s murder didn’t end there.
In 2016, she lured Louis Gumpenberger to her home. Killed him. And tried to claim Russ Faria sent him to kill her to collect some of the insurance money.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar charged her with Gumpenberger’s murder.
“This is a story that actually happened, this is a real thing, these are victims, there are real people involved and real people's lives were impacted, so you don't want to minimize that by any means, and hopefully the production respects that,” Lohmar said.
Both Lohmar and Schwartz joked that their emails, phones and texts have been blowing up since the announcement of Zellweger’s upcoming starring role in the series from people interested to know who will be portraying their roles in the saga.
“The prevailing winds seem to indicate that people want it to be Matthew McConaughey,” Schwartz said.
Lohmar said some have recommended Danny DeVito, but he would prefer John Hamm or Brad Pitt.
Both men say they, too, are thrilled to have such a big-name actress play Hupp, given how much the star power can bring attention to the serious issues raised by the case.
Hupp pleaded no contest to Gumpenberger’s murder in 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Also that year, Russ Faria won a $2 million settlement against the police who investigated the case.
Dateline made several episodes about the case, which the new series will rely on for background.
Russ Faria said it’s been hard to watch his life unfold on primetime.
“Anytime they replay the 911 call is probably one of the most emotional for me,” he said. “Hearing myself on that call is weird but it also is upsetting because it also kind of brings me back to that moment.”
Faria is now living in O’Fallon, Missouri. He works at All Lubed Up Cycles, a motorcycle shop his friend owns. He’s in a new relationship. And he shares his story to raise money for the Midwest Innocence Project to help people he said are sitting in prison for crimes they did not commit without the resources he had to hire a high-priced defense attorney like Joel Schwartz.
“Some people think of the cops as bad guys and it would be real easy for me to do that, but you know, I realize there’s good and bad people in every group of people,” he said.
As for who he would like to see play him in the series?
“I have no idea,” he said, laughing and instead agreeing that McConaughey would be perfect to portray his attorney.
He said his wife would be humbled by all of the attention.
“I think she would also be honored that somebody is trying to get her justice and get her story out there,” he said.
Her murder remains unsolved.