For Renee Zellweger, this began as a mercy mission for her dog. Then it led to a dream role.
Now she stars in NBC’s “The Thing About Pam” (shown here). It airs at 10:01 p.m. on six Tuesdays, starting March 8), eyeing murder cases that center on Pam Hupp.
“I binged the podcast, actually, when I was driving up and down the freeway, going to take my dog to get his hip replaced in San Francisco,” Zellweger told the Television Critics Association. “I couldn’t believe it …. It was like these escalating absurdities.”
Soon, she wanted to portray Hupp; producer Chris McCumber said that got his attention. “When a two-time Oscar-winner calls and says, ‘I’m obsessed with this story and I want to play Pam and I want to produce, ‘ you say ‘Yes.’”
Zellweger’s first Oscar (back in 2004) was for a supporting role in “Cold Mountain”; her second, two years ago, was for starring as Judy Garland in “Judy.” Now – after a long break – she’s gone from playing a famous person to an infamous one.
For Garland, she said, there was endless background information; “it’s vast, it’s immense.” And Hupp?
Well, there were interviews and court appearances to study, but this wasn’t re-creating a star. Instead, it’s “the kind of person who seems familiar to most people, that they feel like they recognize her.”
In small, Missouri towns, Hupp lived with her husband Mark (who had spent a season in minor-league baseball) and worked for insurance agencies. She was fired from two of them for forging signatures, yet was working for a third until she left, unsuccessfully seeking disability pay.
Then Betsy Faria, a former co-worker, was killed … and Hupp was listed as getting the $150,000 from her life insurance policy. Hupp also testified against Faria’s husband in a murder trial.
“I’ve never seen a character like Pam on TV – someone who’s just completely unfazed when caught in a lie,” said Jenny Klein, who wrote the mini-series.
The story — including two more deaths and several trials –drew wide attention, with several “Dateline” segments and the podcast. It seemed to surprise everyone – including Russ Faria’s lawyer. “He had defended the worst of the worst,” said Josh Duhamel, who plays him, “and I think came into this expecting the same.” Instead, he realized he actually had an innocent client.
Zellweger is the same age (53) that Hupp was when Betsy Faria died a decade ago, but has a different look and sound. She tackled the accent (“it’s very unique to Pam,” she said) more.
At first, the prosthetics required four hours every morning. It’s not easy being Pam … or Judy … or anyone else who might be the object of obsession.