Kaitlyn Dever is no stranger to auditions, but something was very different when she read for the starring role in “Unbelievable,” the Netflix limited series about Marie, a Washington teen who was charged with lying about being raped, but was later exonerated when two detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) discovered she had been telling the truth.
Dever couldn’t imagine the story — based on a podcast and news article about Marie’s case — co-created by Susannah Grant, being told any other way. “Naturally, women are just comfortable around women,” the “Booksmart” actor explains. “Especially doing this kind of show, given the subject matter, I think it’s really important that there were a lot of women involved, because being a woman, unfortunately, if you have not gone through something like this, you definitely know another woman who has. … That’s the unfortunate truth.”
Dever’s work in “Unbelievable” has earned her Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, which puts her on track for an Emmy nod as well. While it “does feel a bit strange to be nominated for retelling this traumatic, tragic and horrible story,” Dever says she believes the accolades also are “a celebration of what the show did positively for the world.”
Tell me about the first time you read a script for “Unbelievable.”
I was on my last week of filming “Booksmart” when I got an email with the podcast, the article and the script for the first episode. I was listening to the podcast on my way to work, and then I read the first episode so fast. It just blew me away. The first thing I thought was this must be an old, old story, [but] It happened very recently. That’s the first thing that was super shocking to me. I was just completely moved by it, and reading about Marie and her courage and her bravery, it was just the most incredible story I’ve ever read.
What kind of responsibility did you feel to tell the story and not take advantage of it at the same time because you’re also making a television series?
That was on my mind a lot, during the whole prep process and even during making it — not wanting to take advantage of the fact that we’re making a show for Netflix. You have the ability to sugarcoat anything, and you have the ability to make something seem more intense than it actually is. But I knew immediately that the creators behind the show only had respect and passion at the core. They wanted to be truthful with the storytelling. They wanted to show something that hadn’t really been shown before because people won’t ever learn how trauma affects people unless they tell it truthfully and honestly and don’t sugarcoat it.
I remember early on, I had a conversation with Susannah and [executive producer and director] Lisa Cholodenko about how we were shooting the assault scene. They explained to me that they wanted to shoot the scene from Marie’s point of view. Honestly, I was questioning what they were going to show, and how they were going to do it. Obviously that kind of scene is a bit daunting, but when they explained it, I knew they cared about this. They really wanted to do this right.
You never reached out to the real Marie.
When you’re playing a real person, the first thing you think of is to call that person or meet that person. But this was different. The circumstances are a bit different because it’s very, very hard to deal with. It’s something that affects someone for the rest of their life. Susannah, Lisa and I had a discussion, and we ultimately decided that I had enough information about her to do what I needed to do. I had a lot of source material about her and her life prior to the assault.
But then Marie emailed Ken Armstrong, an “Unbelievable” producer who co-wrote the news article about the case.
I read it, and I was brought to tears because she said that she watched the show and she thought it was incredible, and that she even found a bit of closure from it. What more could you ask for?
This interview has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full interview with Dever above. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.