Marie's Rape Was Deemed 'Unbelievable.' Kaitlyn Dever Portrays Her Story | WYPR

Marie's Rape Was Deemed 'Unbelievable.' Kaitlyn Dever Portrays Her Story

Sep 12, 2019
Originally published on September 13, 2019 11:17 am

The new series Unbelievable on Netflix tells the true story of a woman named Marie, who was raped when she was 18.

Instead of investigating the rape, the police investigated her. The man who assaulted Marie went on to rape several more women.

The story was the subject of a blockbuster investigation from ProPublica and The Marshall Project. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016.

In the Netflix version, Marie is played by actress Kaitlyn Dever. She took a star turn in the high school romp Booksmart earlier this year, but in Unbelievable, she puts away comedy in favor of an understated, raw performance. There's little dialogue, lots of emotion.

In an interview, Dever said it was the "most challenging project" she'd ever done.


Interview Highlights

On how she prepared for the role

In Unbelievable, Kaitlyn Dever plays a rape victim who recants her story following intimidation by police. The Netflix series is based on a true story.
Beth Dubber / Netflix

What was so important for me, in the process of creating her: I read in all these little [news] clippings I was able to read ... and she referenced this on-and-off switch that she would use when she was in her lowest, lowest point. She could just almost turn it off, like a switch. Knowing that, I knew: OK, this was a very, very brave and strong woman that I'm playing. ...

It's something that I really thought of during and after, 'cause this kind of thing never leaves a person. And while it was very difficult for me to do, shooting-wise — you know, playing this character every day — it doesn't even compare to what these women have gone through in real life.

On any personal experiences she drew on for the role

As a woman, as a young woman, I think we all have those small moments — not feeling heard or not feeling you have a voice. But I've never experienced anything to the degree that Marie has experienced. And I think that also, being a woman, if you haven't had that experience yourself, you probably also know someone who has had that experience — someone that is close to you or someone that you love. I was sort of just taking all of that with me.

On what drew her to Booksmart

I fell in love with it. I fell in love with these two girls. I fell in love with this story that I had never really seen on screen before. Two girls that are just so smart, and they know they're so smart, and they're not afraid to tell people that, and show people. But they're also funny and gross and weird and silly together, and so honest and open with each other. So that was so exciting to me. Also, getting to lead a film in a comedy — I think that for young women, that doesn't come around too often. ... I'm just so happy to be a part of something so special like it.

On being attracted to roles that represent young women

I feel like as I've gotten older, I do want to really be a part of projects that I know are going to be really important and inspiring for young women. Already, the response that I've been getting from Booksmart has just been so inspiring, and honestly, just reminds me of why I wanted to be an actress in the first place. And the same thing with Unbelievable. ...

I realized this just a couple of weeks ago, that I really can't sit still. And if I were to be myself for the rest of my life, I don't think I could handle it. ... I love being myself in my day-to-day life, but if I had to do it forever, I don't know if I could. I just have this itch to play different people, and say other people's words, and shedding light on stories that were never heard. Like with Booksmart — I'm playing a queer girl in a leading role of this movie, Booksmart, and the reactions I got playing that role was so inspiring to me. I had girls coming up to me saying: Being a queer woman, growing up, I had to seek out representation at small, small, indie theaters. And now I got to play a girl like Amy, and that role was seen on many screens all across the world. ... That to me is really, really inspiring, and I want to continue to be a part of projects that really move the needle forward in that way.

Hanna Bolaños and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The new series "Unbelievable" on Netflix tells the true story of a woman named Marie. And I want to warn you - her story is upsetting.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNBELIEVABLE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Can you tell me what happened?

KAITLYN DEVER: (As Marie) I was raped.

KELLY: She was raped when she was 18.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNBELIEVABLE")

DEVER: (As Marie) He said if I screamed, he'd kill me.

KELLY: Instead of investigating the rape...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNBELIEVABLE")

DEVER: (As Marie) I'm pretty positive that it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Pretty positive or positive?

KELLY: ...The police investigated her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNBELIEVABLE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Were you raped? That's it. And if your answer turns out to be a lie, I have no choice but to arrest you and put you in jail.

DEVER: (As Marie) Wait. Why?

KELLY: The man who assaulted Marie went on to rape several more women. This story was the subject of a blockbuster investigation from ProPublica and The Marshall Project. It won a Pulitzer in 2016.

In the Netflix version, Marie is played by actress Kaitlyn Dever. Dever took a star turn in the high school romp "Booksmart" earlier this year. In "Unbelievable," she puts away comedy in favor of an understated, raw performance - not a lot of dialogue, tons of emotion. I asked Kaitlyn Dever how she prepared to take on this role.

DEVER: What was so important for me in the process of creating her - I read in all of these little clippings I was able to read...

KELLY: News coverage from the time.

DEVER: Yeah, news coverage. Yeah. And she referenced this on and off switch that she would use when she was in her lowest, lowest point. She could just almost turn it off like a switch. Knowing that, I knew, OK, this is a very, very, very brave and strong woman that I'm playing.

KELLY: It is an incredibly challenging role and - just hearing you describe that off switch - how you capture someone who's shut down because they have to out of self-preservation - but how you do that in a way that's sympathetic and compelling to those of us watching.

DEVER: Yeah, it's something that I really thought of during and after, you know, 'cause this kind of thing never leaves a person. And while it was very difficult for me to do, shooting-wise - you know, playing this character every day - it doesn't even compare to what these women have gone through in real life.

KELLY: I wondered - was there something in your life as a very young woman - you know, a time where you felt dismissed or not taken seriously - something that was important and central to you that you drew on to lend authenticity to the way you played her?

DEVER: Yeah. I think as a woman - as a young woman, I think we all have those small moments - not feeling hurt or not feeling like you have a voice. But I've never experienced anything to the degree that Marie has experienced. And I think that, also, being a woman, if you haven't had that experience yourself, you probably also know someone who has had that experience or someone that is close to you or someone that you love. I was sort of just taking all of that with me.

KELLY: She was raped, and the investigation unfolded in 2008.

DEVER: Yes.

KELLY: Do you think it would play out differently today - 2019?

DEVER: Oh, gosh. I hope so, and that is honestly our hope in making this show. Our hope is that it moves the needle forward so that these cases can go differently and that we are listening properly and we don't just treat these survivors as one whole group. You know, they are very, very specific, and people react very differently. So our hope is that it just - it starts the conversation in that way.

KELLY: So I'm going to change gears and ask about a completely different - could not be more different - project that you starred in, also this year. You played Amy, one of the main...

DEVER: Yes.

KELLY: ...Characters in the movie "Booksmart." We've actually got a lot - a little bit of this one, so let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOOKSMART")

BEANIE FELDSTEIN: (As Molly) We haven't done anything. We haven't broken any rules.

DEVER: (As Amy) OK. We've broken a lot of rules. One, we have fake IDs.

FELDSTEIN: (As Molly) Fake college IDs so we can get into their 24-hour library.

DEVER: (As Amy) Name one person whose life was so much better because they broke a couple of rules.

FELDSTEIN: (As Molly) Picasso.

DEVER: (As Amy) Yes. He broke art rules. Name a person who broke a real rule.

FELDSTEIN: (As Molly) Rosa Parks.

DEVER: (As Amy) Name another one.

FELDSTEIN: (As Molly) Susan B. Anthony.

DEVER: (As Amy) [Expletive] damn it.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: We should explain...

DEVER: So well-written (laughter).

KELLY: So you were playing, Kaitlyn Dever, the rule-following good girl arguing, we should not go to this party tonight.

DEVER: Yes.

KELLY: That's your best friend, who is trying to talk you into going to a party on the last day of school, and it turns into the craziest night ever. And it's funny, as we heard.

DEVER: (Laughter) Yeah.

KELLY: What drew you to this?

DEVER: Still makes me laugh.

KELLY: Yeah.

DEVER: I fell in love with it. I fell in love with these two girls. I fell in love with a story that I had never really seen on-screen before - two girls that are just so smart. And they know they're so smart, and they're not afraid to tell people that and show people. But they're also funny and gross and weird and silly together and so honest and open with each other. So that was, like, so exciting to me. Also, getting to lead a film in a comedy - I think that for young women, that doesn't come around too often, which I'm just so happy to be a part of something so special like it.

KELLY: So to your point about how the girls in "Booksmart" are really smart - they have bright futures, they are going off to great colleges, they have great support systems - totally, totally different character than Marie, who you are playing in "Unbelievable," who's coming from a very different place.

DEVER: Yeah.

KELLY: Is there a similarity in that you're trying to get at some universal experience for women and girls in both of these? I wonder if that was something that attracts you to a script or to a project.

DEVER: Totally. I feel like as I've gotten older, I do want to really be a part of projects that I know are going to be really important and inspiring for young women. You know, already, the response that I've been getting from "Booksmart" has just been so inspiring and honestly just reminds me of why I wanted to be an actress in the first place - and the same thing with "Unbelievable."

KELLY: Which was - why? Why did you want to be an actress in the first place?

DEVER: I realized this just the other - a couple weeks ago that I really can't sit still. And I - if I were to be myself for the rest of my life, I don't think I could handle it.

KELLY: (Laughter).

DEVER: I love - that's true. I love being myself in my day-to-day life. But if I had to do it forever, I don't know if I could. I just have this itch to play different people and say other people's words and shedding light on stories that were never heard or - you know, like, with "Booksmart," you know, I'm playing a queer girl in the leading role of this movie "Booksmart." And the reactions I got playing that role was so inspiring to me, you know? I had girls coming up to me saying, being a queer woman, growing up, I had to seek out representation at small, small indie theaters. And now I got to play a girl like Amy, and that role was seen on many screens all across the world. So it's - that, to me, is really, really inspiring, and I want to continue to be a part of projects that really move the needle forward in that way.

KELLY: Kaitlyn Dever, thank you so much for your time today and for stopping by NPR West.

DEVER: Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: Kaitlyn Dever stars in "Booksmart" and also in the new Netflix miniseries "Unbelievable."

(SOUNDBITE OF EBB AND FLOD'S "OCTOBER SKIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.