The Lifetime Television original movie Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy explores whether Amanda Knox (Hayden Panettiere), the Seattle honors student accused of murdering her college roommate Meredith Kercher (Amanda Fernando Stevens) in 2007, with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito (Paolo Romio) and acquaintance Rudy Guede (Djirbi Kebe), actually committed the crime or was herself a victim. Referred to as “Foxy Knoxy” by her Italian prosecutor, Guiliani Mignini (Vincent Riotta), and the press, Amanda was painted as an oversexed, remorseless killer during the two-year trial leading up to her conviction and subsequent sentencing to 26 years in jail. The film is also accompanied by an hour-long documentary, called Beyond the Headlines: Amanda Knox, featuring Amanda’s mother and father, as well as friends, investigators, prosecutors and legal scholars, as it takes viewers inside the Italian justice system to reveal what it’s like to be a foreigner who is locked up and convicted in another country.
During a recent conference call to promote the film’s premiere, actress Hayden Panettiere talked about what interested her in this project, her preparation to play the real-life Amanda Knox, what she thinks about the reaction the family has had to the film, why she never got a chance to actually meet Amanda and why she was so intrigued by the controversy surrounding the case. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
HAYDEN PANETTIERE: I was fortunate enough that they called me up and they just asked me to do the film. I was lucky, in that way. I didn’t have to jump through hoops.
What specifically interested you in this project?
PANETTIERE: I just find it such a riveting story. It’s just so interesting and so wild. It’s a twisted story. And, the fact that I got to play somebody that is alive and is a real person was just a challenge that I was really excited to take on.
Do you feel that the stakes are a lot higher when you’re portraying a real person?
PANETTIERE: Yeah, it’s true. For me, I just want to try new things. That’s my interest. Having been on a show for four years, and having played the same character, even though I loved it and had an amazing time, it was just nice to get to spread my wings a little bit.
With your preparation for this role, did you meet or talk to Amanda’s or Meredith’s parents at all?
PANETTIERE: I didn’t. It wouldn’t have been fair to meet one family and not the other, so it just didn’t work out.
How do you feel about playing this role, with the reaction from Amanda Knox and her family, in regard to this film possibly affecting her appeal?
PANETTIERE: Considering that there have been documentaries that have been done on it and it’s been all over the news and books have been written on it, I’m a little surprised. I understand where she’s coming from, but I have to say that the film and the way in which it’s done is very fact-driven. It’s nothing that people haven’t heard before, and it’s nothing that would incriminate her or sway the opinions of the judge or weigh in on the appeal at all.
Lifetime is really great with that. They’re great about crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s and making sure that they take the proper steps to be respectful and fact check. But, I think it’s fine. When you spend that kind of time with the main character, you see where she comes from, you see her family and you see a little bit of her, as a person, the audience tends to side with them, or at lease like them and get to know them a little bit better.
PANETTIERE: Oh, I think so. Lifetime is great with fact checking and I don’t think there’s anything in there that would sway an opinion or have any impact, negatively or positively, on her appeal. So, I think that, if the family saw it, they would probably be much more relaxed about it than they are now. I don’t know if Amanda would or not, but I think maybe the parents would. I don’t know if it would be a very good idea to have to relive the whole experience of it, but that’s up to her.
Is it true that you had been invited to Italy to meet Amanda Knox?
PANETTIERE: It is true, and I really wanted to meet her. It didn’t work out because of the scheduling. She only has two days of the week that she gets visitors, and I would have had to go, in the middle of filming, to a different city. We were in Rome. I would have had to go with her family to do that, and she only gets to see her family for two days, so to impede on that didn’t seem like the right thing to do. And, there were people who had mixed feelings about me meeting her, whether it had to do with performance, or their fear that she would tell me not to do it, or say that she wasn’t okay with it, to which I would respond, “They’re going to do this film whether it’s me playing you or not, so at least I can tell you that I will do my best to do you justice.”
A lot of people will form their opinions of her guilt or innocence from seeing your portrayal of her in the film. What are the challenges of that, as an actress? How do you approach that?
PANETTIERE: That was the interesting thing that I had a bit of fun with. It was very interesting to play a character where you didn’t know if she was guilty or innocent. But, my job was to be as innocent as I could be. There was the prosecutors idea of what happened and what the media did to this girl, and every time you saw her, she looked like this angel-faced, innocent, normal girl. Because of that innocence that she exuded, it made the story all the more interesting. I watched tons of videos and news of her, and her in court, just to get her demeanor and her personality and the way she carried herself, and I just tried to stay as true to that as I could.
PANETTIERE: I was familiar with it, but not nearly the amount that I am now. During the time that this happened, I was on Heroes, so we were working quite a bit and news wasn’t something that we always caught. I was familiar with it, but as soon as I was asked to do the film, I immediately went on YouTube and watched every video I could get my hands on. I was dreaming of Amanda Knox.
Did your personal opinion about her guilt or innocence change, as you researched this and played Amanda Knox?
PANETTIERE: It was really interesting because some weeks it was just this constant pull and tug, back and forth. At the end, even having spent as much time as I did on it, I truly have no idea. I really, really don’t have any idea. There are things that you see and you go, “Oh, my god, that’s crazy. She had to have been there.” And then, you’re like, “No way. There’s no way she had any involvement.” Your opinion really does go back and forth.
As an actress, how was it to be playing a character whose stories kept changing?
PANETTIERE: In that case, I really had to take into consideration what that stressful situation could have done and what it’s like being in a country where you only speak a little bit of the language, by yourself, as a young girl, and being questioned for an insane amount of time, in a room, in a different language. Obviously, there’s a lot of facts and it’s known that people under that kind of pressure in interrogation, they tend to have these visions.
You have to take into consideration the pressure that she was under and the amount of time she was under that pressure. She said that she was hit by the police, which is probably true, but it was a bunch of police officers against her word, so that wasn’t going to go very far. So, even though the stories did change, I can see how they would have changed. And, even if she is guilty, she’s convinced herself that she’s innocent. It plays both ways, like that.
PANETTIERE: Oh, yeah, I know that experience. I know how hard it can be to communicate in a different country, find your way around, and deal with the mentality of other people and different cultures. I did take that into consideration with her stories changing. There was the stress that she was under and the confusion that she must have been feeling.
What do you hope viewers will get from watching this film?
PANETTIERE: I think the way that it’s done, they will be able to formulate their own opinion, and that’s the real goal. It’s very fact-driven and people can make up their own minds. It’s a really entertaining story and people want to know about it. People are interested in it. I think people will have a new-found respect for her, for the situation and for what happened. It’s visually beautiful and just a really wild topic.
How was it to film in Italy?
PANETTIERE: Italy is amazing. We were there for five weeks. We went sightseeing. We were in Rome, and we had the most amazing pasta. It was so good.
PANETTIERE: I did one other Lifetime film before and I had the most amazing experience with them, so I was very excited to work with them again and be a part of the legend that they are. Their movies have such incredible substance to them. I knew that it was going to have heart and guts, and it was going to be one of those passion projects.
Given the controversy of this story, did you have any apprehension about taking it on at all?
PANETTIERE: No. For me, that was part of the challenge. That was just a greater pull for me. That was just something that intrigued me even more.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that your fans can look forward to seeing you in?
PANETTIERE: I have Scream 4 coming out. I’ve heard amazing things about it. I’ve heard it’s incredible. People are loving it.
AMANDA KNOX: MURDER ON TRIAL IN ITALY premieres on Lifetime Television on February 21st