Over the years, Lifetime Television has had great success producing original movies, in particular, films inspired by true stories. Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy, premiering February 21st, stars Hayden Panettiere as the young woman who was accused and convicted of the crime of murdering her college roommate in Italy, but who many still believe is a victim of injustice.
During a recent interview to promote the film, Hayden Panettiere talked about playing a real-life person, how intense the emotions of this role were, and being true to who Amanda Knox is, regardless of her guilt or innocence. She also talked about her 4-year experience on Heroes, and what it was like to be a part of Scream 4, alongside the original cast members. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
HAYDEN PANETTIERE: I was aware that it was going on, but not to an extreme extent, because I was on Heroes, at the time, and we were working some pretty insane hours. But, I do remember the story, and I think it was incredibly important to capture who this girl was.
You’re the only person who can’t really be completely unbiased in this because you had to play the role and embody her. Do you think that she did it?
PANETTIERE: It’s one of those really riveting stories where you just don’t know, which is why it’s so compelling and why I was so interested in playing it. We genuinely spent five weeks, every day, talking about it and reading about it and looking at new evidence, trying to form some sort of opinion about it. It was like, “She’s innocent. She’s guilty. She’s innocent. She’s guilty. She’s innocent.” I can’t say that I have an opinion. It really all comes together to form this incredible story that I think people are really, genuinely interested in and curious about. I don’t know that we’ll ever really know.
But, regardless of innocence or guilt, I believe she has a spirit. She’s a real person. She was a young girl who had dreams and aspirations. She went to Italy to go to school and broaden her horizons, and have experiences and meet new people. I don’t think that guilt or innocence takes away from that.
Did that make it really hard to play?
PANETTIERE: That’s true. I spoke a lot to (director) Robert [Dornhelm] about what approach to take in this case. I think one of the greatest things about this film, and the way it’s written and done, is that everyone has their role to play within it. Because of the different roles and how they come together – the facts and the family, and her dreams and aspirations as a young girl – my job was to play a girl who, regardless of what happened, was innocent in who she was. She’s not a malicious girl. She didn’t have any intention to do this. This wasn’t an angry or dark girl. Whatever it was that happened that night, four people’s lives were ruined. But, it was my job to stay pretty true to form, in who she seemed to be as a person, in court and otherwise.
PANETTIERE: This is such a vulnerable story and, specifically, Amanda was so needy. I feel like, within the fact that this story was so tough as an actor, and you’re going in there and you’re dealing with topics and things that you would never normally be able to relate to. I was so vulnerable, as an actress. And then, Marcia Gay Harden came in and completely embodied that only sense of comfort and safety, playing my mom.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate, in the two Lifetime films that I have done, to be around great actors. They’re just some of those actors that you look at and you immediately are in the scene. Sometimes, it takes a bit to get into it, and it’s not that they’re not good, but sometimes you just find that connection with someone where they just make a contact with you and you’re exactly where you need to be, emotionally. Obviously, she was that. I just looked at her and I was immediately sobbing. She was my mother.
When you were filming in Rome, did the intensity of this story do anything to you, or were you able to just go back to being you?
PANETTIERE: It was more my mind constantly moving and going, and thinking about the scene or what I had to do the next day. This was the first time that I’ve ever felt that. My mind was definitely going a lot. It was hard to quiet it.
How important was it for you to capture who you thought she was, by looking at the film of her on trial and speaking for herself?
PANETTIERE: I really, truly believe in what she says, which was that her lawyers told her to be herself. They told her to go out there and not pretend to be anything that she wasn’t, but to be her vivacious, smiley and happy self. I know that they turned that a lot against her, in the story. They said that she was always bubbly and happy, which was weird and creepy, but I genuinely think that’s just who she was. She was just trying to look at it in the best way that she possibly could, and maintain this positivity about it that helped her get through it.
She went through so much, and the emotional aspects of it, and the fact that she could even sit there and try to keep herself as sane as possible, you can’t point a finger at someone for doing that. I watched hours of footage of her and of the trial to see her composure, the way she held herself, the way she spoke and the tone of her voice. Even before I went on set, I would have headphones on and put her voice on an iPod and just listen to it to get her intonations, the way she spoke and the shakiness in her voice. She really tried to be as stoic and as brave as she could, against all odds, and I do commend her for it. I tried my very best with the materials that I had handy to do that myself.
PANETTIERE: If you look at the media on this, it made all the difference in the outcome and the way that people viewed her. Her teammates called her “Foxy Knoxy” because her last name is Knox. If I was judged based on every nickname that I’ve had, we’d be in trouble. But, no matter whether she was guilty or innocent, or involved or not, the girl had a spirit that I don’t think was changing. I think she held onto that.
Do you feel like there’s any sort of theme that people will get from this film?
PANETTIERE: I think themes or morals are very, very difficult, in this case. It’s really difficult to say. If anything, it’s to appreciate your freedom and appreciate all the gifts you have in your life.
After having done four seasons of playing an unkillable person, did you feel like the proper career move was to play somebody who was very real?
PANETTIERE: Obviously, there are many things that go through your head while choosing a film. That was definitely an upside for me. I loved being on Heroes. I grew up on Heroes, and I had the most wonderful experience on it, but it was very exciting to be able to spread my wings and play a very different character as well. It was that, in combination with how interesting and fascinating and worldly the story is.
You don’t get many opportunities like this, in a lifetime, in a career. The fact that this girl was just such an interesting character and the story just kept you constantly at the edge of your seat was something that I couldn’t turn down, not to mention the amazing cast that was put together. I couldn’t be in better company. I was literally standing on the set of Scream when they told me that I got this, and I was standing in the driveway, jumping up and down, like a jumping bean. I was screaming at the top of my lungs.
I was so excited that this opportunity had come up. It’s just such an amazing story, and Lifetime is amazing. I have done one other film with them, with Joely Richardson, called Lies My Mother Told Me. That was quite a few years ago, so it was also a wonderful opportunity to work with them again.
PANETTIERE: Yeah. Look, I love the show. It was my family. It was a wonderful experience. I love it. I loved everything about it. I saw the good in every storyline and everything that was given to us. It’s not like I’m going to write something better.
What’s the best and worst thing about life after a television series?
PANETTIERE: I have a hard time looking at life like that. I’m very happy to be able to spread my wings a little bit more, and play a different character in a different world that I haven’t played before, and do something and have an experience that I’ve never had before. But, you miss your family. I grew up on it. It was four years, and you know that you’ll never play that character again. You spend four years with her and grow up with her, so that’s difficult to swallow, but you appreciate all the memories you have.
Do fans still approach you about that character?
PANETTIERE: Oh, yes.
Any chance there will ever be a Heroes movie?
PANETTIERE: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I get asked that a lot. If there is one, I haven’t heard about it yet, but maybe one day. Never say never.
Are you game for it?
PANETTIERE: Yeah, I think so.
What was the experience of making Scream 4 like?
PANETTIERE: It was incredible. It was amazing. Working with someone like Wes Craven, and having the whole cast back again – Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette – and the new cast that came in with it. It was an amazing experience. It’s once in a lifetime. I was very hesitant about doing a horror film until the right one came along, and I think Scream was the right one.
Did you get to interact with the original cast at all?
PANETTIERE: Yeah, very definitely. There’s a lot of different storylines going on. It’s a little more difficult for me to talk about it because I haven’t seen it edited together yet, and I also can’t give anything away. I haven’t seen the film yet, so you never know how a film is going to come together, and you don’t want to give an opinion until you see what they’ve done.
AMANDA KNOX: MURDER ON TRIAL IN ITALY premieres on Lifetime Television on February 21st