From showrunner Susannah Grant and inspired by real events, the eight-episode mini-series Unbelievable is a story of unspeakable trauma, and the strength and resilience that you can discover within yourself, as a result. When 18-year-old Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever, giving a reserved but remarkable performance) reports that she’s been sexually assaulted by an intruder in her home in 2008, everyone from her former foster parents to her friends to the investigating detectives doubt the truth of her story. Meanwhile, in 2011 and hundreds of miles away, Detectives Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) find themselves investigating a pair of intruder rapes that are eerily similar to Marie’s experience, and they partner to catch what is clearly a serial rapist.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Merritt Wever talked about why she wanted to be a part of telling this story, approaching her character with care, the complicated nuance in a story like this, that there is no one type of victim, having co-star Toni Collette as a scene partner, and why Grace was so important to Karen. She also talked about her upcoming HBO series Run, from Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and the challenge of the fear she has in never being good enough, as an artist, when it comes to approaching each new role.
Collider: First, I have to say that everyone in this does truly terrific, remarkable work. It’s such a difficult story to watch, but it’s an important one, and I thought it was handled really beautifully and delicately.
MERRITT WEVER: I’m really happy to hear that. We worked really hard on it, so I appreciate that.
When this came your way, how, how much were you told about what it would be, what it would be exploring, and who this character would be?
WEVER: I got the first three episodes. I hadn’t read all of the scripts, but those episodes came with the ProPublica/Marshall Project article that it’s based on, and the This American Life podcast. So, it wasn’t like I read a story that I could only start and not know where it was headed. I did get to see the overall big picture, and I also understood that I would be playing a part based on this detective and certainly inspired by her, but that because of life rights issues and the fact that, with the real Karen and Grace, who are Stacy and Edna, so much of their story is job-related, I wasn’t going to be specifically playing them. So, I ended up reading the expanded book by the same journalists, A False Report, and found a lot of really interesting, valuable and useful stuff about Stacy in there that I used, but I also knew that this wasn’t going to be a traditional character study.
What was most important to you, when it came to telling this story and the representation of this material?
WEVER: In a lot of ways, I didn’t have control over the representation of the material. I had to hope and trust that it was going to be handled in a way that I could get behind and support. Really, the only thing I could control was my approach to the character, and trying to do the best job that I could do. I didn’t really realize it until recently, but I had, in early episodes, gotten a little caught up. Part of this story is showing a rape case gone terribly wrong, handled horrifically, and then part of the story is showing the rape case that is handled correctly. As an actor, it was dangerous to think about having to represent something done right. I did a lot of research, specifically around guidelines for how to work with trauma victims, and how to interview them and investigate sexual assaults. But at the end of the day, what I realized, that I wished I’d realized a little sooner, was that the best way that I could serve these real people and serve the real story was just to act in the moment, do what was on the page, and try to be a real person, as best as possible, and hope that the rest of the telling got sorted out in the wash.