By JAKE COYLE, AP Screenwriter
NEW YORK (AP) — Charles Cullen is by some estimates the most prolific serial killer in American history. But when Krysty Wilson-Cairns began writing the script about capturing him, it didn’t start with Cullen, who was sentenced to consecutive life sentences in 2006, but outside the home of Amy Loughren, the nurse who first discovered the crimes. of the.
“I showed up at the real Amy’s house in upstate New York,” recalls Wilson-Cairns, the Scottish screenwriter. “I think she was 23 or 24 years old. I thought: ‘she had never done this before. It is very important to me. It is the story of your life. Can you help me?'”
“The Good Nurse,” which opens Wednesday on Netflix, takes a deliberately different approach to the true-crime thriller. The story of Cullen, who has admitted to killing 29 victims but is believed to have killed more than 300 hospital patients while working as a nurse in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, could easily be the kind of serial killer tabloid stories that populate the services. of transmission.
However, director Tobias Lindholm and Wilson-Cairns, drawing heavily on Charles Graeber’s 2013 forensic investigative book “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder,” wanted to center their film on Loughren and questions. issues on the US health care system raised by Cullen’s 16-year undetected murder.
“I saw the potential of doing a serial killer in a way that we’ve never seen before, where we wouldn’t be seduced by why he’s doing this or how damaged he is as a person, but to step back and look. why and how would we allow this to continue,” says Lindholm. “He is not, in my opinion, Hannibal Lecter. He is not this brilliant mind. He’s a pretty simple guy who does something pretty simple, but a system allows it.”
“The Good Nurse,” which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, stars Jessica Chastain as Loughren and Eddie Redmayne as Cullen. Bringing the two Oscar winners and good friends together for the first time, “The Good Nurse” taps into their natural chemistry together. Loughren befriends the newly hired Cullen. By moving from hospital to hospital, Cullen was able to easily cover up his lethal poisoning of patients with intravenous fluids; he thanks, the book and film suggest, to the for-profit hospitals that covered up possible liabilities.
“This case asks us if it’s a good idea for people to make money off of other people’s health,” says Lindholm. “Is it a good idea for hospitals to be businesses?”
The adaptation of “The Good Nurse” was Wilson-Cairns’ first work about 10 years ago. Since then, she’s co-authored a couple of high-profile projects: “1917” with Sam Mendes and “Last Night in Soho” with Edgar Wright. Her trip to visit Loughren was only the second time she has visited the United States. the movie, she spent two weeks shadowing nurses at a Connecticut hospital.
“What I discovered is that real health care providers — doctors, nurses, radiologists, anesthesiologists — all of these people are amazing and heroic,” says Wilson-Cairns. “They put their lives in a box so they can help save other people. I don’t think any of them are paid enough. I think even at 10 times, those nurses are not paid enough. I learned that the system they are forced to work in is not the best for patient care.”
Production on “The Good Nurse” was temporarily postponed when Lindholm, the Danish writer behind the acclaimed films “Another Round” and “The Hunt,” left to make the six-part miniseries “The Investigation,” about the journalist’s death. Swedish Kim. Wall Chastain and Redmayne remained committed to making the film with Lindholm, attracted by his naturalistic approach.
Chastain, after her Academy Award-winning performance in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” leaned into conversations with Loughren, a single mother. She particularly responded to how Loughren worked as a nurse during her arrhythmia. Before filming a scene, Chastain jogged around the set to get her heart rate up. She also wore a headset with a heartbeat that could speed up in the middle of a scene.
“She worked nights to make her daughters feel like a stay-at-home mom. That’s what she kept saying, that her children saw her when they were awake,” says Chastain. “The idea that this woman would risk her health to support her children and she would also risk her comfort by not getting the sleep she needed told me a lot about who she was and what she was capable of.” .
Redmayne, venturing into darker territory than he’s known for, drew on footage of Cullen from his court appearances and from “60 Minutes” to craft a performance that sidestepped the usual serial killer stereotypes. In Graeber’s book, Cullen is described as “a sad Mr. Rogers guy, both drippy and depressed.”
“There was something about his physique that was interesting to me,” says Redmayne. “He is a very quiet man. But if you really look closely, you will see that he is always calming down. I don’t know if calming is the right word, but touching tissues. There is always something in motion. The guy was a terribly damaged human being and that idea of seeking comfort was interesting to me.”
The most encouraging thing for Wilson-Cairns is to see Loughren, 10 years after she timidly knocked on her door, be celebrated for what she did. At the film’s Toronto premiere, Loughren fought back tears from her during a standing ovation.
“This woman just wasn’t recognized for what she did,” says Wilson-Cairns. “People don’t think of ordinary women as these kinds of heroes. They’re not on the screens, they’re not in the media, they’re not in the books enough. Seeing the real Amy finally be recognized in a small way for what she did, which is saving countless lives, I thought: not a bad way to spend a decade. She would do it again.”
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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