Hayden Panettiere on Playing Amanda Knox in Controversial Lifetime Movie
by Pat Gallagher, posted Feb 21st 2011 9:00AM
Lifetime Television is taking a bold step by airing their made-for-TV movie 'Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial in Italy' tonight at 9PM ET, given the ongoing controversy over the case.
Most of the country is aware of Knox, due to the almost-constant news reports covering this international headline-grabbing story: Knox, an American exchange student, was accused by Italian authorities of brutally stabbing and killing her British roommate Meredith Kercher on November 2, 2007 in their flat in Perugia, Italy. After a well-publicized and controversial trial, Knox was convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison; her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years. An acquaintance, Rudy Guede, was sentenced to 30 years, which was reduced to 16 in 2009.
Knox's family has apparently made an effort to block the film, saying it creates an "evil opinion" of their daughter while lawyers appeal her conviction.
Hayden Panettiere, best known for her role as cheerleader Claire Bennet on 'Heroes,' plays Knox in the movie. There's a lot riding on her shoulders playing a living person who is currently spending her days and nights in a small jail cell awaiting word on her appeal. We spoke to Panettiere to find out if she had reservations about making this movie, if she had an opinion of Knox's guilt or innocence and if she made an attempt to meet Knox in person.
Pat Gallagher: Given all the controversial aspects in this case, did you feel a sense of responsibility playing Amanda Knox?
Hayden Panettiere: Absolutely. To play somebody who is still alive and still going through this is something that you really want to make sure that you do right and you do it justice. I know there's been some controversy surrounding [the movie] but the way in which it's done is, in my opinion, really tasteful. There's nothing in it that's incriminating her or would sway or hold any weight in court and sway the opinions of the judges and have any sort of outcome on her appeal. But I definitely feel a pressure to make sure you do the character justice.
It's uncanny how much you looked like Amanda in the movie. Was that kind of an eerie feeling knowing that you actually looked so much like her?
No, I loved it. I was excited that it was like that. Having been on ['Heroes'] for four years where people become very familiar with you as one specific character, and especially one that was such a specific type -- a cheerleader, All-American -- that you want to make sure that people, when they watch you in films, don't look and see, "Oh, Hayden Panettiere is dressed up as this person," but you see the character.
Why did you want to do this role, given that it was such a controversial trial that your portrayal of Amanda could actually sway opinion about her one way or another?
Well, that's what I mentioned, what I was just saying before was that the way in which the film is done has no ability to sway anyone's opinion where it matters, where it counts, you know in the appeal, in the court of law. And there's nothing that's in it that is not fact-driven, and that's the thing that's so interesting about it is everyone has their role to play in the film ... and how convinced everyone is of their side of the story, of their idea of what happened.
Amanda was convinced of her innocence. The prosecutor Mignini [was] convinced that it was a drug fueled orgy gone wrong. You really see the conviction in everyone's side of the story while watching this, and therefore the audience really gets to make the decision about whether they think that she's guilty or innocent. I wanted to do it because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and character to play and what an amazing story, what a compelling and interesting and international story it was and is.
How did you research this part?
I just watched hours and hours of footage on her, everything I could get my hands on: the news specials that were going on all over the world. It was really interesting to watch the Italian news specials compared to the American news specials because the general consensus in Italy is definitely that she's guilty, and the general consensus here in the U.S. is much more that she's innocent.
So what I really tried to do, because it was very much a challenge to portray someone that you didn't know whether they were innocent or guilty, [was] to just embody what I saw of her as her personality, her aura, you know, what came across in court.
Did you go over any of the trial transcripts?
Yes. I did have the testimonies and they're all very ... they very much contradict themselves all over the place, very difficult to read ... they're going back and forth and saying it, rewording it in all these ways that are just so confusing so by the end you're going: is this a fact or is this not a fact? I'm confused.
Did you have any opinions about her innocence or guilt?
I genuinely didn't. I spent five weeks on this film talking about it, reading everything I could get my hands on, watching all this news footage, and I went so back and forth. I'd go, "Oh, she's innocent, oh, she's guilty, oh, she's innocent," and every little amount of new information that I acquired changed my mind.
So I feel like when you just see it from the outside and you don't really research it but you watch one version of it, then you might have an opinion, but when you really get into it and you really start reading the facts and you really educate yourself about it, it's very difficult to have one. It's very difficult to know.
Where's the reasonable doubt factor in this trial? How is Italian law different from American law in that regard?
It's very different over there. It seemed to be there was a lot of speculation. The people who were on the jury were people, I believe, from Perugia who were not screened for prejudice or anything like that. It very much went the way of the Italian court. It seemed to be, to me, that they really made an example of her, and what came into play was upholding the moral codes of Italy. And in the prosecutor's closing statement, he paints this picture, but it's not really a picture that's painted around facts, it's a picture that's painted around ideas. When you listen to him paint this picture of her, it seems to be not very fact-driven, but it seems to be speculation. It seems to be an idea of what he thought could go on.
At any time did you want to talk to Amanda or any of her family members about playing her or to get some insight into her personality?
I actually wanted to meet her, and it just didn't pan out. She, in the beginning, didn't want to meet me and then she changed her mind and wanted to meet me, but she only had two days to see her family and to impede on that just didn't seem like the right thing to do. And then to meet her family and not meet the Kercher family ... it just posed all of these problems. But I did want to, but I think we did a decent job with the film even though we didn't meet.
If you met her, what would you like to say to her?
I mean, of course you want to ask, "Did you do it? What happened?" But you don't. And you're not going to. I'd be more interested in what she had to say to me, what her reaction would be towards me.
Are you following the appeal closely?
Yeah, I'm definitely keeping my eye on it.
'Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial' airs Monday, February 21 at 9 PM ET/PT on Lifetime.