Headlines have become a major source of inspiration for television shows and movies. And, there are no signs of that trend slowing. The latest production to be based on true events is the new Lifetime movie, “Gone Mom,” scheduled to debut at 8 p.m. June 5 on the cable channel.
The made-for-cable movie is based on the true story of Jennifer Dulos (Annabeth Gish), a Connecticut mother-of-five who disappeared on May 24, 2019 after dropping off her children at school. The investigation into what looked like a storybook life revealed marital problems leading the police to look at the husband, Fotis Dulos (Warren Christie), as the primary suspect despite his claims his wife had staged her own disappearance as in the 2014 feature film “Gone Girl.”
Their story has a tragic ending and the mysteries continue as to what really happened. As with so many productions that are based on true stories, “Gone Mom” tries to fill in some of the blanks while maintaining the integrity of the real story that played out through the media.
Much of that responsibility falls to the actors. Even when the script sticks to the facts, a performance can be presented in a way that can suggest anything from a person being guilty or innocent.
Christie stresses it is important for the actors not to make any judgments when taking on these kinds of roles.
On one level, Christie approached “Gone Mom” as he did playing characters on series ranging from “Alphas” to “The Resident.” He always sees it as his responsibility to tell the story in the way it has been written.
He did feel an added responsibility with “Gone Mom” because the story is based on a true story. And it was a story that played out in a very public way very recently.
“I have my own feelings after the fact and during obviously. But, I think more importantly it was not to judge his character. Tell this story in a raw manner and as honestly as we could,” Christie says. “And on a bigger scale, we wanted to highlight – unfortunately – domestic violence.
“We wanted to make sure it was not something that was controlled by socioeconomic factors. We wanted to show that sometimes from the outside, their perfect lives aren’t so perfect. So for us it was a bigger scale just telling this particular story but hoping that it resonates on that larger scale.” i
Gish wanted to make sure one element of the story remained clear.
“One of the most important elements of this story is a love story. Fotis and Jennifer had a love story that spanned time and they had five children,” Gish says. “So there was obviously a lot of love and chemistry and they were both really charismatic beings.
“I think there’s a real resonance to understanding that this kind of domestic violence can occur in any social strata whether you’re privileged or not. I think the story of loving someone and then being surprised with who they actually are is a common one. But, we all really wanted the tone to be about love and not so much about horror. There was a love story at the core of it.”
Gish was aware of the story on which “Gone Mom” was based long before she saw the first script. She was drawn to the project because she saw a lot of similarities in her life with that live by Dulos including both being moms who are of a similar age.
This is the latest work for Gish who has appeared in such TV shows as “The West Wing” and “The X-Files.” Her film credits include “Mystic Pizza,” “Nixon” and “Pursuit of Happiness.” She describes her work in “Gone Mom” as one of the most stressful experiences of her career. But, Gish was drawn to the challenge of bringing this role to the screen.
Gish is not alone in her fascination with projects taken from the headlines. “Gone Mom” is not the first production based on a true story and won’t be the last. Christie’s theory as to why stories based on real events are so popular is that they often show how dark lives can be even when they look to be perfect.
There’s also the element of the relatable nature of such stories. “Gone Mom” executive producer Rachel Stockman is confident a lot of viewers – particularly women – will connect with the film.
“I know a lot of women have connected to this story. They’ve known someone – a family member or friend – where this may have happened or that family member has suffered some kind of violence,” Stockman says. “I think it’s really special in that it kind of goes beyond that too and has a larger message in Jennifer’s honor.”