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Vincent Vermignon Shares How He Prepared to Play Jean-Xavier de Lestrade in HBO's 'The Staircase'

Photograph by Courtesy of HBO Max

Michael Peterson. Some may not know his name but If you were watching the news in the early 2000's you saw his name flash across the screen. Peterson is a writer who, in 2003, was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, after she was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their home two years earlier. Michael has always maintained his innocence but was sentenced to life in prison. In February 2017, he entered an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter, received time served and was released from custody.

Right after Peterson's indictment, award-winning French documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade flew to North Carolina to begin filming the trail. His crew was given full access to the case, having the ability to interview the Peterson family, members of the defense and prosecution and more. In 2004, de Lestrade released the documentary The Staircase and on May 5, HBO released an adapted miniseries version of the documentary that stars Colin Firth, Toni Collette and Sophie Turner.

HBO's version of The Staircase portrays the story of Michael Peterson but also includes de Lestrade and his crew as they document the trial. In the miniseries, the documentarian is played by bilingual actor Vincent Vermignon. We had the opportunity to speak with the true-crime fan right before the release of the fifth episode, which premieres today.

Photo Credit: Nadia Krawiecka

Vincent shared what drew him to the character and how he prepared for the role of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade.

I'm a true-crime fan. I've watched the documentary before. So I knew the documentary.

I had the opportunity to speak with the real Jean-Xavier. I spoke with him for maybe four or five, six hours, and he gave me so much material about the character. But what is very interesting for me as an actor is being a documentarian and shooting people in a movie, like, in a show. Shooting people who are being shot. Because the thing is, being a documentarian, you have to be as discreet as possible for your cameras to capture, I'm going to say true life, right? So that's your main goal. That's what you want to do, right? But the thing is, on the other hand, you also have to be able to create a kind of trusted relationship with everybody, because at some point, you will have to ask them questions. And sometimes very intrusive questions. So you have to find the right balance between being discreet, almost like a ghost, but at the same time to create trust with everybody. And that's a very subtle thing to do. And I had a fantastic time trying to find it.

If Vincent believes that Michael Peterson murdered his wife, he says, "I don't know."

Honestly, I will tell you right now that I don't know. But I think if something happened and if he did it, I think it was an accident. I think maybe this is something that happened, like in the moment.

Check out the full interview below.

New episodes of The Staircase air on Thursdays on HBO Max.


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