Betrayal, shady pasts, fluid sexualities, and homicidal family members: Sophie Turner’s new project has it all. No, this isn’t a Game of Thrones spin-off, though that is certainly familiar cinematic territory for Sansa Stark. Turner has been tapped to join the cast of The Staircase, a buzzy true crime dramatization series coming to HBO Max, and this is one murder that rivals anything in Westeros.
The Staircase tells the truly wild story of Michael Peterson, a writer who was convicted of murdering Kathleen Peterson, his second wife, in 2001; he told police that he discovered her unconscious body after she fell down the stairs, possibly due to intoxication. The physical evidence told a much different story, and Peterson was charged and convicted in 2003. After legal wrangling, he was granted a retrial in 2010 and released on bail pending his upcoming trial. In 2017, the murder charge was downgraded to voluntary manslaughter as Peterson ultimately entered an Alford plea — an admission where the defendant maintains their innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution has enough evidence to obtain a conviction. It’s the legal way of saying “I didn’t do it, but maybe I didn’t not do it.”
That’s only half the story. While Peterson’s first trial was underway, prosecutors discovered that he was likely gay or bisexual, and may have been having an affair with another man. They also alleged that he misrepresented his military service (Peterson was a Vietnam veteran) and that he allegedly murdered their close family friend, Elizabeth Ratliff, in 1985. Ratliff was found dead — you guessed it — at the bottom of a staircase. Oh, and there’s possibly a homicidal owl. As in, the bird. We told you this story is wild.
Turner will play Margaret Ratliff, Elizabeth’s daughter, who the Petersons adopted after the death of her mother (who was possibly killed by Peterson himself). Having dealt with several dysfunctional families in Game of Thrones, Turner is the perfect choice for this role. There’s plenty more A-list talent in the eight-part series: Colin Firth will play Peterson, Toni Collette will play Kathleen, and Parker Posey will play Freda Black, the prosecutor who put Peterson away. Juliette Binoche and Rosemarie DeWitt will also star in the show.
The series itself is based on a 2004 French documentary mini-series of the same name. Netflix commissioned three new episodes in 2018, after which the entire series went viral again.