How Toni Collette Honors Kathleen Peterson in The Staircase

Toni Collette was rightfully hesitant when it came to playing Kathleen Peterson in The Staircase.

More than 20 years have passed since the mother of five died in her North Carolina home in December 2001, and while her loved ones will never fully move on, they’ve done their best to go on with their lives. But with HBO Max releasing a TV adaptation of the documentary about Kathleen’s death, Toni worried she’d be complicit in the opening of old wounds, telling E! News, “She was very much alive and very much at the center of this family.”

Toni wanted this real-life person to be remembered for her who she was, not the grisly details of her death, and ultimately realized that a TV adaptation would do that: “Getting to know her as a person and an incredible woman is really important to the story itself.”

The series breathes new life into Kathleen, Toni said, detailing the weeks and months before she died and offering a “more balanced” perspective of her relationship with husband Michael Peterson (Colin Firth), who entered an Alford plea to manslaughter in 2017. “The story just feels so honest to me and grounded,” she added.