TV & Movies

How The Staircase Cast Compares To Their Real-Life Counterparts

The harrowing true crime series features an all-star cast.

HBO MAX

HBO MAX

The Staircase, HBO Max’s new limited series, is a dramatized take on Jean-Xavier de Lestrad’s true-crime docuseries of the same name. The story follows Michael Peterson (played by Colin Firth), a novelist who’s accused of murdering his second wife, Kathleen (Toni Collette).

HBO MAX

Kathleen died on Dec. 9, 2001. Michael claims that he found Kathleen unconscious at the bottom of a staircase in their home, but investigators concluded that her death wasn’t an accident. Michael was identified as the prime suspect, and he was convicted for murder in Oct. 2003.

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Peterson (Firth) maintained his innocence after his initial sentencing. In 2011, he was released from prison after it was revealed that one of the prosecution experts presented jurors with misleading evidence, according to ABC News. His was retried in 2017, and ended up taking an Alford Plea.

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Prior to her death, Kathleen was a hard-working mom and career-woman. In addition to working a high-powered job at a telecommunications company and raising her and Michael’s blended family, Kathleen made time to fundraise for arts organizations.

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Caitlin Atwater (Olivia DeJonge), Kathleen’s daughter with her first husband, initially believed Michael’s innocence — but changed her mind after reading the autopsy report. She later brought a wrongful death suit against Michael, which they settled in 2007 for $25 million.

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Margaret Ratliff (Sophie Turner) and her sister were adopted by Michael, a family friend, in 1985 after their mother was found dead... at the bottom of a staircase. Despite the similarities in the two deaths, Margaret remained a steadfast in her support for Michael.

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Martha Ratliff (Odessa Young) was also adopted by Michael following their mother’s death. Like Margaret, Martha supported Michael’s innocence throughout the trial.

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Michael had two sons with his first wife, Patricia. Their eldest son, Clayton (Dane DeHaan), was given a 49-month prison sentence in 1994 after planting a fire bomb in a Duke University administration building. The explosive did not detonate.

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Michael and Patricia’s younger son is Todd (Patrick Schwarzenegger). The night of Kathleen’s death, Todd came home to the crime scene and unintentionally tampered with evidence.