The real story behind Plainville’s daughter

Warning: this story contains spoilers for Plainville’s daughter

Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus, the creators of the Hulu limited series The Plainville Girl, released on March 29, knew they had to carefully handle the true story of Michelle Carter’s unprecedented “suicide by text message” case. “A false moment could ultimately do real damage,” Macmanus, who also created the Peacock series Dr. Death, says TIME. “It was our responsibility not to sensationalise this story and to adhere to the truth as much as possible.”

The series, which is an adaptation of Jesse Barron 2017 Squire article of the same name, delves into the 2017 case in which Carter was convicted of manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend Conrad “Coco” Roy III for text messages that prosecutors say appeared to encourage the teenager to commit suicide. Notably, Carter admitted in text messages that she was on the phone with him in the moments before he died and could have stopped him, but instead told him to ‘get back’ in his truck as it was filling up with gas. exhaust. (She was released from prison in 2020 after serving 12 months of a 15-month sentence.)

Hannah, writer on Hulu’s The stall, said she came to the headline-grabbing story with “a very preconceived idea and bias towards” Carter, who had been “portrayed as a black widow and a villain” by the press. “I realized very quickly how wrong I was, at least in what I knew about Michelle,” she said. “I felt like there was an opportunity to show people what I had learned – that she was a three-dimensional human and there was more to this story.”

In 2019, HBO aired filmmaker Erin Lee Carr’s two-part documentary I Love You, Die Now: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter, which covers Carter and Roy’s complicated relationship and the court case that followed his death. (Carr, along with Barron, were consulting with Hulu show producers.) The adaptation, an eight-episode series starring Great‘s Elle Fanning, gave Hannah and Macmanus a closer look at who Carter was beyond how she was portrayed in a high-profile court case. “Instead of judging her for her opacity and performative appearance like the media had done, I felt like she was this intensely lonely girl,” Hannah said. “His overriding sense of loneliness provided a starting point for the character.”

Here’s how the creators of Plainville’s daughter worked to stay true to the story behind the series.

Elle Fanning and Ella Rubin in “The Plainville Girl”

Steve Dietl/Hulu

Plainville’s daughter depicts the real text messages of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III

Carter and Roy lived an hour apart in Massachusetts, but the teenagers met no more than five times during their nearly two-year relationship, according to Squire. Their relationship blossomed over thousands of texts, which filled 317 pages of court documents, and ultimately led the judge (Carter waived his right to a jury trial) to rule that his posts saying things like ” How about you hang yourself or stab yourself?” and “Why don’t you just drink bleach?” had fueled her boyfriend’s suicide. The lyrics also became “the backbone of the show”, according to Hannah. “Anytime anyone sees texting between Michelle and Conrad [on screen]these are their own words.

While the trial focused on Carter’s most disturbing texts to Roy, Hannah found the pair’s exchanges “read like a two-handed diary.”

“They are very open and very vulnerable; they are mean to each other and they love each other, she said. “These texts were a huge asset to us because they really allowed us to stay honest in our descriptions of their relationship, which was so much more complex than I initially understood.” Using Carter’s own words would help paint a fuller picture of who she was before the tragedy, the creators said. “She was just a young woman who really had hopes and dreams and desperately wanted people to like her,” Macmanus said. “It’s bleeding from her texts, she just wanted to be loved like so many of us do.”

by Michelle Carter Joy fandom plays a key role

As the Squire recorded story, Carter had once sent Roy pieces of dialog of a Joy episode which paid tribute to the late Cory Monteith, who died of a drug overdose in July 2013. As Hannah and Macmanus began to read Carter’s text messages, they discovered that it was not unusual for her to take dialogue lines of Joy and make them yours. “For Michelle, the relationship between Joy Co-stars Lea Michele and Cory Monteith were in many ways a guiding light for her,” Macmanus said, noting that Monteith’s death occurred a year to the day after Conrad’s death by suicide. “To get into his psyche, we had to highlight his love of performing.”

They did this by creating several surreal musical numbers in which Michelle appears to be the star of her own episode of Joy. “I think it’s really important to approach these kind of heavy true stories with humanity and with humanity sometimes comes levity,” Hannah said of the decision to include these lighter moments. But they didn’t want to ignore the darkness that came with Michelle’s obsession with Joy.

The first episode of Plainville’s daughter ends with Michelle standing in front of a mirror, hours after finding out her boyfriend was dead, repeating a monologue from the Joy episode that honors Monteith. The scene, which took more than six hours to shoot, was always “the pilot’s anchor,” Hannah said. To prepare for the pivotal on-screen moment, Fanning had “a serial killer-like notebook where she wrote down every move Lea Michele makes in that scene,” Hannah said. “She was rehearsing by herself in the mirror because she knew how important it was to the show and her character to get it right.” For Macmanus, it was “a masterclass in acting that was just mesmerizing to watch”.

Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan in “The Plainville Girl”

Steve Dietl/Hulu

Testimony from key witness in Michelle Carter case comes with a warning

During the 2017 trial, Dr. Peter Breggin was brought in by Carter’s attorney as an expert witness who could explain why she might have sent her boyfriend text messages that appeared to encourage him to kill himself. Breggin, a controversial figure, proposed a theory he called “involuntary intoxication,” a legal term for someone tricked or coerced into using drugs or alcohol. He testified that Carter was someone who loved helping people, but after being prescribed the antidepressant Celexa in April 2014, his “helping nature” was “twisted”. He claimed that Carter, under the influence of Celexa, convinced herself that encouraging Roy’s suicide was a form of helping.

The judge did not find Breggin’s analysis credible and ruled that Carter had a duty to act and that her failure to do so made her guilty with respect to Roy’s death. In the years following the trial, Breggin’s views on the use of antidepressants, particularly among young adults, have been widely challenged. For this reason, the creators of Plainville’s daughter included a pre-episode note featuring Breggin’s testimony, urging viewers to seek the advice of their doctor if they are struggling with depression, noting that the use of medication “is not only appropriate, but can save lives”.

The creators, who have joined forces with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and included notices before each episode, which direct viewers to a crisis hotline and website, said it was their responsibility to provide the facts. “We’re able to tell that story, but we’re not able to tell people what their healthcare providers should or shouldn’t be doing,” Macmanus said. “It’s a story about the Michelle Carter case and every case is special, every person is special. There is help for everyone and it comes in many different forms. People need to know that there is help for them.

What was Michelle Carter thinking? Plainville’s daughter do not know

From the start of work on the series, Macmanus and Hannah were unwilling to try to guess why Carter hadn’t tried to talk Roy out of committing suicide. Instead, they wanted viewers to come to their own conclusions about whether justice had been served in this case and look within. “Our hope was that people who thought they knew the story, who had been judgmental — and we were in that group — would come away with a deeper understanding or at least a more empathetic understanding of what all the characters are going through,” says Macmanus. “There are a lot of us in Michelle and the other characters. I really hope people come to this show with an open mind and allow themselves to reflect on themselves judging these people on screen.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In an emergency, call 911 or seek care from a local hospital or mental health care provider.

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