In 1946, then sixteen-year-old Ruth Smock was subjected to sexual assault that left her scarred both physically and psychologically. By 1977, Ruth was happily married to Ed Finley in Wichita, Kansas, when she was stalked and abducted. At the same time, the serial murderer BTK was active in the area, leading the police to wonder if the crimes were linked.

What actually happened is the basis of THE KILLER INSIDE: THE RUTH FINLEY STORY, written by Katie Gruel and directed by Greg Beeman. The Lifetime telefilm, starring Teri Hatcher as Ruth and Tahmoh Penikett as Ed, premieres Saturday, June 29.

Hatcher is enduringly known for playing Lois on LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, and for her Golden Globe-winning, Emmy-nominated role as Susan Mayer on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

In a bit of synchronicity, Penikett appeared in the 2013 Superman feature MAN OF STEEL. The Canadian actor was one of the leads in the 2004-2009 run of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and in the 2009-2010 science-fiction series DOLLHOUSE.

Lifetime sponsors a Zoom session, where Hatcher and Penikett discuss THE KILLER INSIDE.

Hatcher was attracted to various aspects of the project. For one thing, it’s her first time playing a real-world person. “It was a really wonderful experience heading at that with the sort of respect and empathy that I wanted to have for who this woman was, even if it was what I imagined that she was. I wanted to do that with honor and respect.

“Beyond Ruth, the BTK Killer was unbelievably horrific and destructive and traumatic for so many families. So, doing that research, as it applies to a real thing that actually happened, that was a new experience for me.”

Additionally, “It’s a complicated story, and it’s a complicated journey, very dark, very dramatic, scary, emotional. It’s not something I had done in a long time. I do a lot of comedy, I’m sort of known for comedy – I love me some comedy, for sure, that hasn’t gone away – but I was excited to explore this side of myself.”

The role calls for Hatcher to be dragged around and otherwise physically challenged. Was that a consideration in whether or not she wanted to be in THE KILLER INSIDE?

Hatcher laughs. “Actually, when I’m approaching something, it’s honestly about the script – if the script as a whole, the characters within it, not just mine but everyone’s, if I feel like the story is well-told and gives us as actors an opportunity to be real in terms of the journey of what these people are going through. And I thought this was an incredible script.

“So, I do not look at the specifics of, ‘Oh, wow, there’s a lot of physical effort here.’ Maybe I should,” she laughs again. “But whether it’s a comedy or a drama, I just completely throw myself into it a hundred and fifty percent. So, when I’m in for the ride, I’m in for the ride, and I certainly was with this project. And I feel really lucky that I was supported by people like Tahmoh, and other cast members, and our director and our crew and our stunt team. That really helped us get through this.”

“I can confirm that, a hundred percent,” Penikett offers. “Teri, I hope you’re okay with me sharing this, but she was coming from another job, all the way in Europe. She came on hours’ sleep, and went right into makeup and wardrobe fitting, and we were shooting within twenty-four hours. So, she’s a veteran, and within days, they had her, as mentioned, being dragged around and doing very, very physical things, which weren’t the best for her health and her sleep. But she committed, and she didn’t complain at all.”

Hatcher seems touched. “Thank you, sweetheart.”

“It’s the truth,” Penikett affirms.

Hatcher observes that she has to be careful to avoid spoilers for viewers who have previously never heard of Ruth Finley. “I feel like there are two different audiences. There’s an audience that knows nothing about this story, and I don’t want to spoil for them at all what would be a wonderful, entertaining, suspenseful journey with any of my answers. But then, there are people that do know of Ruth Finley, and the BTK Killer, and for them, I think it’s also incredibly entertaining, because they’re really going to get to look at the evolution of the minutia of all the psychological states of all these different characters that were involved in this story.”

In terms of Ruth as a character, Hatcher adds, “I was approaching this more as the different levels of Ruth’s personal anxiety. And very much throughout the movie, the incidents that were happening, and where it was landing in her body as this anxiety amped up and amped up and amped up, as this killer was more and more [active] within the community of Wichita.”

Penikett notes that, “From my character’s perspective, I think we can all attest to the fact that, when a loved one is aware of their partner being under constant duress, and that building because they’re under threat, it’s equally stressful and terrifying for the other one. There was one thing that was clear with these two was, they were very much in love, and they’d been together for so long, and they were so committed.”

Does either actor have advice for anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation?

“Gosh,” Hatcher replies. “I’m not a therapist. I feel like that’s a pretty deep question. Obviously, as a citizen, I would always recommend that people surround themselves with people that offer love and support, and to eliminate people from the interior of your life that don’t. I certainly live that way in my life and recommend that for my friends and family.

“It’s important to keep yourself physically safe and mentally safe, and, as I said, having people in your life that support that is paramount. As Tahmoh just suggested, these two characters, Ruth and Ed, have been married a long time. They do love each other, and I think they’re both lucky in this situation that they have that love connection underneath the anxious scenario that they’re in.”

Penikett agrees. “Absolutely. We live in very different times [than when THE KILLER INSIDE takes place]. It’s such an incestuous, public way to live. There’s been no other era where humans are sharing so much personal information via social media. Even those of us who aren’t that active in it, it’s impressed upon us that we’re expected to share so much information. Especially children. I think children and youth are more vulnerable now than they’ve ever been, because of this encouragement, this normalization of sharing so much on social media. When you watch our film, you very much see that it’s a different era, it’s a different time. But those risks are still there, just in a different context, in a different period.”

Another point Penikett wants to make is, “I think we’ve all dealt with mental illness, whether it be personal or with a loved one. The stigma about talking about mental illness is fortunately changing. People are really getting out there and communicating about it, and it’s so important, because there’s a huge, huge crisis, regardless of culture, with mental health. When you look at some of the suicide levels with our veterans and with youth, specifically in [Canada], a lot of Indigenous people have ten times the national level of depression and suicide. It’s a real crisis that we have to speak on.

“And that’s one poignant thing about this movie is, in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, you didn’t really talk about that. You put those things under the rug, you keep that amongst your family, and even amongst a couple, perhaps there might not be real discussion about it, because we’re talking about people who come from perhaps a very conservative upbringing where it’s taught you don’t speak much about emotions, you have a stiff upper lip, and you don’t put your personal problems on other people, nor do you display them in any way. So, that’s an unfortunate part of that era, even though it doesn’t seem that long ago. But we definitely explore that, and it’s an important part of this story.”

Hatcher thinks that the physical stress of literally flying from one role to another may have helped her portray Ruth. “I didn’t expect this. As was mentioned earlier, I had come from Los Angeles to Belgium to do a brief job, and then went straight from Belgium to Canada, in the Vancouver area, to film this movie.

“And in that time, I was also trying to prepare for the script, and do my research, and learn lines, and figure out what the kind of acting work that I would do when I approach a character. And I was having jet lag in Europe, so I wasn’t sleeping, I was also working long hours on that situation. So, I really got no sleep for almost three days in a row, on top of the anxiety of, ‘When am I going to learn my lines? I’m going to get off the plane, and go straight to wardrobe, and then go straight to filming, and how is this all going to happen?’ And I think for the first time in my life, I had a true anxiety attack.

“Lucky for me, I’m not a person who normally experiences that. I have had my bouts with depression, for sure, so I can understand mental health issues, but anxiety isn’t really my burden. And to have this happen to me, where I thought my head was going to explode, it was so pervasive in my body, my skin was crawling, my stomach, I couldn’t breathe, my heart – and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, okay, is the universe trying to teach me how to play this character? Is that happening right now?’” Hatcher laughs.

“So, whether or not the universe was trying to help me, that was what I took hold of. And I guess that’s what actors do. They can take things from their real life and try to use it, to apply it. And so, I will say, in a way, as difficult as the beginning of the movie was, just technically for me with what was happening in my real life, it was an opportunity for me to really understand what extreme anxiety was like, and how it could cause your body to behave, physically and mentally. And so, I was able to take that into this movie and apply it.”

Penikett again bears witness to Hatcher’s stamina. “I saw the lack of sleep. I think you’re all aware, too, of the hours that we work in this business, the long days. And these movies, the way that they’re written, the method of storytelling, there’s a real ambitious task set for each day, to accomplish it. You have to be on point, and you have to keep moving, you have to keep it flowing, and you need professionals of Teri’s caliber to carry it and to be able to keep the scenes moving and, regardless of her lack of sleep, she brought it every time, and I was so impressed.”

In fact, one of the draws for Penikett was the prospect of working with Hatcher. “When I found out about the gig, for me as an actor, I’m always so excited to work with veterans and accomplished actresses or actors like Teri, because you know for a fact, regardless of what’s going on in their personal life, they’re going to show up and they’re going to bring it every single time. And she did that.”

How does Hatcher refresh herself from the rigors of the emotions and the tight shooting schedule? She relates with a laugh, “A little over a year ago, so I’ve been pretty consistent with it now for a while, I introduced the idea of the ice bath into my life personally. I took one this morning, at six o’clock. I find that, at the end of a hard day, even when I was in Vancouver, you just want to shed whatever that adrenaline is. To me, there’s just nothing like getting in cold water. So, I know it probably sounds ridiculous and sounds very trendy, but it’s legit. For me, it’s a tiny little tool, you can do it pretty much anywhere, you can find cold water and just throw yourself into it.”

It turns out that Penikett advocates ice baths as well. “Teri and I never actually got to discuss that. I’m a big fan of it. I was actually born and raised in northern Canada. Teri, yes, it’s trendy, but you know it works, and the reason it works is because it’s a therapy that’s been around for thousands of years. People forget that. The Norwegian culture, Finnish culture, Russian culture, especially Indigenous culture have always done sauna and cold, sauna and cold. I do it regularly, and it is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety.”

While shooting THE KILLER INSIDE, Hatcher reveals,I was doing an ice bath in the morning before I went to work, and at night when I came home, every day in that tiny hotel room that didn’t have room service.”

While he doesn’t share them, Penikett discloses, “We have stories about that hotel.”

For Hatcher, when it comes to acting, “Whether it’s comedy or drama, it’s a puzzle. You get a puzzle, and it’s really your joy and your job to solve the puzzle, and try to put the pieces together.”

With the specific puzzle of THE KILLER INSIDE, Hatcher continues, “I really was excited about it, I had a great time, it was super-hard work. I came back after three weeks completely exhausted, but I love the people I worked with, I loved our director Greg Beeman, our producers, the crew. It was a fantastic group of people that worked really hard to pull this off in a short amount of time.”

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Article:  THE KILLER INSIDE:THE RUTH FINLEY STORY: Actors Teri Hatcher and Tahmoh Penikett  on new Lifetime film



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