When a child is sick, a mother will do anything to care for him or her. When the child is not actually sick and the mother is forcing her to sit in a wheelchair and take medication via feeding tube, that is a case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Lifetime’s latest movie, Love You to Death, starring Marcia Gay Harden and Emily Skeggs, dramatizes a true crime case of Munchausen by Proxy.
Camile (Harden) and Esme (Skeggs) are fictionalizations of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Gypsy Rose ultimately got a boyfriend to help her kill her mother so she could escape. Harden and Skeggs spoke with Showbiz Junkies about Love You To Death, which airs Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
Were you aware of Munchausen Syndrome before this film?
Emily Skeggs: “I’m a true crime fanatic. I love it. I was very aware. I love the case. I was very fascinated by the case for a long time, this specific case, and I actually had friends who recommended the documentary to me. I had friends saying, ‘You absolutely need to play this girl when the scripts come out,’ and I did. Then I did.”
Marcia Gay Harden: “Not at all. No, not at all. I’d never heard the word Munchausen and I’d never heard of the case. It’s not that I’m not interested. I just have kids. I wasn’t paying attention so when it came out, it was electrifying to me to read this story, to read about this relationship and to try to understand what it was. That’s when thank goodness Emily’s a little detective because she sent me all the stuff, the podcasts she had. It was fascinating and yet still for me, there are so many unanswered questions. It’s still very difficult to understand.”
What questions do you still have even after playing her?
Marcia Gay Harden: “I wish I had a journal of Camile’s, or Dee Dee Blanchard’s, where she talked about ‘today I forced my daughter to sit back down in the chair and she wanted to walk. I’m going to have to really think about these decisions that I’m making.’ I wish I had an understanding of the potential reflectiveness of the character on what she was doing. And you don’t get that from the interviews. You don’t get that from the documentary. You don’t get that from the trial. What you’re getting is always going to be her perspective, her perspective wanting to be set free in 10 years or however many years, her perspective of what it was like living in this home.”
Do you think she would have been self-aware to the extent she’s forcing her? Would she have rationalized she had to protect her daughter from hurting herself?
Marcia Gay Harden: “That’s the question about Munchausen’s, right? Are you aware that you’re doing it and that they’re not really sick, or have you forced yourself to believe that they are really sick? And that answer we don’t know yet because we don’t have it yet from the real Gypsy.”
Emily Skeggs: “I don’t think anybody knows enough about the disease. It’s something that there’s not a lot of awareness about. There’s no protocol. I keep saying this but there’s no protocol for how to handle Munchausen by Proxy and how to treat it and how to identify it and what to do if you think someone has it. There’s no support system there for it and so I think in a lot of ways these women were failed by the system that we currently have.”
How did you create your characters’ looks?
Emily Skeggs: “We had an absolutely phenomenal hair and makeup team on this project. We were up at 3am putting bald caps on. We were putting incredible wigs on Marcia, pieces, eyebrow pieces.”
Marcia Gay Harden: “My furry eyebrows.”
Emily Skeggs: “These things that you don’t think really would make a difference and it really transformed us.”
Marcia Gay Harden: “It’s true. You can approach characters internally. You can approach them externally. In this case, I think they both really had to meet but for me, the internal didn’t make sense until I had the external on. It was like her armor. It was what she moved through the world, and I’m sure the same for Ems. Until you have the wheelchair, who is it, right? Who is Gypsy? All those things made such a difference.
It was a really fast shoot, but everybody just dove right in. We had a great producer, two great producers, Jordan and Jon Davis, and then Alex (Kalymnios) our director. Alex was really interested in the variant perspectives. That’s what she, I think, really loved paying attention to. The end, them in the pool, it’s so beautifully shot. It’s so beautifully envisioned, especially that freedom of her.
At the beginning, if you look at the shots, the shots are crowded in the beginning. There’s a lot of stuff in a lot of the home. Every shot is crowded with stuff. And then it starts to get less and less and less till the end. It’s just single heads and backgrounds. It’s really beautifully thought of. It feels more like, to me, a movie. It is a movie.”
Emily Skeggs: “Like an indie. We shot it like an indie in a way. It was funny too. I think the bald cap, I spend a lot of time I feel hiding behind my hair.”
Marcia Gay Harden: “I know. We’re both playing with our hair all day.”
Emily Skeggs: “My bangs, my bangs. But when you take that all away and you’re stripped down, you’re really vulnerable in a way. What’s interesting is I felt like that vulnerability really helped me with the character, but then by the end of the shoot, I felt like I loved my bald head. I found a strength in just owning who I was at face value and not hiding behind my hair. With a character that’s incredibly sick and sad, it’s pretty amazing to be able to walk away from something like that feeling stronger and like you know yourself a little bit better.”
Was there ever talk of really shaving your head?
Emily Skeggs: “Yeah. Here’s the thing. I’m not Natalie Portman. I can’t shave my head and, truthfully, as a woman in this industry, get away with it.”
Marcia Gay Harden: “You were also busy.”
Emily Skeggs: “I’m also busy.”
Marcia Gay Harden: “She was doing other things that she couldn’t have that shaved head for so it didn’t make sense. Other people it does make sense, but you were doing Broadway. She had other things going on.”
Emily Skeggs: “Yeah.”
You got the best of both worlds.
Marcia Gay Harden: “She truly did.”
Emily Skeggs: “Yeah, and we actually used my real hair in the movie and that was part of the choice as well. They wanted to be able to have the versatility of having the bald cap versus my real hair.”