“I got the script, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, I’m going to get to do all of these things? I’m 48 — isn’t it time for me to just sit down?” Amanda Peet asked during a recent phone call with Refinery29. If you’ve seen Peet’s new season of Netflix’s Dirty John, which is subtitled The Betty Broderick Story, you know her character, the titular Betty Broderick, does anything but sit down.
Within the first 15 minutes of Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, the eponymous housewife — who is inspired by the real-life 1980s murderess of the same name — nearly burns down a house, drives a massive SUV into a different home, and terrifies a mental health professional. By the end of the episode, a hazy and tear-stained Betty confesses to murdering her ex-husband Dan Broderick (played by Christian Slater).
“There are so many facets to Betty’s personality, including her sociopathic, villainous tendencies. The psychological portrait is really, really compelling, and I was just excited to be at this point [in my career] in middle age,” Peet, who starred in HBO's mid-2010s sad-com Togetherness, continued. For a series that runs on a network known for peddling extravagant drama — particularly when women over the age of 40 are involved — one would expect Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story to go down a similarly salacious road. However, Peet is quick to point out there’s so much more to Dirty John season 2 than gawking at its main character and the deadly moment she snapped.
“One of the things I like about Dirty John is [creator Alexandra Cunningham] exploring this idea of what happens when you’re stuck in an illusion,” Peet continued. The initial Connie Britton-led season of Dirty John had a similar theme (Peet confirms “generous and gracious” Britton reached out to “pass the torch” to her for season 2). In Dirty John season 1, Britton’s take on Debra Newell was rooted in one woman’s desire for a Prince Charming, no matter the blood-red flags he presented along the way. Peet’s season 2 goes much bigger, questioning how society uses metaphorical silk ties to trap women in ruinous situations.
“Part of what Alexandra wanted to show was that Betty grew up in the social milieu of the '50s… What everyone wanted you to do was just get married to the ‘right’ person and start having babies and be a homemaker.” Peet, who had never heard about Betty Broderick until she picked up a Dirty John script, began. Betty achieved that cultural goal by marrying Dan, giving him four kids, and dedicating her life to making the Broderick world run perfectly — then, as we see in “No Fault,” Dan abruptly tries to divorce Betty and abandon her.
“The fact that she singularly attained that goal really obviously hurt her and hurt others and ends up in tragedy,” Peet continued. “There weren’t a lot of protections for women getting divorced, women who had forgone their income power in their careers and had been homemakers for decades. How do you suggest that they can just go right back into the workforce at age 45 and make a living?”
These are the questions that plague Betty when we meet her — and eventually push her to drive a car into Dan’s new home in the beginning of the season premiere. “My first thought was, Well, she’s already mentally ill. Because what if her children were in the house, standing in the hallway?” Peet admitted, adding that her stunt double performed the actual crash. In jarring moments like these, when Peet would question the depths of Betty’s darkness, she would turn to Dirty John creator Alexandra Cunningham for guidance.
“I would be talking about how cruel it was and how, ‘Any mother who would do this…’ and Alexandra would talk me through [the scenes] to get me back so I could play the part,” Peet said. “As you get farther along into the show, you see that Dan was really gaslighting Betty. She kept saying, ‘I smell smoke! I smell smoke! There’s a fire!’ He would say, ‘You’re crazy. There’s no fire. You’re crazy.’ She was so isolated that at a certain point, she really did start to think she was crazy."
That is why debunking the “scorned woman trope,” as Peet said, is what centred her and Cunningham’s work for Dirty John season 2.
“What’s fascinating to me is that she has socioeconomic stability, and she appears to be living a very normal, suburban, soccer mom life,” Peet explained. “The fact that she ended up murdering the father of her children just makes you fascinated — how is there such a massive discrepancy between the way things appeared and the promise they appeared to have at the beginning of the story and the way things ended up? It seems impossible.”
Dirty John, The Betty Broderick Story is out now on Netflix