A New Point of View – The Making of “Boston Strangler”

“This whole film is really a love song to female investigative journalists,” actress Keira Knightley said of Boston Strangler. This 20th Century Studios dramatization of a true-crime story that captivated a nation premieres on Friday, March 17th, on Hulu. But what sets this version of the story apart from those that came before it, including a 1968 20th Century Fox film of the same name starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda, is the fact that this retelling centers around two journalists, both women, who are among the first to take these murders seriously. “[It] really highlights how important it is to have women in positions of power in storytelling because it was these two women that really went, ‘This is an important story. This is information that needs to be in the public in order to keep women of Boston safe.’ And I think, largely, it was a story that had been, at that point, ignored by the male establishment.”

(Noam Galai/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

(Noam Galai/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

Keira Knightley portrays Loretta McLaughlin, who worked closely with colleague Jean Cole to unmask the killer, or killers, as the case may be. “There is a story built in that is about female allyship,” Carrie Coon revealed, who plays Jean Cole. “There's the broader story that these were the women who warned the women of Boston that there was a danger to them and cautioned them on how to protect themselves, which is not the story that we often tell. It's often about, ‘Well, there's only room for one, and we already have one, so we don't need another one,’ right, for women in the workplace. And I think that you do see in the film Jean's perhaps conventional way of moving through that world be challenged by Loretta's doggedness, by her willingness to create controversy, which is something that I think Jean has avoided outside of the arenas that she's investigating. And so I do think that what Matt [Ruskin, Director] has done, I think that thread is in the script, where you see Jean's reality being complicated by the presence of Loretta, and probably speaks to why they were friends going forward for the rest of their lives.”

“I was lucky enough to rub shoulders with Eileen McNamara, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who worked on the Boston Globe in the 70s and 80s; Loretta was a mentor to Eileen, and Eileen directed me to exactly what I needed,” explained Chris Cooper, who plays editor Jack MacLaine, who initially dismisses the story Loretta and Jean bring to him. “Jack was never too interested in these murders. And it was a complete embarrassment for the Boston Police. They didn’t seem to be pursuing it that much. But Eileen directed me to source material that was so specifically for the 60s newsroom, what happens politically, you know, just terminology I wanted to know about, hierarchy within the paper. That’s where my interest, and that’s where my research led me.” Ultimately, Loretta is able to change Jack’s opinion. “He says to Loretta, ‘These murders, these three murders, these are nobodies.’ Loretta comes back and says, ‘These are the people who read your paper. The working class,’ you know. And I think that was kind of a little wake-up call for Jack.”

“You have to remember this is a decade before the term ‘serial killer’ even came into existence, and the Boston Police Department was very much a blunt instrument at the time,” director Matt Ruskin said. “The field of Criminology was very much in its infancy. So interviewing psychiatrists to try and create a psychological profile was very much a forward-thinking thing that was outside of the norm. And I think they did connect on that. Some of the detectives who Alessandro's character is based after, they were a handful of really forward-thinking  detectives who were very open, and they wanted to know what Loretta and Jean were coming up with.”

“The relationship between the media and law enforcement is always a complicated one because, on the one hand, they depend on each other,” explained Alessandro Nivola, who plays Detective Conley. “One of the interesting things I discovered from talking to a lot of cops and even some who were around at that time, is that there is a symbiosis to it. And in fact, most police departments have a liaison figure who works to feed information to the journalists, and there's even an office or a desk. Even at this time, there would've been a desk where the journalists would go. The journalists were in the department all through the day, in and out getting fed leads and information about different cases. It wasn't something that was just a total lockdown of information to the media. On the other hand, obviously, the police  department doesn't wanna be exposed in an unfavorable light for being dilettantish in the way that they pursue these cases. And so, in the case of this story, obviously the reporting that was being done by these two was really jeopardizing the reputation of the department, which is why the stakes were so high for Conley to be this deep-throat kind of figure in the whole thing.”

Boston Strangler examines the events from the perspective of the two women who helped catch a killer, which informed many of Matt Ruckin’s stylistic decisions, including concealing the murderer’s face. “A big piece of the film is about identity and who is this killer or killers, so it was important to leave that as this unknown, as this gray area. And I also felt strongly about not depicting violence in a way that was gratuitous, so much of the violence, many of the attacks, happen offscreen for that reason.” Having grown up in Boston, filming there was also of key importance. “One of the reasons I wanted to film the movie in Boston was to be able to bring in a lot of the local talent. There's an extraordinary theater world and scene in Boston and just a very deep pool of talent of local actors. So it's great to be able to bring them in.”

Boston Strangler premieres this Friday, March 17th, exclusively on Hulu.