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The Good Nurse: A New Approach to True Crime by Krysty Wilson-Cairns

The writer of “The Good Nurse” had a seedy story on hand, but as she tells IndieWire, that’s exactly why she approached it in a new way.

Even The Good Nurse screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns felt a little overwhelmed with true crime stories when she was first approached to read Charles Graeber’s book The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder ‘ into a large cinema screen version.

Nearly 10 years ago, the future screenwriter of ‘1917’ and ‘Last Night in Soho’ was just getting her MA from the National Film and Television School and was blacklisted in 2014 for her sci-fi script ‘Aether’. who are chasing a serial killer in the near future. When the aspiring screenwriter’s new agency sent her a stack of books to possibly fit in, at the top of the heap was Graebers, who followed the incredible (and horrific) true story of Charles Cullen, now considered America’s most prolific serial killer.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do another serial killer thing,’ because I wanted the script [previously] was written, and I thought, ‘I’m just going to read it as a courtesy. I will do my duty of care. I sat down to read it and then I read through the night,’” she said in a recent interview with IndieWire. Graeber’s book was “so captivating and brilliantly written,” with a “insane” story at its heart. Wilson-Cairns suddenly couldn’t continue without her. “I was like, ‘Okay, I want this more than anything else in life,’ and I started promoting it,” she recalled.

Wilson-Cairns was hired to write the adaptation in 2014, and the project eventually went to Netflix with director Tobias Lindholm and a star cast that includes Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as killer nurse Cullen and Jessica Chastain as fellow nurses (and his eventual). slide) Amy Loughren. But even then, the screenwriter was cautious about how she wanted to tell this story.

“The true crime genre is so big now,” Wilson-Cairns said. “I think the podcast medium has had a great influence on the screen medium. I think it’s about bite-sized chunks, it’s about captivating people, it’s about keeping people, and I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think everyone should see what they want to see. But I personally think there’s an impulse to doing true crimes and making those heinous crimes sexy.”

The Good Nurse (2022).  Left to right: Eddie Redmayne as Charlie Cullen and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren.  Kr. JoJo Whilden / Netflix

“The Good Nurse”

JoJo Whilden / Courtesy of Netflix

It’s something the Glasgow native grew up with, and it’s the kind of approach she doesn’t want to take with stories like The Good Nurse. “A lot of times you would watch these police dramas and it would be a young, hot, dead prostitute, lying naked on the floor,” she said. “I always thought to myself, ‘I never want to write about a rape or a murder or something like that that someone can let off steam.’ I think that only happens when you write it from the perspective of the killer or the perspective of the rapist or the perpetrator. If you write it from the victim’s perspective and understand how it feels to go through this, then it’s the more truthful and important version.”

That doesn’t mean “sexy” violence or anything lewd, but it doesn’t mean skimping on details. It just means approaching them from a different angle that seems to be missing from other true crime projects that are so hot these days.

“For me, that sexy violence, that kind of sexy humiliation just isn’t enough,” the author said. “I don’t think it’s fair and I think it’s misogynistic. Look, I know a lot of people who love true crime, and I understand, because it’s something terrifying, because it’s real, it’s worse than your nightmares, it’s worse than you can ever imagine. But for me it gets scarier if it stays true.”

Like many people, Wilson-Cairns had never heard of Charles Cullen before reading Graeber’s book. “I didn’t know America’s most prolific serial killer happened in my lifetime,” she said. “You hear about many other successful American serial killers, but … his victims may number more than 300 people. It’s unfathomable. He killed for 16 years. I remember putting the book down and checking the back cover and thinking, ‘Oh, it’s fact.’ I really struggled with that because I felt like the story was kind of buried.”

Much of Graeber’s meticulously researched book focuses on Cullen’s childhood and upbringing, but that’s not something Wilson-Cairns wanted to dramatize in her script. She didn’t want to tell Cullen’s story from his point of view; she didn’t want to try to “understand” him, fearing that would make him some sort of hero, or at least an anti-hero.

The Good Nurse (2022).  Left to right: Noah Emmerich as Tim Braun, Nnamdi Asomugha as Danny Baldwin and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren.  Kr. JoJo Whilden / Netflix

“The Good Nurse”

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

“We never wanted to do anything lewd, and we didn’t want to invent anything,” she said. “These people who do these horrible things are always tempted to do them differently from you. So that you can sleep at night you say that they are possessed by the devil, they are demons, they are monsters, they had a horrible childhood, they had this and that. And actually I think the really scary thing about these people is that they are just like us. They might have chemical imbalances in their brains and things like that, but they can move through society the way we do. You can hide it. And that’s a lot scarier and a lot more real.”

She needed a different approach, and she found it in the last third of the book. “That’s when you met nurse Amy Loughren, and for me the book really became something I wanted to write because it’s the story of a working-class single mother who’s essentially a superhero,” she said. “She saves countless lives, she stops this killer if she risks everything. She is risking her health, her livelihood, the lives of her children. She does it to protect the people in her care and to protect people in the future. For me, this is the absolute pinnacle of human achievement.”

Graeber gave Wilson-Cairns access to all of his research, introduced her to detectives Danny Baldwin (played in the film by Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich), and even helped set up the author at a Connecticut hospital, where she for two years she worked week-long night shifts alongside real nurses. He also introduced her to the real Amy Loughren. The pair spent a weekend together that proved pivotal.

“She opened up her life story to me very gracefully,” Wilson-Cairns said. “Remember, I was in my twenties, with no credits and no idea what I was doing. I said, ‘I don’t know if I can capture you with all your complexity and all the amazing things you’ve done, but I’ll really try. Will you help me?’ And she did. She helped me every step of the way.”

Even today, Wilson-Cairns is in awe of Loughren. The two have become “friends for life,” she said. They recently took a helicopter ride together to an event at the Hamptons Film Festival, so why not treat yourself to something wacky and fun like that?

“Many superheroes are billionaires in bat suits, billionaires in iron suits. You can’t be her. I’ll never be Batman and I won’t be bitten by radioactive spiders. So they’re amazing to look at, but I can never achieve that status,” Wilson-Cairns said. “But when you look at people like Amy Loughren, you can think, ‘I can actually be a better person, I can live better, I can make the world a better place.’ And that was the real interest for me.”

Despite this, Wilson-Cairns is aware that her cinematic output tends to darken. From the horrors of war in ‘1917’ to the darker underbelly of ‘Last Night in Soho,’ the screenwriter isn’t afraid to move on to the harder things. But even in these terrifying stories, she can’t help but find the good in all of them. That is what she wants to bring to the world.

“As my mother would say, I’m a very twisted bitch, and I wear that with pride,” she said, laughing. “Yes, World War I and how women were treated in the ’60s and America’s most prolific serial killers are all really horrible things, and they’re all true. But with all these terrible things, people are doing something absolutely extraordinary [to help]. The world isn’t always a pretty place. It’s not terrible, it’s not terrible, but bad things happen. If you watch the people changing it, if you watch the people saving us, and they’re human, and they have flaws, and they’re not billionaires in a bat suit, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, it’s not humanity great?’ So I think even though they’re all very dark, I actually think they’re very light.”

The Good Nurse is in select theaters now and will be available on Netflix’s streaming platform on Wednesday, October 26.

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