Renée Zellwegger is one of the most awarded actresses in Hollywood, collecting two Oscars and a series of excellent performances, whether in dramas, romantic comedies, or comedies. However, she is not exactly unanimous for the public, even if she has transformed herself into characters as distinct as Roxy Hart from Chicago (where she sings and dances), or Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’ Diary (all 3 films and an impeccable British accent ) or, more recently Judy Garland in Judy (where she sings and becomes the star). It’s fair to call her a chameleon.
In a year in which more than ever fiction has given way to bio series and biopics, especially criminal pod series, it’s no surprise that the actress is the latest celebrity to have succumbed to the trend and joined the club that features Julia Roberts and Sean Penn in Gaslit; Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto on WeCrashed; Amanda Seyfried in Dropout; Julia Garner in Inventing Anna; Lily James and Sebastian Stan in Pam & Tommy and Colin Firth in The Staircase, to name the most recent. And, more than all of them, once again Renee transforms. Older and heavier (this time with makeup), she plays assassin Pam Hupp in the Starplus series The Thing About Pam.
The series, which also emerged from a podcast, recounts at a pace and scripts very different from what we are used to. To contextualize the real story (spoilers beware), Pamela Hupp is an American housewife, now in prison for murdering a disabled man named Louis Gumpenberger, who was also accused of brutally killing her best friend Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria, and framed Betsy’s husband Russ in taking the blame.
Russ was wrongfully arrested, even with four confirmed alibis, and all because Pam herself was the main witness for the prosecution. Betsy was stabbed over 50 times and when she was found, the knife was still attached to her neck. The police felt that Russ’ despair (who thought the woman had killed herself) was exaggerated and fell for the narrative led by Pam Hupp, the last person who was with the victim before her death. Russ’ lawyer was the one who managed to reverse the verdict, but only three years later. The reason for the crime was money. Pam convinced Betsy to leave her as Betsy’s life insurance beneficiary. Not even with these pieces of information did the police realize Pam’s guilt.
The chance for the truth to come out came with a novelistic twist. In August 2016, Pam shot dead Louis Gumpenberger, a 33-year-old man with a mental and physical disability. In his pocket, the police found a note instructing him to kidnap Pam and “steal Russ’s money”, with her claiming that the (second) murder was in self-defense, again trying to incriminate Russ, who had just been released by justice.
More than the brutal deaths of Louis and Betsy, Pam Hupp is also suspected of having murdered her own mother, in an accident that would not have raised doubts initially. Shirley Neumann was 77 years old, suffered from dementia and arthrosis, and would have accidentally fallen from a third of the building. But the high dose of medication eight times the usual raised the alarm of distrust towards Pam, the last person to be with her before her death. The case was initially dropped, but when the self-defense story in Louis’ murder didn’t stick, Pam was arrested. She used maneuvers in US law where she acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her of Louis’ murder but still did not admit her guilt. Betsy and Shirley’s deaths are under investigation again and Pam could still be sentenced to death. She’s in prison, awaiting trial.
With this incredible story gaining notoriety, crime documentaries and podcasts soon explored the drama, and The Thing About Pam podcast debuted to great success in 2019. Among the fans is Renée Zellwegger, who gladly embraced the chance to play such a controversial woman.
The choice to have a narrator underscores the absurdity of the true story and differs from other series that only reenact what happened. The Thing About Pam doesn’t try to invert values so that we root for her, on the contrary, that’s where Renée stands out, as her tendency for sympathetic roles is turned inside out with Pam Hupp. In particular, with her physical transformation, she seems to be someone else. All episodes are available and it’s worth checking out another great work by the actress.