Published: Sunday, 13 June 2021 12:42 | Written by SciFi Vision
Tonight Lifetime premieres the next film in its “Summer of Secrets” lineup, Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer. Based on a true story and the book The Fortune Hunter by Suzy Spencer, the movie follows Celeste (Julie Benz), a mother and waitress who serves drinks to a 70-year-old widow, Steven Beard (Eli Gabay), a multimillionaire retired broadcasting executive, who she later marries. However, after entering a mental health facility, Celeste seduces another patient, Tracey Tarlton, (Justine Warrington) and convinces her that they need to murder her husband so that they can be together.
Benz, along with executive producer, Barbara Lieberman, recently took part in a press conference to promote the film.
Benz talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision about her character’s accent. “You know, I'm good at it, so it wasn't that challenging for me. For me, it was really kind of getting Celeste when she talks. She has kind of a really flat tone, and it was really trying to get some of that flat tone; like she flattens A’s a lot. Also, I can lean too heavily into the accent, so they were constantly pulling me away, like backing me off from it, but getting that flat tone but still being able to show emotion through it [was challenging]. But when you watch Celeste in interviews, she just has this very flat kind of way that she talks. So, it was being able to do that, but also still show [everything], having the emotional range and having that go through your voice.”
Lieberman talked to journalists about how she became involved with the film. “I read about this story seventeen years ago and started developing it then. It was a long haul, and we had a good script, but then somehow the regimes changed, and it went away. Then, last year, Lifetime asked me to do another true crime, and I said okay to that. Then, I called up Tanya Lopez and said, 'Listen,there's a movie that is such a great story, and there's a script, and it needs a little work, but it's not difficult to do, and frankly we have to make this movie.' And she said, 'Okay, let's make it.'…So, that worked out really well, and I'm so glad they said yes and were happy with the film. I think it's very entertaining also. I mean, obviously I'm not objective at all, but people seem to like it.”
For more, be sure to check out the full transcript of the interview below.
Summer of Secrets Video Conference Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer Star Julie Benz and Executive Producer Barbara Lieberman
Wednesday, May 19, 2021 MODERATOR: Hi everybody, our next panel is Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer. With us today is Julie Benz who plays “Celeste Beard” and executive producer Barbara Lieberman. Our first question is for you, Barbara. This movie is based on the book The Fortune Hunter by Suzy Spencer. What attracted you to this story?
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: Well, it was a very high-profile case and Celeste Beard was an outrageous, outrageous woman, and what she did was frankly reprehensible and sort of unbelievable…but riveting and fascinating. The depths that she could go were, I think, very dramatic and would make a fascinating movie, and I was particularly attracted also to the girls, her daughters, and [the] relationshipbetween Celeste and her daughters, and how they survive their mother. And they did, and they're fine now. So, that's a good thing.So yes, that's why.
QUESTION: Hi Julie, I was wondering what you did to prepare for the role mentally to be so…I know you're not an awful killer or terrible person. What did you do to do this role?
JULIE BENZ: The great thing about these types of roles is you can get all that anger and aggression out on set. For me, you know, I did a lot of research. We shot in Vancouver, so I had a 14-day quarantine. So, I spent that time watching every video footage I could find of Celeste and going down every rabbit hole of the case and just really trying to wrap my head around this woman and like Barbara said, she was extremely outrageous, and it was challenging for me. It allowed me basically to take the lid off of her. Like most people live with a lid on to keep certain emotions in check, and Celeste just was like…she just vomited however she felt. So, it was just being able to release the valve and let it all out and let it go. There were some days after filming all day where I would just be exhausted just from the amount of the emotional journey that she was going on but just that the jumping around in the shooting schedule as well. It was exhausting, but it was exhilarating as well.
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: I mean, I could say one other thing about Celeste, who was very savvy in her in her manipulation and smart about it and could hone in on the people that that she felt that she could best manipulate and use for her own ends and did that for a number of years quite successfully, but ultimately did not get away with it.
SCIFI VISION: Hi Julie, great to talk to you again. Can you talk about working with the accent and the challenge of that?
JULIE BENZ: You know, I'm good at it, so it wasn't that challenging for me. For me, it was really kind of getting Celeste when she talks. She has kind of a really flat tone, and it was really trying to get some of that flat tone; like she flattens A’s a lot. Also, I can lean too heavily into the accent, so they were constantly pulling me away, like backing me off from it, but getting that flat tone but still being able to show emotion through it [was challenging]. But when you watch Celeste in interviews, she just has this very flatkind of way that she talks. So, it was being able to do that, but also still show [everything], having the emotional range and having that go through your voice.
SCIFI VISION: Well, it was believable, so thank you.
JULIE BENZ: Thank you!
QUESTION: Hello Julie, I like your comment about vomiting everything out as this character and also about having be pulled back on the accent. I mean you've done so much work over the years. You certainly know that when you get a colorful character like this,you can go high, wide, and handsome at the same time. I guess the challenge is to moderate so you don't go too far. How was that process for you as you approach the character before anybody else gave you direction?
JULIE BENZ: Well for me I go like this - approaching Celeste, I spoke to Robin, our director, and I was like, “I'm gonna chew the scenery. I'm gonna just let it go. It's up to you to tell me where I need to pull it back, when I need to pull it back, and help me craft the performance,” because the only way I know how to play her is to just go from zero to 60 in under a second. So, it was really in Robin's hands to help tell me like that. “Take it down a little bit…Let's, you know, try a different approach.” All of that. So, Robin really helped me craft the performance of her as well.
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: Well, I'm going to say one thing about Julie. I mean, what's ironic is Julie is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and the fact that she could slide into this role and play this woman with such ease and depth was fabulous, and as I said, ironic, considering the difference between her and the character but…go ahead sorry…
JULIE BENZ: I will say too, there were some scenes that really just that broke my heart as an actress where I really scared Roan andGeorgia who played my daughters. Like literally after every take I would just hug them and just be like, “I'm so sorry.” And they loved it. They were just like, “No, we were terrified.” But…Robin would yell cut, and I would immediately grab them into a hug just to make me feel better, because it there was a lot of ugly energy that I had to live in.
MODERATOR: Barbara, you do a lot of movies with Lifetime and we're just wondering, what is it like to work with Lifetime, and do you prefer to work with our network over other networks?
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: Well, that's a very loaded question. I mean I love to work with Lifetime. I mean, in the past, right now, in this present day, they're my favorite network to work with. I mean, over the years I've worked with HBO and other places, many other places, but Lifetime’s great and [they’re] now very opened to pushing the envelope on their subject matter and the execution. If it's dark, they're okay about being dark. I like to put a lot of interesting, outrageous and, you know, contemporary music in, and they're open to that. So, that makes it very attractive to me to work with them as a network. So, yeah, it's great.
MODERATOR: That’s awesome, that’s great. And how did you get involved in this movie to begin with? What was the start of your work on this project?
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: Me?
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: I read about this story seventeen years ago and started developing it then. It was a long haul, and we had a good script, but then somehow the regimes changed, and it went away. Then, last year, Lifetime asked me to do another true crime, and I said okay to that. Then, I called up Tanya Lopez and said, “Listen, there's a movie that is such a great story, and there's a script, and it needs a little work, but it's not difficult to do, and frankly we have to make this movie.” And she said, “Okay, let's make it.” I mean it was… great. So, that that worked out really well. I'm so glad they said yes and were happy with the film, and I think it's very entertaining also. I mean, obviously I'm not objective at all, but people seem to like it.
QUESTION: My question is actually for Julie. I would assume going into a role, you've got to find something redeeming about the character, like something to like about her. I would imagine with this one [it was] pretty hard. Was there anything you found redeeming about her? And do you think she was doing it for her kids?
JULIE BENZ: So, when I entered into this project and started researching Celeste, I would go back and forth between was she guilty, was she innocent? Because you watch her in an interview, and she still claims her innocence, and she's so believable, so I really tried not to pass any judgment on her. And really, I think, in her mind, she did it for her family, her children, and like this is what you do. But I think at the end of the day, she really just did it for herself, and that's speaking right now that I'm removed from the project and she's out of my system. But in it, while I was in it, I would have big arguments on set about like, I don't know. “I think she's innocent guys.” I really, you know…I watched another interview. Barbara would be like, “No, she's not.”
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: If you talk to her today, she will of course tell you she's innocent, and she'll go into all kinds of rationalizations as to what everybody else did to make it bad, but she if convinced herself, as many psychopaths are, that she's innocent, but she isn’t…
JULIE BENZ: …but she is very believable when you watch her in an interview. She is so believable you just you watch her. At least for me, I would watch her interviews and just be like…“She's right, everybody…was out to get her. This is a total lie. This didn't happen. She's so innocent.” And then, you read the transcript from the trial, and you see all you hear the recorded messages and all of that. And you're like, “Well, wait a second…”
MODERATOR: Julie, this is our last question and it's for you. If you could talk to Celeste - and actually this is for Barbara and Julie,you can both answer this. If you could speak to Celeste, what would you ask her?
JULIE BENZ: You know, I mean, the obvious question is, “Come on, did you really do it?” But I don't think I would ask that. I'd be too afraid. I don't know. Barbara, what would you ask her?
BARBARA LIEBERMAN: I would probably…I wouldn't ask that because I know what her answer would be, and it would be a lie. I would say…“Do you regret anything you did, and would you do anything different, and would you like to reconnect with your daughters?” I think that's what I would ask and see what she came up with. You know, by the way, as a side note, she has now, in case anybody's interested, [she] has published a cookbook from prison. Prison Recipes by Celeste Beard. And also, her mother wrote a book about her. She will never stop with her outrageous behavior. But yeah, I would ask her that and see if she has any regret at all. I mean, we have interviews with her from jail that we've used in addition to the book and all the massive research we did, but I think it would be hard to get a reliable answer from her about anything.
JULIE BENZ: Yeah, I think the best thing would just be to get her to talk. I mean, she sounds like somebody who would just talk and talk and talk and talk, which would be fascinating to listen to.