Phoenix (AZ Central) -- Here's a little secret, courtesy of the people who are bringing the
story of convicted killer Jodi Arias to the small screen: This isn't a
slapdash effort designed to capitalize on a sensational murder case.
"This project was in the works over a year ago," says screenwriter
Richard Blaney, who wrote the script with Gregory Small. "This thing
didn't move as fast as everyone thinks. We completed the script in
That was the same month that Arias' televised trial commenced in the
brutal 2008 slaying of Travis Alexander, a Mesa motivational speaker.
Little did the writers know that the case would soon explode into
something that simultaneously fascinated and repelled viewers and
inspired endless amounts of chatter on social media.
"Once the trial kicked into gear, we didn't anticipate it was going
to grab the nation as much as it did," Small says. "That's when the heat
first got turned up a bit."
"Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret," is set to air Saturday on
Lifetime. It is not new territory for the cable network, which
previously scored with movies inspired by the notorious lives of Arias'
fellow headline-grabbers Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox.
It is not a movie about the trial, which resulted in a first-degree
murder conviction for Arias. She is now awaiting sentencing. Instead,
the writers say, it is a look at the relationship between a woman who
turned out to be capable of murder and a man who had the misfortune of
getting romantically involved with her.
The writers spent long nights poring over videos, documents, forensic
evidence and court materials to write the script, which then went
through the usual changes. But once the trial started growing more
outrageous through Arias' sexually charged testimony, the folks at
Lifetime knew they had something special. The trial, which didn't even
figure in the initial shooting script, now takes up the last 12 minutes
of screen time, and the writers were encouraged to make fast revisions.
"Every time Jodi Arias would open her mouth on the stand, we would
get calls asking if we could work it into the script," Blaney says.
Filming began in April, while the trial was in full swing. It wasn't
easy for actress Tania Raymonde, who plays Arias in the film and who,
until now, has been best-known for her work on TV's "Lost."
"The fact that the trial was ongoing was a huge challenge," she says.
"I made a conscious effort not to expose myself too much, but her trial
was unfolding on every single one of our shoot days: new evidence, new
testimony. And every time something happened in court that made me feel
one way or the other, she would say something the next day that just
tugged at my heart."
As the public's perception of Arias changed through the trial's exposure on HLN, so did Raymonde's interpretation of the role.
"The portrait I tried to paint of Jodi was constantly evolving, and
this, I couldn't really help," she says. "We were filming a person's
life story that hasn't been fully written yet. However, I had a couple
strong initial feelings about Jodi that I kept close to my heart because
I trust my intuition. As an actor, that's all you've got."
Portraying the key players
Despite the barrage of new information, the writers say their opinion of Arias never really shifted.
"We had a pretty good take on where she was coming from," Blaney says
with a touch of understatement. "We never really doubted that she was
the bad guy."
Still, they are proud of the juggling act they achieved. They spent
hours trying to avoid painting Arias and Alexander as black-and-white
figures. Both characters are drawn with virtues and flaws.
Equally important was being respectful of people involved in the case, particularly Alexander's family.
Some of the more prurient and lurid claims made about him, which
during the trial seemed to be a stark contrast from his membership in
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not addressed in the film.
"The obvious responsibility was to speak for Travis," Small says.
"But we're not just casting aside what was going on with Jodi, either.
She was a fascinating, smart, articulate woman. She seemingly had the
people skills and the ability to have led a wonderful life, but some
diagnosable deviance led to this."
The writers think Alexander may have let the relationship with Arias continue for longer than it should have.
"There was some culpability there, but certainly not worthy of what happened to him," Small says.
For actor Jesse Lee Soffer, who plays Alexander, the situation was a little more clear-cut.
"In my eyes, Travis was a victim," says Soffer, a six-year veteran of "As the World Turns."
"I believe he was a good guy, and I want people to see that."
Raymonde's final impressions of Arias are still not focused.
'Tragic desire to please'
"Jodi's an enigma to me," she says. "Truthfully, I feel like I know
less about her now after all this research and time spent thinking about
her than I did before the shoot. To me, Jodi is a lot of things: She's
ambitious and driven and had a tragic desire to please."
Raymonde obviously didn't have access to Arias. David Zayas, who
portrays Mesa police Detective Esteban Flores, says he reached out to
the person he portrays but didn't get a response. Instead, the "Dexter"
actor relied on interrogation and courtroom footage to shape his
"The most important thing is try to be as respectful to the real-life
person in an honest manner," says Zayas, who was a New York police
officer for 15 years. "I think Detective Flores is an amazing homicide
detective. I'm sure he's a fine man. I probably didn't capture things
like his mannerisms, but I hope he would say I played him honest."
Zayas, who started filming the day after his agent signed the deal,
says the set was rather somber, with the cast and crew aware of the
responsibility in their hands.
"Jodi will most likely spend the rest of her life in prison for what
she did," Raymonde says. "Travis' family will never repair itself over
what happened. I felt the gravity of the situation while we were
filming, always. I never took it lightly."
However, both Raymonde and the writers are quick to say this is not a by-the-book, factual look at a doomed relationship.
"We never set out to write a biographical account," Small says. "We
wrote an account based on a true story. We're drama writers. We took
For example, a fictional character named Katie serves as Alexander's post-Arias girlfriend.
In reality, he dated several women after the breakup. Other changes
are smaller: Alexander's dog, Napoleon, was a black pug in real life; in
the movie, a tan pug plays the role.
Ultimately, the writers hope they created a story that will be
recognizable to viewers - not because they've read about the case for
months or watched television coverage, but because people can related to
the characters and situations,
"These are things that we, to some degree, have all been through," Blaney says.
"Who hasn't been in a relationship where one person is more into it
than another? Who hasn't been in a relationship that's broken? In the
end, this is a movie about a tragic relationship."