Awards Daily talks to Kaitlyn Dever of Dopesick on Hulu about creating spreadsheets, Dr. Finnix (Michael Keaton) and Betsy’s relationship, and that final phone call with Grace (Cleopatra Coleman).
Like many actors preparing for a role, Kaitlyn Dever read the book that Hulu’s Dopesick limited series was based on, but her character Betsy wasn’t just one character in the book, but a composite of victims of Oxycontin.
“There are a lot of similar stories to Betsy’s in that book,” says Dever. “When you get the opportunity to play someone like Betsy and take this role on, I felt the weight of it and I felt a huge responsibility.”
Dever got started by doing a deep dive into anything she could find on YouTube and any documentaries she could find on the subject. Plus, she also had someone on set that helped her with some aspects you can’t find in a book or documentary.
“I was so grateful to [showrunner] Danny [Strong] for allowing me to take on this kind of role. I also met this incredible person on set with me who actually shared a very similar story to Betsy’s. What’s interesting is that there are a lot of clinical facts about the side effects of how Oxy affects someone and what the withdrawals are kind of like, but you never get a full grasp of how it affects someone emotionally and how it really takes a toll on someone’s brain chemistry. And this person that was with me every day on set was really just so kind and helpful and willing to share their story with me whenever I had any questions.”
An Actor’s Process Includes Spreadsheets
All of this really helped Dever to be able to do the character justice. When it came to capturing the unimaginable pain that Oxy victims go through, she came up with spreadsheets to figure out where her character was in this arduous journey.
“You just really have to as best as you can put yourself in this person’s shoes. Reading this story on paper is so heartbreaking, but actually bringing it to life is even more heartbreaking. On a day-to-day basis on set, every day was completely different from the next and most days I was just trying to keep myself present and in the moment. Most of our episodes were completely shot out of order, so that was another thing about my preparation. I actually created a spreadsheet, because I wanted to make sure I was able to keep track of those levels of withdrawals and emotions. My sister helped me and we sat down and went through each episode. I had a little box on the side where I would note what I ended up doing in the scene. I had never done it before, but I think it was extremely important for this role.”
She also had to remember to remove herself from the process of creating this pain.
“I think about how this was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do, but at the end of the day, if I had been crying all day or was physically exhausted, I really just forgot about how Kaitlyn felt because this project and this person I’m playing is so much bigger than me. No matter how tired I was, it doesn’t even compare to a person who’s actually going through this. It doesn’t even compare. That’s what I was really thinking about on a daily basis.”
Betsy and Dr. Finnix and Marie on Unbelievable
A lot of blame goes around on Dopesick, including DEA agent Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson) going after the Sackler family for all of the misinformation about Oxy, but Betsy never blames her doctor (Michael Keaton) for prescribing Oxycontin to her to alleviate her pain from a coal mining accident. Dever believes that this is probably because Dr. Finnix also becomes addicted to the medication.
“The relationship between Dr. Finnix and Betsy really stood out to me when I first read the script. Their relationship is just so beautiful and special. She’s able to go to him about anything and she’s someone who really puts a lot of trust in him. These were two people who had no idea what this drug was going to actually do. They were both affected by it in the same way. In my eyes, she is a person that had so many plans for her life and this is something that was completely unexpected, but I don’t think she ever blamed him and I think that’s because she knew they were both in the same boat.”
Dever’s Betsy struggles to get off of Oxy throughout the whole series, resorting to other drugs and even selling her body in order to get high. With Dever alone in a lot of her scenes, it’s an internal performance very reminiscent of another Dever character: her rape victim Marie in Netflix’s Unbelievable.
“Getting to play Marie and then Betsy—those two characters so strong and powerful women that really had no other option to be alone in their journey, because no one was helping them. Obviously completely different stories, but I think the isolation does help with the preparation for the role. I tend to internalize a lot when I take on a role, and I think the isolation does help and it definitely helped me for sure.”
One Final Call
In the beginning of the series, the main thing Betsy seeks in her life is acceptance from her parents of her sexuality and relationship with Grace (Cleopatra Coleman). But when she finally receives that, it’s tragically too late in her addiction for her to realize.
“She really wanted this acceptance from her father in her relationship, yes, but also with her job and coal mining. She really genuinely loved mining. I think with both of her parents she wanted this acceptance. I think that’s what makes it even more heartbreaking when her family is all there when she comes home from Florida and that’s when the acceptance came. Everywhere she turned she had nowhere to go. I think with Danny’s writing, I think that was extremely important for the world to see, even if it’s not the easiest thing to come to terms with. This really does affect people who are addicted but also the families of those who become addicted.”
Betsy and Grace had a dream to go to Eureka Springs, Ark., together for a different life, but sadly Grace gets there and Betsy doesn’t. One of Betsy’s final scenes is an emotional call to Grace to see if there might still be a chance for them, but Grace has moved on with someone else whom she has a child with.
“That scene breaks my heart just thinking about it. Makes me want to start crying. I think Betsy in that moment really thought, okay, Dr. Finnix is going to pick me up in the morning, and I’m gonna try to fix this. She had already given it so many tries. It was impossible. She being the strong person that she is is going to try yet again and I don’t know if Grace would have changed things for her, but having that conversation at the end of her story showed how this drug takes away everything that you have in your life. Shooting that scene was heartbreaking but actually I wanted to make sure I was able to talk to Cleopatra to really be able to talk to her at the end, and I also did that with Michael, too. Whenever we were shooting our sides of it, I made sure to call Michael, and Michael made sure to call me, and same thing with Cleopatra. Those were our final moments together, so it was really important to me and to everybody that we had a chance to actually talk to one another.”
Dever believes that what’s so effective about Dopesick is the way it really changes the narrative of opioid addiction without sugar-coating anything, especially in the way Betsy’s story ends.
“That she doesn’t make it, I think it’s extremely important for the world to see a lot of people don’t make it through this. For Betsy’s journey, all she was doing was desperately trying to get better.”
Dopesick is streaming on Hulu.