Interview with producer Barbara Lieberman and star Julie Benz of “Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer” on Lifetime by Suzanne 5/19/21
Julie is one of my favorite actresses. I’ve followed her career since she played “Babs” in “Honey I’m Home” back in 1991. She’s proven what a great actress she is over and over in many roles, such as Darla on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel;” in the original “Roswell;” in “Desperate Housewives;” in “Dexter;” and in “Defiance.” I could go on and on. She really shines in this starring role as a manipulative and murderous woman (unfortunately, based on a true story). I enjoyed speaking with her about it. I’ve interviewed her before, but this was the first time on Zoom, so it was very special to me. It was also very enjoyable to hear her and the producer discuss the film and the real woman that Julie is portraying.
SECRETS OF A GOLD DIGGER PANEL
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 (Executive Producer): 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. And you know the depths that she could go were, I think very dramatic and would would make a fascinating movie and I was particularly attracted also to the girls, her daughters and how their relationship between 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.
Moderator: Thank you, Barbara. Our next question is from Suzanne.
Suzanne Lanoue (TVMeg): 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 prepare for 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. And 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. And 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 A.) I’d 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 who was very savvy in her in her manipulation and smart about it. And could you know 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.
Suzanne Lanoue (TVMeg): I imagine that’s a characteristic that most gold diggers share. I actually knew a gold digger of a friend of mine. Married one and she didn’t kill him, thankfully. She took him for all he was worth so the same kind of manipulation that you’re talking about, so…thank you.
Moderator: Thanks Suzanne. Our next question is from Jamie.
Jamie (Starry Magazine): Hi Julie, great to talk to you again. Can you talk about working with the accent and the challenge of that?
Julie Benz: Um 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 and just 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. 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 all the like having the emotional range and having that go through your voice.
Jamie: Well, it was believable, so thank you.
Julie Benz: Thank you!
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question is from Jay Bobbin.
Jay Bobbin (Gracenote): 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 like I’m gonna, I’m gonna just let it go. It’s up to you to tell me when I need 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 you know under a second so it was really in Robin’s hands to help like tell me like that. Take it down a little bit, you know. Next, take let’s you know, try a different approach. All of that. So Robin really helped me craft the performance of her as well.
Jay Bobbin (Gracenote): Thank you.
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 and definitely 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 like there were some scenes that really just that broke my heart as an actress where I really scared Roan and Georgia who played my daughters and 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 it’s like you know they would 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: Thanks you guys. 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, I love to work with Lifetime. I mean in the past that 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, but many other places but Lifetimes great. And there you know, there very much now very opened to pushing the envelope. On their subject matter and the execution, they if it’s dark, they’re OK 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? Like what was the start of your work on this project?
Barbara Lieberman: Me?
Barbara Lieberman: I read about this story 17 years ago and started developing it then and it was a long haul and we had a good script. But then somehow the regimes changed, and it went away. And then last year Lifetime asked me to do another true crime and I said OK to that. And 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, OK, let’s make it. I mean it was…it was great so that that worked out really well. And 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.
Moderator: Thank you, Barbara. Our next question is from Steve Gidlow.
Steve Gidlow (Media Village): Hi, 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 – 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 when you when you watch her 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…everybody was out to get her. This is a total lie. This didn’t happen. She’s so innocent. And then you know, 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…
Steve Gidlow (Media Village): Thanks so much guys, appreciate it.
Moderator: Thank you guys so much. Julie, this is our last question and it’s for you. If you could talk to Celeste and actually this is 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 you know, I know what her answer would be and it would be a lie. I would say do…did you…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 in cooking has published a cookbook from prison. Prison Recipes by Celeste Beard. I mean it 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’s 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.
Moderator: Well thank you guys so very much for being here today. We can’t wait to watch Secrets of the Gold Digger Killer. Everybody, please stand by for the next panel.
Based on a true story, multimillionaire Steven Beard (Eli Gabay), a retired broadcasting executive, who fell hard for Celeste (Julie Benz), an attractive waitress who served him his nightly cocktail at the local country club in Austin, Texas. In 1995, the 70-year-old widow married the mother of teenage daughters and gave Celeste homes, cars, and more jewelry and designer clothes than she could ever wear. But it wasn’t enough for Celeste. After being admitted into a mental health facility for depression, Celeste met and seduced fellow patient Tracey Tarlton (Justine Warrington), convincing her that the only way they could be together would be to murder Steven. Knowing that she stood to inherit millions of dollars upon his death, the depth of Celeste’s lies, and betrayal knew no bounds until the truth was finally revealed by Tracey.
Produced by Fortune Hunter Films and based on The Fortune Hunter by Suzy Spencer, Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer is directed by Robin Hays and executive produced by Barbara Lieberman and Howard Braunstein.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda