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Warning: This post contains spoilers for episode 7 of Dopesick.
From the jump, Hulu's Dopesick has told the story of the start of the opioid epidemic from many different perspectives. The drama follows members of the Sackler family who first created OxyContin, victims affected by the drug, DEA agents trying to put a stop to it, and others. But for Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever), OxyContin was the medication her trusted doctor (played by Michael Keaton) prescribed when she hurt her back working in the mines. And ultimately, it became the thing she couldn't live without.
In a story about such a massive epidemic, Betsy represented so many of the people who innocently trusted their doctors only to have their lives ruined. In the series' penultimate episode, she lost her battle with addiction when she overdosed on heroin. (The final episode of Dopesick will be available Nov. 17.)
EW spoke with Dever about her time playing Betsy and what she hopes the impact of this story will be.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I'll be honest, I didn't know a ton about the start of the opioid epidemic going into this. Obviously I know of the opioid crisis, but I've also learned a lot from watching Dopesick. How much did you know going into this project?
KAITLYN DEVER: I think maybe the same as you did. I didn't know much. I knew about the Oxy crisis. But I didn't know about the Sackler family. I didn't know what was going on with Purdue Pharma. I had no knowledge of any of that until I read the first script. And also then after getting the job, I started reading Dopesick, the book that Beth Macy wrote. I had really no knowledge of the injustice of all of it and how mind-blowing it is. It's really, really heartbreaking. I've spoken with a lot of my friends too, and it's the same thing. We don't really know what was going on. And what's still going on, truly.
Gene Page/Hulu Kaitlyn Dever on 'Dopesick'
Betsy's story is such a crucial one in this series, because you're essentially the face of the victims. If viewers don't care about Betsy, the story doesn't work. Did you feel the pressure that comes along with a role like that?
I really did. And that's something that is a really big responsibility to take on. What became so clear to me immediately when I read the script was that we were able to make a story out of it and allow people to really understand this a bit better and to open everybody's eyes to the injustice of this crisis. We're seeing it from really both sides. We're seeing it from the Purdue Pharma/Sackler family side, and then also getting a glimpse of how it truly affects the victims. Whenever I'm able to be a part of projects that move the needle forward or start a conversation or allow people to feel seen by a project in some way, that is a dream come true.
[Series creator] Danny[Strong] said, "This needs to be told in a very honest way, and this cannot be sugarcoated anymore. It cannot be buried anymore." And I think that that's so important for a show like this. So I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to get that right, and to do it with respect and care. And I just fell in love with her too. I fell in love with playing her. She's such a strong, resilient person that had plans for her life and loved her job. And what happens to her is just completely out of her control and completely unexpected. It was definitely a lot of pressure to take on that kind of role, but I think, again, it was something that needed to be told and deserves to be told.
This show is based on true stories, but Betsy is a representation of many people, right? There's not one real Betsy out there?
Yes. She's a fictional character that represents a lot of people.
And you all actually shot in some of these places, which I'm sure helped. I know you shot in and around Richmond, Va.
I loved Richmond. I loved the house that I was staying in. I had my dog there with me. Aside from the work I was actually doing on that show, which was so, so hard, there was something so comforting about being in Richmond. I don't know why. I just really liked it.
Speaking of how difficult the role was, there are a couple scenes that have been burned into my brain, like when Betsy's dad takes her pills away. It's so good, but it must have been so emotionally taxing for you to have to go to that place. What was that experience like?
It never feels like work when you're doing this for a very good reason. I mean, obviously it was hard. It was hard for me, but I just enter into a place when I care about something so much. I enter into a place where I completely remove myself from it. Nothing is an inconvenience to me anymore. I am there to serve the story and to serve the character. Literally anything can happen and I almost wouldn't notice because I'm paying attention to what's actually going on in those scenes.
Some days I woke up with the puffiest face from crying all night, but truly, I just genuinely cared about getting it right so much that I completely forgot about it. I removed myself from the equation and just focused on making sure that I was doing it right. And I know that the few hard days I had on set were nothing in comparison to what someone that's actually going through this feels. But yeah, it was the hardest thing I've had to do so far. It was the hardest thing I've shot.
I'm assuming you knew going into this that Betsy wasn't going to make it out?
Yes, I read the whole story and knew her arc from beginning, middle, and end. But I almost didn't want to. I just wanted to focus on what I was doing day to day, because that's really only what she knew, and what happened to her was so unexpected. From the very beginning she just genuinely thought she was going in to see her doctor for a back injury that she had. And she thought she was getting some medicine to make it better. And then from then on, it was just a total decline. Also, there wasn't a moment in time there where she was just genuinely feeling good about herself. She felt good about herself, but she also wasn't feeling any pain anymore, which was so heartbreaking for me to think about because then slowly after that, that's when her decline began and she had no plans for that. I mean, this literally happened to her and she had no control over it. It was very, very hard.
There's so much power in telling this story on such a big scale. This is where television could really have an impact.
Well, yeah. I think there are people that are like you and me, that didn't know a lot about it. And also people that do know a lot about it and want the real thing to be told and people who have been affected by it personally, whether they've gone through addiction themselves or have lost someone to this crisis. It's a story that I think really, really deserves to be told. And the fact that it's being told in such a big way is great too. It's not something that you have to kind of seek out and find. It's accessible. It's on a platform like Hulu, which a lot of people are going to see, which I think is so important.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.