Rebecca Godfrey Was More Involved in Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’ Than You Think

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Who Is Rebecca Godfrey?Darko Sikman
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Hulu’s latest miniseries, Under the Bridge, has sent everyone (okay, maybe just me) into a tailspin. Set in 1997 in Saanich, Canada, the show tracks the disappearance and murder of Reena Virk—a fourteen-year-old girl who went missing after attending a party.

Under the Bridge is based on a true story, which author Rebecca Godfrey told in her book of the same name. The Hulu series was co-produced by Godfrey and Quinn Shephard. When Shephard began working on the show, she turned Godfrey into a character (played by Riley Keough). Shephard told IndieWire that reading Under the Bridge made her instantly curious about the writer, who included her perspective and life story in the text—and often empathized with the victim and perpetrators. “I thought it was so fascinating she had grown up in the same town as the kids and that she had such an interest in writing fiction about the criminal-justice system, juvie centers for kids, and young teens growing up in Victoria,” Shephard said. “Then she kind of stumbled into this story that was like a real-life version of the fiction she was writing. I just thought it was very cinematic. I thought, Oh, here’s a way to comment on the perspective of true crime.”

The show’s version of Godfrey is fictionalized to an extent—Under the Bridge invents a steamy romance with Cam (Lily Gladstone), a childhood friend-turned-detective—but her essence remains. She is a former troubled kid whom the local teenagers trust and spill their secrets to, and her ability to connect with them helps piece together the case. “This woman in her twenties went and did what no journalist, no cop, and no lawyer was able to do, which is get the real truth of what happened,” Shephard told Vulture.

Below, we break down everything you need to know about Rebecca Godfrey.

Who Was Rebecca Godfrey?

under the bridge
Riley Keough as Rebecca Godfrey. Darko Sikman

Rebecca Godfrey was born on December 2, 1967, in Toronto and raised in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Later in life, she moved to New York City to pursue her career as a writer. Her mother, Ellen (Swartz) Godfrey, was an editor and mystery writer. Her father, David Godfrey, was an English professor and publisher. Her brother, Jonathan, died when he was sixteen. He fell from a bluff and drowned, which had a lasting impact on Godfrey’s life and writing.

Godfrey studied English at the University of Toronto and earned her M.F.A. in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She wrote three books: The Torn Skirt, Under the Bridge, and Peggy, which will be published posthumously in August. Godfrey died on October 3, 2022. Her agent, Christy Fletcher, confirmed her death, citing the cause as complications from lung cancer. She was fifty-four.

Why Did Rebecca Godfrey Write Under the Bridge?

Godfrey wrote the book because she felt a personal connection to the case. Reena Virk died in the area where she grew up—and the accused teenagers were similar to the kids Godfrey spent time with in her youth.

Her ability to relate to the perpetrators shaped her writing. Though the teenagers who killed Virk were guilty of a horrible crime, Under the Bridge uses exclusive interviews with the accused to provide a fresh perspective on bullying and coming of age. “I was so struck by how gentle [the book] was,” Shephard told IndieWire. “And there was a real sensitivity to the way that it approached the holistic story, as well as all of the characters. It was a very beautiful book; it was very poetic. I was really shocked that a story that was so dark and so brutal could have so much tenderness. [It’s] really a story of childhood and coming of age.”

Under the Bridge was originally published in 2005. In 2006, the book received British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. It was republished in 2019 with an introduction written by Mary Gaitskill.

How Was Rebecca Godfrey Involved in the Series?

In 2020, Shephard approached Godfrey about turning Under the Bridge into a television show. She told Vulture that she’d moved to upstate New York, fifteen minutes away from Godfrey, so that they could work together. “She read a lot of drafts of the pilot,” Shephard said. “She showed me all this research and her old family photos. She gave me all her diaries. She had everything from when she researched the crime—the entire police file, all of the recordings, transcripts of every interview she did—in eight or nine file boxes.”

Even though Godfrey died before the show debuted, she played a pivotal role in its creation. Shephard said she often turned to Godfrey for notes on episodes. She also included vulnerable details from her life to craft Keough’s complex character. “I think there was an element of knowing she was at the end of her life,” Shephard explained. “She was very ready to allow me to go to her most personal places and put that on the screen. Every time I turned in an episode outline to her, I’d be spinning out on the other side, like, Oh God, this is so fucking personal, and then she would send back her notes, and they would just be about a line Josephine says. She never seemed to feel a real pressure to want the character to be hyper-lovable or sanitized.”

Given Godfrey’s prognosis, her and Shephard’s mantra was “Get as far as we can, while we can.” Shephard told Vulture, “She was literally reading the scripts in hospice and calling me and having her daughter read the scripts to her.” Though Godfrey never saw the final product, she is credited as an executive producer on Under the Bridge.

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