• Seg. Jul 22nd, 2024

Tahmoh Penikett on The Killer Inside: The Ruth Finley Story’s Powerful Themes and Collaborating with Teri Hatcher


Jun 28, 2024
Tahmoh Penikett and Teri Hatcher - The Killer Inside

Lifetime is delivering another moving ripped-from-the-headlines story.

With its retro vibes and fascinating explorations of mental health and other themes, The Killer Inside: The Ruth Finley Story is compelling.

It’s also helmed by a truly dynamic duo, Teri Hatcher and Tahmoh Penikett.

We had the distinct pleasure of hopping on Zoom with Penikett to discuss the importance of this story and the complexities of his role.

The incredibly insightful and passionate star also speaks about his excellent collaboration with Teri Hatcher, the personal inspiration he drew from for his role, and so much more. Check it out!

This is such a fascinating story and film, and I’d love to know how you got involved with this project.

Yeah, it was the typical way. The manager or the agents sent me the script and said they were interested, “Would you take a look? Would you like to read?” It’s the normal process.

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I asked who was attached. They said Teri wasn’t locked, but they were strongly trying to get Teri Hatcher. And I said, Teri Hatcher?

As actors, one of the things that we are most attracted to is working with people we respect and who are accomplished.

Not always, but if you respect an actor’s work, you know they have an excellent reputation, you jump at those opportunities.

We do this because we enjoy the experience of acting with an individual. It’s the dance.

It’s reciprocal give and take. And when you do it with the best people, it’s one of the best highs in the world. And I knew the opportunity to work with Teri would supersede even a bad script. I said, if Teri’s doing it, I’m in. I read the script.

I was super encouraged. Very happy. I was like, this is fantastic.

The funny thing is, I hadn’t heard about it. So, I researched afterward and discovered how big of a story this was and how relevant it was.

Teri Hatcher is like a television icon. You guys have great chemistry in the film. I was going to ask you about working with her if that chemistry was instant.

I’ve been very blessed in my career. I’ve worked with four different Academy Award nominees. I’ve worked with some Emmy Award winners. Man, it’s exciting because you know it will up your game.

There are only two ways about it. They’re going to make you better. Or you’re going to be left behind.

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 I’ve been doing this for a long time. I say this with humility, but I’m a veteran myself. I jump at the opportunity to work with somebody who is going to impress me, and who is going to be excellent at their job and recognized amongst our peers as excellent at their job.

And Teri is that. She’s so accomplished. She’s done so many hours of television.

She’s such a craftsman. One of my biggest concerns, Jasmine, was that she was coming straight from a project in Europe. She went right into the wardrobe, off the plane, jet-lagged, and they worked her the next day.


She went right into it. And as you know, much of the material is very heavy. For an artist, it’s difficult. But she just dived right in like a pro.

You can see that veteran mentality with her. She shuts out anything else that doesn’t need to be there.

She focuses on the work, and she bangs it out in every take. As an actor, when you see someone commit so much to each scene, they’re so invested in telling the truth and being there; it’s the best experience because you know that this person is truly passionate about the craft the way you are.

You can get to it and tell the story. I love working with artists like that. I would jump at the opportunity to work with Teri again.

We found some opportunities to get to know each other and have good conversations between all that heavy material.

I love that your passion for the craft comes through when you talk about it.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Pullman for another Lifetime movie a while back. You say almost the exact same thing about being around other people who elevate you and being able to feed off of each other.

I’m a big fan of Bill and have had the opportunity to work with him. I did a movie with him about 12 years ago. And like a stellar cast. Richard Schiff, Bill Pullman, Marcia Gay Harden, Alfred Molina.

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The little old me was number five on the list, and I couldn’t believe it. I got to do a lawyer-type story called Innocent with them, and Bill was such a sweetheart.

I am a big fan of his work and love his son’s work on Outer Range.

The Killer Inside was very heavy material. You told me how Teri navigated it, but how did you navigate it?

Ed was such an interesting character because he was just so solid, stable, and routine. This situation shook him up, and it’s really interesting to see a character like that get put in such an unusual situation.

Yeah. Not to take away anything from committed partners these days, but this story was set during an era when many of those values were prevalent — especially in Wichita, in the South, where many traditional conservative values are much more prevalent.

You’re committed. You raise a family together; you work hard.

You’re an upstanding contributing individual to your community and a good neighbor, but you keep to yourselves. You don’t air your grievances or personal issues to your family or the greater community.

That is the detriment and issue with many of those old values and beliefs. Those aren’t good, positive, healthy ways to live.

And for me, as an actor, you try to find things you understand about the character right away as best you can. And you find intuitive things that connect with you right away. Sometimes, you immediately think, ” Oh, this guy reminds me of this person.”

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Ed reminded me of my grandfather on my father’s side. I’m Native American on my mother’s side, and I’m British Welsh on my father’s side.

My grandparents, my dad’s parents, are World War II veterans. They went through the war in Britain. My grandfather was an RAF pilot and a bomber.

So he experienced and went through horrendous stuff, but they were married for 62 years.

During the Second World War, people often forget that 60 million people died at the time.

If you do the math for what that would equate to today, we’re talking hundreds of millions of people; if there was ever a just war, that was it.

Yet you think about the trauma they experienced, the PTSD, the inability to talk about it, especially British, the English are very similar to the South and those conservative values.

You don’t air your stuff. My grandfather was such a committed husband, and he loved his wife so much. They had four wonderful children, survived a world war, and immigrated to Canada.

And this is a very intimate thing that I’m going to share with you, but I’ll share it with you a bit.

He was having some issues near the end of his life, just memory issues that happened with a lot of elderly people, but I will never forget how, in a confused moment, the one thing he remembered and the one thing he wanted more than anything was his wife.

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I get emotional even thinking about it, just the way he said it.

I was a young man at the time, but I remember it resonating with me in such a way.

I want that in life. I want to be that committed. I want to find a life partner where, no matter what’s happening, there is confusion, duress, or mental illness. I know I’ve got a partner who has my back and those qualities, that commitment, and that love I wanted to come through in Ed.

You can see in the script that this guy was beyond committed.

He was such a rock. He loved his wife so much and was committed to a fault because he did not give away anything. However, he realized later that there were some things he could not see because of his devotion and commitment to his wife.

I understood at a cerebral and emotional level because of my experience with my grandfather; that was the part of it that I could communicate through this character and by portraying him.

You did that incredibly well. The film is fascinating because, in a way, it’s balancing this exploration of trauma with this unorthodox love story, and you’re onto something about how dated it is.

Their love isn’t something you see anymore in modern romances, that level of commitment.

I love hearing you talk about that because it was one of the instant things I connected to while watching the film.

And how about getting to play around in the 70s? What was that like for you?

I love that era, too. I’m old enough to remember some of it.

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years as a professional, but wearing the clothes was so familiar and comfortable to me. It was, and I say this humbly, but Teri, everyone said, “God, look at the clothes they got you.” They somehow found the most perfect seventies and eighties clothes for me.

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I also tried to listen to music from that time to get me in the headspace.

It’s a very different time. They didn’t have the distraction that we have. A significant aspect of this story is the amount of news and press they were listening to, and it was a fraction of the information that we’re all taking in today, a fraction.

We are inundated with news and tweets and updates and trauma here and violence here and another war here, another typhoon and a flood, and this many dead… We are overwhelmed that our poor little brains can’t handle it.

And yet, we consume it and can’t stop. And that is a very interesting part of this story.

It feels grounded and truthful to an era that a lot of people, I believe, who will watch this movie will know because they experienced it like, wow, that really was that way.

It wasn’t as distracted. You were more consumed and present with the conflicts and threats that were happening in the story that we are today.

Today, we are so scattered. Again, to your point, part of the reason we don’t see examples of that with relationships today is that it’s hard to zero in.

We’ve got children, work, and activities, and then we’re all consumed with social media and everything that’s going on, being inundated by all these networks and conflicting information. And we don’t know what’s real or not.

So I really think that’s an aspect of this film that people will respond to. They’ll drop in; they’ll feel grounded. And then we realize and remember an era that wasn’t that long ago was very different.

And maybe when we touch on the aspects of trauma and mental health issues, we realize how we’ve gone in a really bad direction in a lot of ways, but positive in other ways, like specifically not having so much stigma about these issues and talking about it.

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And yet we’re still celebrating and consumed with social media, which has been proven, especially with children and many people, to increase depression and suicide, and it’s challenging.

It is.

The film also does a good job of alluding to that. I enjoy the fact that the BTK killer was hovering in the background. You don’t usually see many stories that explore the societal, communal impact and trauma that happens to people who aren’t directly affected by something like that.

Most films explore the actual killer or specific victims and their families. In contrast, you could feel how scary this collective fear was for the entire community. I thought it was interesting to explore because you don’t see that angle often, especially in this era.

Awesome. I’m really happy you enjoyed it. I’m excited for people to see it.

It’s an important film.

Related: The Ethics of True Crime: Are Viewers Complicit In an Exploitative Enterprise

I think Lifetime has been so successful in telling stories like these because we live in an era, too, where, unfortunately, to the detriment of independent film and smaller productions, big feature films with massive budgets are the only ones that are really drawing in the audiences as a whole.

But is it affecting them in a way that a personal film, a real story that’s based on true events, can affect people?

Maybe not. And that is the beauty of film. That’s why we go to see art like this.

People will respond to this one in particular. Lifetime does an excellent job exploring these based on real-event stories, and people need to connect in that way.

I don’t want to delve off in a different direction, but I think it has to do with everything. There’s a real focus in the media as a whole. There are forces out there that are really trying to divide us all the time.

They’re constantly stoking the anger and the bigotry between groups and trying to make us all individuals and demonize other groups. And at the end of the day, we’re all humans. And we have more in common than we have differences.

We need to find those aspects in individuals, even if we have different political and religious views. Empathy is lacking today and is impossible to attain through social media. We need to get back to that. Everyone needs to be reminded about that.

This is an era in which we touch on some of those issues. We all need to find common values and love for each other moving forward. It’s essential for the survival of humanity, really.

It is. I was going to ask what some of your final thoughts were to entice people to watch, but you’ve really covered all of it well.

I can’t recall if this is your first time working with Lifetime, but I would love to see you join forces with them again.

It’s my second. I did a film for them about four years ago. Everyone I’ve dealt with so far in Lifetime in my two experiences has been fantastic. They’ve been really respectful to the artists and the craft.

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I enjoy working with them. They’re wonderful. You can tell the caliber of actors and stories they’re telling.

It’s just a testament to how much people are responding. The audiences are responding to them, and I look forward to hopefully doing more work with them in the future.

— This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Killer Inside: The Ruth Finley Story premieres Saturday, June 29 at 8/7c on Lifetime.

Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You’ll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on X.


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