Penelope Ann Miller plays Letourneau in USA drama
Tribune Media Services
You might not recognize the woman's name, but you probably know her story.
She was the Seattle-area teacher who romanced one of her students, then had two children by him.
The USA Network drama, "The Mary Kay Letourneau Story: All-American Girl," will air at 8 p.m. Tuesday, with Penelope Ann Miller as the married mother of four who had an affair with a pupil (Omar Anguiano). Upon becoming pregnant by him the first time, she was arrested and fired from her job. She ended up in custody again for resuming her romance with him, resulting in another wave of scandalous headlines.
Later, Letourneau delivered another child by him while serving a prison term at the Washington State Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, having been sentenced on the charge of raping a child. Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl co-stars as a psychiatrist who testified on Letourneau's behalf at her first trial. A related special with many real-life participants in the case - including Letourneau, interviewed from jail - immediately follows the movie at 10 o'clock.
"There's not a person I've run into who doesn't know about this (story)," Miller says. "It's pretty interesting to me that everyone has an awareness of it, since it seems that people are still fascinated with her and what she did. They have very strong opinions on both sides, but in the movie, we've tried to tell the story honestly and realistically without bias. We just use the facts as we have them and let the audience decide, and I think we've handled this well in that respect.
"What's daunting to me," Miller adds, "is that all of the people portrayed in the film are living, breathing human beings. In depicting someone's actual life, you want to do it with integrity and not get into the fray of potentially hurtful (aspects). Mary has a good relationship with the film's producers, and even though there's some creative license taken, she knew some things would be hard to watch even if they were true."
In preparing for the movie, Miller communicated with Letourneau by telephone. "We just spoke about what brought her to certain places emotionally," the actress reports, "and some of the decisions she made, like why she went back to see Vili (the young man) again when she knew she could get caught. Also, we talked about why it was him who she felt was her soul mate and the love of her life. She told me that he became ageless to her. I just tried to get into her psyche, and she talked to me very openly.
"There are many true-life stories that show there are different forms of love. Some people fall in love with someone who abuses them, and why is it (necessary to be with) that person? How can you define it, and how can you judge it? I think people wonder about such things all the time."
Delicate as the situation was, Miller felt reasonably comfortable in her intimate scenes with young co-star Anguiano. She deems them "realistic but not gratuitous. There is something about Omar that is very wise beyond his years, just as Mary claims Vili is. Omar has a certain insight and depth, yet he seems more of an innocent to me than Vili. If you read interviews with Vili or hear tapes of him, he has much more of a streetwise sensibility."
"The Mary Kay Letourneau Story" works for Miller the same way as many of her theatrical films ("Carlito's Way," "The Freshman," etc.), since she likes using her wholesome looks to surprise moviegoers. "Playing an ingenue didn't always inspire or excite me," she explains.
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