the act

Gypsy Rose Blanchard’s Stepmom Has a Bone to Pick With The Act

Photo: Brownie Harris/Hulu

Nothing about the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her late mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, is what it seems. The sordid details have been laid bare over the past several years via tireless beat coverage from Gypsy’s hometown newspaper, News Leader, a sprawling feature investigation by BuzzFeed reporter Michelle Dean, and filmmaker Erin Lee Carr’s much-discussed 2017 HBO documentary, Mommy Dead and Dearest. In essence, Gypsy was victimized for virtually her entire life by Dee’s Dee’s Munchausen syndrome by proxy, meaning Gypsy was confined to a wheelchair under the pretense of suffering from legitimate chronic illnesses and subjected to decades of tests and surgeries — when in fact she was nominally healthy and capable of walking. All of this came to light after Gypsy and her secret online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, conspired for Nick to fatally stab Dee Dee in the Blanchards’ Springfield, Missouri, home in June 2015.

Gypsy is currently not quite three years into a ten-year sentence for second-degree murder. (Her father, Rod, who was separated from Dee Dee when she was very young and kept at a distance from Gypsy throughout her life, is actively petitioning Missouri governor Mike Parson for his daughter’s early release.) Godejohn was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder.

This year, the inevitable TV dramatizations materialized, starting in January with Lifetime’s heavily fictionalized Love You to Death. Two months later, Hulu premiered its hotly tipped eight-part series The Act. The comparatively grounded account was adapted from Dean’s BuzzFeed piece — with Dean serving as co-executive producer and co-writer — and stars Patricia Arquette as Dee Dee and Joey King as Gypsy Rose.

All the while, Gypsy’s stepmother Kristy Blanchard — who appeared on-camera in Mommy Dead and Dearest alongside her husband Rod and was interviewed for Dean’s BuzzFeed story — had been collaborating with an online marketing coach/screenwriter named Franchesca Macelli on their own, authorized dramatic series based on Gypsy’s story, titled By Proxy. Kristy and Macelli maintain that as their project hit one roadblock after the next (they are still searching for a broadcast partner), Dean and The Act’s producers essentially iced them out of any involvement in their series, reneging on promises of participation and shared profits.

I spoke to Kristy and Macelli via three-way conference call — Macelli dialing in from Louisville, Kentucky, and Kristy from her and Rod’s home in Cut Off, Louisiana — to discuss their feelings about The Act (they had only seen the three episodes that had aired as of our interview), what they perceive as a betrayal by Dean and her co-producers, and the motivation for wanting to tell Gypsy’s story their way. (Attempts to reach out to Dean and The Act’s co-producers, both directly and through Hulu representatives, have yet to receive a response.)

When did your relationship with Michelle Dean and The Act’s producers begin to become estranged?

Kristy Blanchard: It was in August [2018] when she told me she didn’t think [The Act] was going to go anywhere, that she was depressed, that she was sorry for not reaching out. Because I had sent her a text telling her, “What’s going on? We haven’t heard from you.” When we first talked about [The Act], she had told me she was going to talk to the producers because she wanted us to be included. She called me a couple of days after the fact and said that the producers — and she didn’t say who they were — did not want us to interact because I might tell whoever’s playing our parts that, “Oh, you’re walking wrong.” And I’m like, “Seriously?”

Franchesca Macelli: I’ve tried to reach out in the past and got no response whatsoever. I’ve had the life rights signed by Gypsy and Rod and Kristy since June of 2017. I came down to see you and spent time with you and the family. I also interviewed all of Dee Dee’s family and got cooperation with them. My intention was never to take this away from Michelle, but she refused to participate with me in any way, shape, or form, and she knew I had garnered the life rights and continued to pursue what she was doing. And that’s when I know she basically cut them out and made the decision to go forward with whatever she felt she wanted to do. I think she did not want to be inhibited by Kristy or Rod or Gypsy in any way.

After [The Act] had been announced in the media, that was the first time we knew the show was going forward, and so we sent a certified letter to [co-executive producer] Nick Antosca’s managers, who are the executive producers, and they did not even sign for it. So they would not even read the letter from Kristy asking them to cease and desist or to contact her to get the correct information. Michelle has been rather underhanded in the ways she has gone about this. She at one point said she would split any type of proceeds she got with the Blanchards to put into a nest egg for Gypsy. That never happened.

When she alluded to sharing profits, was that more of a statement of hopeful intent depending on whether anything was adapted from the BuzzFeed article, or a concrete assurance?

Blanchard: She promised me. We were on a phone conversation, and she had told me that whatever she made, it didn’t matter what it was, she was gonna send us 50 percent of what she made and she was gonna keep 50 percent. And then a couple of days later is when she called me and told me she talked to the producers and they didn’t want to interact with us.

Now that you have seen three episodes of The Act, is there anything to this point you would want to clarify?

Blanchard: Aleah [Woodmansee], which is [Gypsy’s friend and neighbor] Lacey in [The Act], they have got her all wrong. She is the total opposite of that. It hurts Aleah because she lives in Springfield, and people are going to look at her differently and she’s scared that it affects her job and reputation.

You’re referring to scenes where she’s hanging out with friends and smoking?

Blanchard: Yeah, and handing the joint or whatever it was to Gypsy. That really shook Aleah up, and I don’t blame her.

Macelli: And the scenes with that other Wolverine [played by Dean Norris], the one that’s supposed to be pursuing Dee Dee, that never happened. And even the depiction of what happened with her and this other guy, that’s basically muddled into further things with Nick. So what they’re doing is creating their own story, and the problem with that is it’s not until the end of each episode that they say, “Well, this might be dramatized.” [Note: The full disclaimer prior to each episode’s end credits reads, “While this program is based on real events, some scenes and characters have been dramatized or fictionalized.”] It’s confusing people into believing this narrative, instead of taking the time to tell the truthful story.

Franchesca, why should people accept at face value that your intentions are pure?

Macelli: I can say that no one is going to know that until our show would be presented, but I guess it might stem from the fact that I have gone above and beyond to ensure I’ve not just talked with Gypsy and Kristy and Rod. I have all the medical documents, the entire files from the police reports. I reached out on numerous occasions to the Godejohn family and have finally garnered an interview with them. So through that it would show my intention is different, that I am really about the truth. And I have listed Kristy as a producer and co-writer in this, to make sure that what we’re doing is different.

Blanchard: And Franchesca and I talk every day.

Macelli: Will I make money? Sure. But will I make millions of dollars? No, I won’t. My intention when I reached out was we just needed someone to hear everything and make sense of it instead of just telling a portion and people having more and more questions.

Kristy, since the past few years have been so overwhelming, why would you want to be so intimately involved in yet another televised production about it? Or possibly pursue legal action against The Act’s creators as has been reported?

Blanchard: If they’re gonna do a show, the whole truth needs to be out there. It goes so much further than Dee Dee and Gypsy. It goes back to the way Dee Dee was raised and stuff like that. We have agreed to tell the good, the bad, the ugly, everything. We are not going to fabricate anything, and if Gypsy’s truth can help save a life, then it’s worth it, and she wants the truth out there. She wants her truth. We want it to be how it affected us, how it affected the Godejohn family, how it affected the Petris family [Gypsy’s relatives on Dee Dee’s side], when all of this came out. With Michelle, I’m very disappointed that she has gone behind our backs, she has lied, and like Franchesca said, she had every chance to get the whole truth and she didn’t. She just cut off communication. Michelle has done us dirty.

You don’t allow for any chance that forces beyond her control tied her hands?

Blanchard: She’s a co-produer. She has say.

Macelli: Yes, she could have had her hands tied, but there’s an integrity level to that. She also could have turned down an offer. But she also did not have to turn on the Blanchards and cut off communication. She chose that path, and that path began when she knew she was making something they weren’t going to like, and so instead of telling them, “I’m doing this, and it may not be what you wanted, but I’m going to do my best,” instead it was fight or flight, and she chose flight.

So in terms of timeline, Michelle knew you were working on By Proxy before The Act was announced?

Macelli: Yes. And I had asked if there was something we could do, did she want to go ahead and work together. She chose to go ahead with what she was doing.

What, then, have been the obstacles in getting By Proxy to move ahead?

Macelli: We’ve taken a different approach. One of the things that was important to me is that I chose that I wouldn’t sell out. I’d had a couple of people that offered to buy it from me and write it the way they wanted, and I said no. We approached Lifetime with a big producer, and they weren’t interested in a story like that, and then a week later we found out they were working on [Love You to Death]. [A Lifetime spokesperson tells Vulture that, “From the moment the story broke in BuzzFeed, the team has been working on developing it into a movie.”] And then we made a decision that the best way to do this would be to have independent funding so we don’t have to deal with what a network says we can or cannot do, and then at that point we would license it to whoever we would license it to.

Would going forward with a potential lawsuit be one way to provide that independent funding?

Blanchard: No.

Macelli: That was a statement [regarding a potential lawsuit] that was in the News Leader that came from Gypsy herself, who had no knowledge of whether legal action could or could not be brought against anyone. And [it] was from her own place of anger and disappointment and frustration. We had discussed, well, is there anything legally we could or couldn’t do? We did send a cease and desist letter to stop it before it went to production so we could sit down with the producers and say, “We’re hoping to tell a truthful story and we don’t feel like Michelle has that information.”

For the record, I was referencing that very same News Leader article when Franchesca was quoted as saying, “We are looking into what our legal rights would be.”

Macelli: Well, who wouldn’t? But nobody is taking legal action.

Blanchard: Right, no one is.

Macelli: And our legal action that we would even consider isn’t necessarily money-focused. It would be to maybe stop the airing of the show or get the story correct.

Blanchard: Make a wrong a right.

Macelli: Nowhere did anyone say, “Oh we’re gonna sue ’em and get a bunch of money.” By Gypsy saying what she said, it was out of turn, and it was not something Kristy or I had prior knowledge to. That’s somebody who’s been sheltered and has no idea how the real world works.

Blanchard: Also, almost everyone that works at the Chillicothe Correctional Center has been watching [The Act], and some have gone up to [Gypsy] and told her, “They totally got it wrong, and your family needs to take legal action.” We just have to wait and see how we feel about it after we’ve watched everything.

True-crime adaptations typically conflate or compress events for time and narrative purposes, but was there anything else egregious that jumped out in the episodes you’ve seen?

Blanchard: It’s nothing major.

Macelli: Gypsy would like to come out and be a positive member of society that could protect other people, and untruthful tellings don’t help, and it doesn’t help her time in prison and it doesn’t help her family. One of the things I noticed in the early episode was Gypsy being portrayed as the one who tried to encourage the mom to steal something for her, the necklace, and she willingly turned around and her put it in there. That came from Dee Dee. Dee Dee was wanted for check fraud long before she ever left the bayou. She was already a fraudulent individual before Gypsy would have ever been involved in something, and she became an unwilling participant because she’s scared to death of her mom. And Michelle knows that.

The series does portray Dee Dee’s fraudulent past in later episodes. Which makes me wonder: If you see all eight episodes and overall The Act handles the story responsibly, would that assuage your frustrations?

Macelli: If the larger picture was portrayed more accurately than what we’ve seen so far, I can say that would make me feel better about the series itself. It would not make me feel better about the interactions and how they got to that, nor would it deter what we have in mind because what we’re doing is so vastly different. As Kristy said, this goes way back. Even if they’re presenting the check fraud, they’re not going all the way back to how this started and how it even affected Dee Dee, and how what people had seen before as signs and didn’t realize they were signs of things, that’s what we’re portraying. [Dee Dee] didn’t start out as an evil person.

Blanchard: No.

Macelli: She was a good person. It snowballed and got bigger and things went on, and people don’t understand where that came from, or how this affects the Petrises or Godejohns. It’s more of a family story we’re going for as opposed to true crime.

Blanchard: One of my friends last night reached out, and he used to be a police officer here and went to school with Dee Dee, and he’s like, “Kristy, I could tell you so much on how many calls we have gotten when I was on the force about her.” So we’ll probably reach out to him and get that in the mix, because it all links in.

Macelli: I don’t look at The Act or the Lifetime movie as competition or a deterrent. I never thought I was competing with Michelle or anyone else. I told Kristy, even the information I get from you is skewed. So how can we put everyone’s story together and make this as accurate as we possibly can? That was our take.

Blanchard: She’s even talked to Dee Dee’s friends from high school, so when I tell you it’s so much deeper than what these shows have portrayed, when ours is out there, they’re gonna say, “Oh, I get it, this is how it started.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Gypsy Blanchard’s Stepmom Has a Bone to Pick With The Act