The Act’s trickiest act may just be fighting through the thicket of existing coverage clouding the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. To be brief: In June 2015, Gypsy conspired with her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, to murder her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, who it turned out had made Gypsy a lifelong victim of her Munchausen syndrome by proxy. It has since become the subject of an HBO documentary, Lifetime TV movie, and unending fascination and speculation. And in March, Hulu premiered The Act, an eight-part dramatic series based on the events leading up to and including Dee Dee’s murder, sourced from BuzzFeed reporter Michelle Dean’s 2016 investigative feature.
The Act acknowledges in every episode that some of its events have been “dramatized or fictionalized,” which can make it even more difficult than it already is to suss out the concrete facts, such as they are, at the heart of this story. And so we’ve wended our way through The Act via its depiction of the main players in this tangled family tragedy to see how closely it hews to the established trail of truth — and the moments when it may have strayed. (Note: In discussing real-life events, this piece necessarily includes spoilers for later episodes of The Act.)
Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard (Played by Patricia Arquette)
Arquette, fresh off her performance as another notorious middle-aged suburban mother in Escape at Dannemora, oozes out her lines in a heightened bayou patois. (Accents are a recurring theme in The Act’s portrayals.) The real Dee Dee certainly retained a noticeable Louisiana drawl even after moving Gypsy and herself from their home state to Springfield, Missouri, following Hurricane Katrina — you can judge for yourself if it approximates Arquette’s affectation.
More broadly speaking, The Act’s presentation of the overarching circumstances of Dee Dee’s life dating back to the turn of the 1990s largely line up with available biographical information — though in a recent phone interview, Gypsy’s stepmom, Kristy, took issue with the notion that Gypsy was at any point a conscious co-conspirator in Dee Dee’s petty crimes, such as shoplifting. (She also says Dee Dee’s love interest, played in The Act by Dean Norris, was not a real person.) On the other hand, the show appears to have paid attention to some finer points, such as Dee Dee suffering from diabetes toward the end of her life, a fact all but verified through some digging by local Springfield paper News Leader, whose coverage of the Blanchards dating back to 2015 is essential.
As for her roll call of Gypsy’s supposed maladies, which were certainly myriad as The Act details: We could not confirm a sugar allergy — which the show built quite a bit of narrative tension around — as one of them. (In a separate Facebook Messenger exchange, Kristy Blanchard likewise couldn’t say with assurance if a sugar allergy was among Dee Dee’s conjured concerns.) And while not quite as theatrically wide as The Act makes it seem, Dee Dee’s medicinal war chest was preposterously overpopulated with prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.
As for Dee Dee’s own mother, Emma Lois Pitre: She did pass away in 1997 as depicted. And according to Dee Dee’s father, Claude, in the 2017 documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, Emma, like her daughter, was prone to shoplifting and petty crime. The film also features commentary from family members covering Dee Dee’s history of writing fraudulent checks and stealing money from loved ones, in addition to allegations that she withheld food from Emma when she was ill and later tried to poison her stepmother. However, we were unable to authenticate whether Margo Martindale’s portrayal of Emma as especially controlling and critical is true to life or meant to dramatically mirror Dee Dee’s eventual tendencies toward Gypsy.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard (Played by Joey King)
In Mommy Dead and Dearest, Gypsy’s father, Rod, affirms that Dee Dee had become paranoid about Gypsy suffering from sleep apnea and other conditions by the time their child was 3 months old. But going back to that sugar allergy, and specifically The Act’s dramatization of Gypsy bingeing on soda and candy as an act of rebellion and thus losing all her natural teeth, that skews away from Michelle Dean’s own source material. Per her BuzzFeed piece, Gypsy did have to have her teeth extracted after they “rotted out,” but the root cause is unclear. An earlier bit of reporting from News Leader pins the blame on Gypsy’s seizure medication.
King’s replication of Gypsy’s precocious, chipper vocal register around Dee Dee and anyone who believed she was sick is a bit less emotive than Arquette’s take on Cajun flavor. There’s no comparable side-by-side to determine if Gypsy visibly quaked with repressed anger or lay in bed casting long, hopeless stares, as later episodes of The Act indicate, but evocative facial cues and body language come with the territory of any dramatization. Dean’s reporting makes the important distinction that the granular bits of fascination surrounding Gypsy’s life are hard to keep straight even to Gypsy, though The Act is overall faithful to her ongoing misapprehension of her own age and year of birth. Gypsy herself has given court testimony regarding Dee Dee’s alleged physical abuse, which she says escalated in the early 2010s when Dee Dee would hit her with coat hangers and, after escape attempts, “physically chain” her. (In The Act, Dee Dee ties her wrists to the bedposts with linen.)
As for the romantic pursuits that flourished outside Dee Dee’s purview: First we have the older man Gypsy met at the sci-fi convention, who was in fact in his mid-30s. According to Dean, their communication occurred mostly online, not via text as in The Act, though Dee Dee did ultimately confront them at his home. (In her conversation with Vulture, Kristy said details of that courtship were conflated with later events.) Then there’s Mr. Godejohn. Apart from what appears to be some manufactured lovers’ quarreling between Gypsy and Nick in a later episode, when they’re living in his mother’s house in Wisconsin after the murder, The Act’s depiction of their relationship—from meeting through a Christian dating site and acting out kinky cosplay under alter egos to Gypsy’s planning and Nick’s execution of the titular act, on down to Gypsy and Nick hiding out in his bedroom closet when cops arrive to arrest them—bears out in Gypsy’s own retelling of events, supported by evidence from text messages and social-media pages. But The Act is relatively ambiguous about one of the most unsettling aspects of the killing: that, according to Gypsy, she offered herself to Nick that night in lieu of him raping Dee Dee. Gypsy is now three years into her ten-year sentence for second-degree murder at a facility in Missouri. Her father, Rod, has been petitioning the governor for her early release.
Nicholas Godejohn (Played by Calum Worthy)
Not much is made clear about Nick in The Act. His learning disabilities are referenced fairly obliquely by his mother (Godejohn did live in his stepfather’s house, though his name is Charlie and Nick’s mom’s name is Stephanie), and Worthy’s performance delicately conveys his difficulties processing tasks and compartmentalizing impulses. As the show sympathetically gets across, neither of his parents thought he could so much as “hurt a fly.” Ultimately, psychologists called by both the defense and prosecution in his trial quibbled over the severity of his autism-spectrum disorder, and he was deemed mentally fit to stand accountable for the crimes he’d been charged with.
A big revelation near the series’ end is that Nick had been arrested a couple years earlier for allegedly masturbating to online porn for several hours while at a Wisconsin McDonald’s. The duration of his transgression may have been overstated, but what The Act strangely omits is that he was also caught carrying a concealed switchblade at the time. (Given the role the murder weapon plays in the dramatic arc, the writers may have wanted to avoid knife-related confusion.) The Act also paints a picture of Godejohn as deludedly pining for Gypsy even while behind bars awaiting trial, though as of 2018, he was more inclined to lay blame on her as mastermind and position himself a pawn. This past February, Nick was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Gypsy testified as a witness in his defense.
Aleah Woodmanseee (a.k.a. “Lacey”) (Played by AnnaSophia Robb)
Though her name has been changed to Lacey, it’s apparent that Gypsy’s across-the-street neighbor and friend in The Act is a stand-in for real-life neighbor and friend Aleah Woodmansee. (Just as Chloë Sevigny’s character, Mel, is doubtless a doppelgänger for Aleah’s mother, Amy Pinegar.) The show presents Lacey as a fairly typical teenager, headstrong and defiant at times but also sharp and capable of taking care of herself. She welcomes Gypsy into her circle of friends without judgment. In one scene, Gypsy stares agog as Lacey and her gal pals pass around a smoke and give each other crude DIY tattoos. Woodmansee, who appeared on-camera in Mommy Dead and Dearest, recently told InTouch that “alcohol and smoking were things we never discussed” and clarified that “I do have tattoos, but all have been professionally done.” (In the aforementioned conversation with Kristy, she seconds Aleah’s criticisms.) She also took issue with the choice to have Robb speak in a twangy accent, adding, “I’m not a fan of the whole hillbilly tone.”
As for Lacey first alerting the police to Gypsy and Nick’s ghoulish Facebook posts — and Mel subsequently climbing through the window to check on the mother-daughter duo the night cops found Dee Dee’s body — it was actually Dee Dee’s friend Kim and her husband, David, who tipped off law enforcement and surveyed the house.