#How Patton Oswalt helped turn his late wife’s book into a true crime series

#How Patton Oswalt helped turn his late wife’s book into a true crime series

June 25, 2020 | 7:08pm | Updated June 25, 2020 | 7:08pm

“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is both an examination of the Golden State Killer case and comedian Patton Oswalt’s eulogy to his wife, Michelle McNamara, who wrote the true-crime bestseller upon which the HBO docuseries is based.

McNamara died suddenly in 2016 at the age of 46 from a combination of an undiagnosed heart condition and prescription medications. Two years later, Oswalt helped finish her book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer,” with true-crime writers Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen. (McNamara helped coin the term “Golden State Killer.”)

Oswalt is an executive producer and appears onscreen in the docuseries, directed by Liz Garbus (“The Innocence Files”).

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after the book came out,” Oswalt, 51, tells The Post. “The documentary was something that Liz Garbus approached me about. And when I heard her pitch I was like, ‘Yeah, that could happen, that’s going to work.’ ”

The Golden State Killer, former cop Joseph DeAngelo, committed over 50 rapes, 13 murders and 100 burglaries in California from 1974-86.  For decades his identity eluded both the police and the public — but thanks, in part, to McNamara’s book (and DNA testing) he was identified and caught in April 2018 — while Oswalt, Garbus and their team were filming “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

Joseph DeAngelo
Joseph DeAngeloTribune News Service via Getty I

“I think maybe in the back of my mind I thought that [catching the killer] would happen,” says Oswalt. “But I think I assumed it would happen years later. I did not think it would happen on the very first day that we were filming the documentary in Chicago, in Michelle’s hometown.

“It was insane.”

The six-episode series begins with McNamara’s interest in the case and how she came to write the book. It includes archival footage of old interviews with her, plus footage of Oswalt from his old stand-up routines, talking about their relationship. They were married for 11 years and their daughter, Alice, was born in 2009.

Patton Oswalt and director Liz Garbus
Patton Oswalt and director Liz GarbusHBO

“That was all Liz’s [Garbus] idea,” says Oswalt. “That was part of the narrative. It builds to the loss that you feel later. Just like with the book, it was too much for me to be there and shape the narrative … So I just trusted Liz.”

The series’ subject matter was also new territory for Oswalt, best-known outside of the standup comedy world for his roles on series including “Parks and Recreation, “A.P. Bio” and in movies such as “22 Jump Street.”

“True crime really isn’t my wheelhouse,” he says. “I’ve watched a lot of true-crime documentaries, but as a vocation, as a pursuit, it’s really not my thing. So I was very careful to put the focus back on people that were actually doing the work.”

In addition to McNamara and her life and background in true crime, the documentary spends time interviewing many survivors of the Golden State Killer, plus retired police officers who worked on the case and even some of DeAngelo’s relatives.

Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamaraHBO

“Whenever it focuses on Michelle, it focuses on her as a way to get into the case and the enormity of it; that’s what we wanted it to be,” Oswalt says. “We wanted the focus to be the victims and the survivors. DeAngelo is barely in it. We mention him, but we don’t really deal with his life at all. Because he’s not important.

“It’s the people and how they survived what he did that’s important.”


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