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What’s it like to always feel like an outsider? How do you live with a guilty conscience? How do you tell a story that’s already sensational without giving more fame to the villains?

These are just some of the questions posed by Under the Bridge, Hulu’s limited series based on the 1997 murder of British Columbia teen Reena Virk (portrayed here by Vritika Gupta).

Riley Keough executive produces and stars in the series as Rebecca Godfrey, the journalist who researched the case for the book that inspired the series. As the granddaughter of Elvis Presley who therefore has spent her entire life watching her family being depicted in the media, she understands the struggle of telling the true horror of this story without giving in to the scandalous aspects of it.

“It’s always trying to just be honest and empathetic, especially when you’re dealing with somebody else’s story,” she said. “Of course, there will be people who will be upset. And, when you’re dealing with true stories, it’s nearly impossible to do it 100 percent the right way.”

She continued that, in doing this project, “we were interested in everyone we could speak to’s perspective. Not just Rebecca’s.”


Under The Bridge -- “Looking Glass” - Episode 101 -- In 1997, on a quiet island in BC, fourteen-year-old Reena Virk attends a party and never returns home. Her disappearance intrigues a novelist returning to her hometown, who finds herself drawn into the hidden world of the teen suspects… Reena (Vritika Gupta), shown. (Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Hulu)

Vritika Gupta as Reena Virk in Hulu’s Under the Bridge. (Photo by Bettina Strauss/Hulu)

This meant fictionalizing some aspects of the story, as the real Godfrey didn’t get involved with the case until some time after the events, and this version has her involved almost immediately. The story’s also told in flashbacks, with research largely brought in from Virk’s father Manjit’s book Reena: A Father’s Story, to give a clearer picture of who she and her family were. (In Under the Bridge, Ezra Faroque Khan plays Manjit Virk and Archie Panjabi plays her mother, Suman Virk.)

“We only know about the story once the journalists came in, once the police came in, and we’re learning about it all after the fact,” said showrunner and executive producer Samir Mehta. “But there is a very real part of the story, which is when only the kids knew what they had done, and what that climate must have felt like for people to be going to school the weekend after that party and wondering where Reena was.”

Gupta added that “I think that this story shines a light, and encourages those conversations, about bullying and about how not everything is perfect.”


Under The Bridge -- “The John Gotti of Seven Oaks” - Episode 102 -- Cam is thrown by a shocking discovery, and the police rush to unravel what really happened under the bridge. Josephine makes a deal with Rebecca, while a look into the past reveals Reena’s first rebellion. Rebecca (Riley Keough), Kelly (Izzy G.) and Josephine (Chloe Guidry), shown. (Photo by: Jeff Weddell/Hulu)

Riley Keough as Rebecca, Izzy G. as Kelly and Chloe Guidry as Josephine in Hulu’s Under the Bridge. (Photo by Jeff Weddell/Hulu)

But what exactly had they done? Without getting into spoilers, the short answer is that Reena’s death was a result of bullying gone too far. The story centers on her attempts to fit in with a group of kids who did not match her parents’ strict Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. The leader, Josephine (portrayed in the series by Chloe Guidry and a fictionalized version of actual defendant Nicole Cook) lives in foster care, idolizes The Notorious B.I.G. and John Gotti, and dreams of going to New York.

She believes Rebecca, with her Marc Jacobs bag and endless supply of cigarettes, is her ticket out of British Columbia.

“She really became an idol for her,” Guidry said of Josephine’s relationship with Rebecca. “John Gotti, that whole mafia; it became something that she looked up to because she didn’t really have anything to look up to. She always wanted to be the top dog just because she wanted to get out. She wanted to escape the reality that she was in. But, at the end of the day, your reality is your reality and you can’t just leave or escape it.”


UNDER THE BRIDGE - “Under the Bridge” is based on acclaimed author Rebecca Godfrey’s book about the 1997 true story of fourteen-year old Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta) who went to join friends at a party and never returned home. Through the eyes of Godfrey (Riley Keough) and a local police officer (Lily Gladstone), the series takes us into the hidden world of the young girls accused of the murder — revealing startling truths about the unlikely killer. (Disney) ARCHIE PANJABI, EZRA FAROQUE KHAN

Archie Panjabi and Ezra Faroque Khan as Suman and Manjit Virk in Under the Bridge. (Photo by Hulu)

Josephine is a contrast to Reena’s mother, who at one point even says that she didn’t understand her own daughter. The part is a break from the whip-smart and acid-tongued roles Panjabi’s fans know her from in CBS’s The Good Fight and NBC’s Blindspot.

“As actors, we love exploring new territories, and this was definitely a role out of my comfort zone,” Panjabi said of the part that required her to workshop and improvise scenes until she felt she got it right.

She added that “that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be part of this project: to tell the story of what this child of an immigrant goes through.”

“I think being a teenager is hard enough, but when you are the child of an immigrant and you have to also please your parents and respect their traditional values, that’s a struggle,” Panjabi said.


Under The Bridge -- “The John Gotti of Seven Oaks” - Episode 102 -- Cam is thrown by a shocking discovery, and the police rush to unravel what really happened under the bridge. Josephine makes a deal with Rebecca, while a look into the past reveals Reena’s first rebellion. Cam (Lily Gladstone), shown. (Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu)

Lily Gladstone as Cam in Under the Bridge. (Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu) (Photo by Darko Sikman/Hulu)

The show also introduces the fictional character of Cam, a police officer played by Lily Gladstone who investigates the case. Cam is also both a childhood friend of Rebecca’s and an Indigenous woman who was adopted into a white family of police officers as a child. Gladstone said she’s read a lot of character breakdowns of Indigenous cops. But she said this one felt different because “knowing that it’s Canada and knowing that it’s a missing persons case, I knew that there was something a little bit deeper in that choice.”

“The bridge it happens under joins Victoria to a First Nations reserve,” she said of the case. She added that “there’s an element of indigeneity in one of the main characters involved in this crime that’s revealed later. So I felt it was really important to bring that into a character where there was a conversation about a huge population and a huge experience in Canada that’s so often is just very peripheral.”


Under The Bridge -- “Looking Glass” - Episode 101 -- In 1997, on a quiet island in BC, fourteen-year-old Reena Virk attends a party and never returns home. Her disappearance intrigues a novelist returning to her hometown, who finds herself drawn into the hidden world of the teen suspects… Josephine (Chloe Guidry) and Cam (Lily Gladstone), shown. (Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu)

Chloe Guidry as Josephine and Lily Gladstone as Cam in Hulu’s Under the Bridge. (Photo by Darko Sikman/Hulu)

Gladstone also knows that this character will be compared to Kali Reis’ character from True Detective: Night Country, another Indigenous police officer seeking justice for a female victim (albeit, in that show, in Alaska). She said you have to take these roles on a “case-by-case basis” of them becoming a trope, and that “I think True Detective was really effective at bringing the female narrative to the story and giving the victim a lot more humanity.”

With this role, she said, “this is an opportunity to indict law enforcement and to indict that power dynamic” of what happens when “a woman who largely is denied having power [is put] in such a role. That gives her a unique perspective.”


Under The Bridge -- “The John Gotti of Seven Oaks” - Episode 102 -- Cam is thrown by a shocking discovery, and the police rush to unravel what really happened under the bridge. Josephine makes a deal with Rebecca, while a look into the past reveals Reena’s first rebellion. Rebecca (Riley Keough), shown. (Photo by: Jeff Weddell/Hulu)

Riley Keough as Rebecca in Under the Bridge. (Photo by Jeff Weddell/Hulu)

The writers also had to decide how much attention they should put on Godfrey’s own life and family, especially since the journalist died a few weeks after Hulu announced it had ordered this series. (Series creator Quinn Shephard told Rotten Tomatoes that she would call Godfrey to check details while researching this project and that Mehta was in contact with Manjit Virk.)

They also had to put in check their own self-awareness that they were making entertainment out of tragedy, as is the nature of the true-crime genre. At one point, Keough’s Rebecca references the unique relationship that author Truman Capote had with killer Perry White while researching the granddaddy of all true crime stories, In Cold Blood.

“We tried our best to fold that very thing into the story and shine a light on true crime reporting and be somewhat critical of it, all the while, of course, we are making a true crime show,” Mehta said. “There is a strange quality to that. On the one hand, yes, you do provide fame to the people who least deserve to have it. But at the same time, without drawing attention to it, you can’t let the people who want to fix the problem really get under the hood.”




81%


Under the Bridge: Limited Series
(2024)
premiered April 17 on Hulu.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.



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