How ‘The Good Nurse’ Netflix Changes Charles Cullen’s True Story

For 16 years, an American nurse named Charles Cullen murdered patients, seemingly without motive. When caught and arrested in 2003, he confessed to homicide detectives Dan Baldwin and Tim Braun that he had killed up to 40 people. Experts now believe that number is in the hundreds, which would make Cullen the most prolific serial killer in recorded history. He is the subject of Charles Graeber’s 2013 book, “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder,” which is the basis for a new Netflix movie, “The Good Nurse,” written by Krysty Wilson- Cairns and directed by Tobias Lindholm.

Wilson-Cairns presented her take on the adaptation nine years ago after receiving Graeber’s book from her agents. At first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to write a screenplay about a serial killer, but Graeber’s writing appealed to her, as did the real-life story of Amy Loughren, a fellow nurse who helped translate Cullen in court.

“I had never heard of Charles Cullen,” recalls Wilson-Cairns. “I didn’t know he was America’s most prolific serial killer. I didn’t know this happened in my lifetime. And I’m a weird, twisted person who stays on Google for up to four hours. morning reading stories of terrible people, so I would know.

Eddie Redmayne as Charlie Cullen, left, and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren in ‘The Good Nurse.’

(JoJo Wilden/Netflix)

Originally from Scotland, she was also troubled by the American healthcare system, which allowed Cullen to remain employed at various hospitals for nearly two decades by sweeping his actions under the rug to protect business interests.

“When you put profits ahead of patients, you jeopardize care and you jeopardize the system in which people can be held accountable,” adds Wilson-Cairns. “So [my interest] was the trifecta of the fact that I never heard of it, the system that I thought was deeply broken, and this single mother superhero. What more can you ask for as a writer in a story you want to tell? »

To turn this story into a feature film, Wilson-Cairns and Lindholm had to fictionalize some aspects and alter some details. But Graeber, who provided Wilson-Cairns with his research, including the actual tapes of Cullen’s confession, believes the on-screen version of “The Good Nurse” retains a solid amount of truth.

“I felt it was accurate in essence,” Graeber confirms. “I knew it was going to be very different for storytelling reasons, for legal reasons, for timing reasons. There are a lot of bad versions of the serial killer movie, which would oversimplify the real story here. , which really isn’t about a serial killer at all. It’s really about institutions, the commonness of evil and individuals and the choices they make. I think this movie nails that.”

Streamline the story

Although Cullen was active for 16 years, “The Good Nurse” focuses on the period just before his arrest. The film centers on Amy (Jessica Chastain), a single mother with a heart condition who works night shifts as an intensive care nurse. She is closely based on the real Amy, who was involved in the making of the film. As Amy struggles to keep her heart condition a secret, she befriends newly hired Charlie, played by Eddie Redmayne. He fits into her life, including befriending her two children, before she begins to realize he is filling IV bags with drugs like insulin and digoxin , causing the sudden death of patients. Eventually, Amy helps two detectives, Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich), investigate Charlie, and she is instrumental in his confession.

A woman sits across from two police detectives.

Noah Emmerich as Tim Braun, from left, Nnamdi Asomugha as Danny Baldwin and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren in ‘The Good Nurse.’

(JoJo Wilden/Netflix)

Getting closer to the facts was part of the evolution of the project, says Wilson-Cairns.

“In previous versions, there was a lot more invention because we were talking about a kind of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and more genre,” she explains. “By refining it, we realized that the most exciting elements are the real elements. And if you can say, ‘It’s a true story, I didn’t make any of this up’, then it becomes even more It’s terrifying because it happened.

Major changes include the timeline, which is condensed to six months, and Charlie spending time at Amy’s. According to Graeber, Charlie knew where Amy lived but never met her children. It is true, however, that Amy had serious heart problems and confronted Charlie in a restaurant while wearing a wire before her arrest. Wilson-Cairns had access to the recording of the wiretap, which actually lasted three hours.

“As much as you’re thinking, ‘I want to take every line that’s in there and every pause,’ you’re thinking, ‘OK, no, I can’t. I have to figure out how to tell the truth about these three hours in three minutes’ , Wilson-Cairns says, “It’s incredibly nerve-wracking at times.”

Protect victims

It’s unclear exactly how many people Cullen killed. Originally, Cullen confessed to a particular number of victims, but according to Graeber, that number changed as more information came to light.

“Hospital medical murders are very difficult to prove,” Graeber notes. “A lot of hospital records had been destroyed or were incomplete because we go back a decade. And said he couldn’t remember precisely – his memory works a little differently. He was also shaping the narrative he was comfortable with. But the experts I’ve spoken with, people who know this case, some who had deep psychological insight [on] he and he had spoken candidly, said the number he confessed to was likely lower by a factor of eight, which would put it at between 300 and 400 people.

In the film, Charlie is depicted murdering several people, including a patient with a young baby and an elderly woman with a grieving husband, by injecting drugs into IV bags in the storage room. These on-screen victims, however, have been romanticized.

A single mother sits on a sofa with her two young daughters.

Devyn McDowell as Maya Loughren, left to right, Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren and Alix West Lefler as Alex Loughren in a scene from ‘The Good Nurse’ on Netflix.

(JoJo Wilden/Netflix)

“Not a single patient is a true story,” Lindholm confirms. “None of the deaths we see in the film are based on real victims. We took the liberty of changing that because that was not the point of the film, for you to know exactly what happened. We didn’t want to re-traumatize anyone.

“I didn’t feel good using people’s names and putting words in their mouths because they were killed,” Wilson-Cairns adds. “What we did was we kept the methodology of the murders completely the same and then deviated from the names of the actual victims and their lives.”

Over the years, Cullen has murdered hospital patients in various ways. The method depicted in the film is accurate, although it may not have been what Cullen was doing at the time, according to Graeber.

“He’s adapted his killing methods over the course of his career, but that’s really too much to communicate in a movie,” says Graeber. “So polluting the IV bags before they go out on the floor, that is, dosing them with dangerous drugs in the reserve before they even go out to patients, that was one of his first accepted methods of overdosing patients. But that was by no means the only way he did it. And that wasn’t the way he did it at the end.

Recreate a night room

Amy and Charlie work night shifts at a hospital, often spending long hours in patient rooms and behind desks. It was important to Lindholm that the hospital setting be as accurate as possible. Originally, the production hoped to shoot in a working hospital, but the pandemic prevented it.

Instead, Lindholm had a replica of an intensive care unit built in a former factory in Stamford, Connecticut. He insisted on having patients in all rooms during filming, even though the rooms were not part of the scene, so there was an illusion of constant activity. The background actors were real doctors and nurses recruited by a casting agency. Lindholm also consulted a nurse, Joseph Fugelo, who helped train Redmayne and Chastain and ended up appearing in the film.

A nurse in a lab coat looks down a dark hospital hallway.

Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren in ‘The Good Nurse’.

(JoJo Wilden/Netflix)

“I’ve always felt that my greatest responsibility is to the people whose lives I describe, and that down to the smallest detail,” says Lindholm. “That’s why we populated the ICU in the film with real nurses and doctors in the background, so we knew we wouldn’t be doing a fake version of their work. And we would be respectfully accurate in the representation of nurses and doctors. That way, there was a whole little real-life world that Eddie and Jessica could step into and do their jobs and tell that story. It depended on those little details.

A hero’s journey

Cullen is not a particularly well-known serial killer in pop culture, despite his prolivity. But the filmmakers were less interested in showcasing it than Loughren, who embodies the title: She risked her career, and potentially her life, to help bring Cullen to justice, and she did it with kindness and compassion. Graeber stumbled upon her while researching for the book and ended up spending hours telling her about Cullen.

“He’s a remarkable person,” he recalls. “She ended up being the heart of the story because, unlike homicide detectives or serial killers, Amy is one of us. She doesn’t expect murder every day. It’s not his job description, and it’s not his normal view of the world, so his choices are more relevant to us.

“She was the whole reason for telling this story,” Lindholm says. “We live in a time when we use hateful means to end violence. We are obsessed with darkness. And here is a story about the opposite. About a woman who stopped violence with humanity, with kindness. By reminding a villain of his own humanity. It struck me as an original story to tell and a human take. Instead of being fascinated by the crime, we turned on it and were fascinated by the humanity that stopped it.

Comments are closed.