'Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story': Matt Barr's a killer with a six-pack for Lifetime
The suburb of state capital Albany was in the spotlight for a sensational 2004 murder case that fueled episodes of CBS' "48 Hours Mystery" and TruTV's "Forensic Files," and now is being revisited as a docudrama. Premiering Saturday (March 23) on Lifetime, "Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story" traces the arrest and trial of a college student who was accused -- and ultimately convicted -- of killing his father and disfiguring his mother, with an ax as the weapon.
Eric McCormack ("Will & Grace," "Perception") plays a composite character, a police detective who took the critically injured Joan Porco's ( Lolita Davidovich) nod, in apparent response to an investigation question, as confirmation that her son Christopher ( Matt Barr, "Hatfields & McCoys") was the assailant, However, she later dismissed that, coming to her offspring's defense as many of his friends did.
"His grandmother on his father's side said, 'Lock him up and throw away the key,'" executive producer Ilene Kahn Power, a former HBO executive who also produced "Gia," one of Angelina Jolie's first starring projects, tells Zap2it. "Others in the family say he could not have done it, and I suppose when people finish viewing this, they may wonder, too. We ride that line."
Teleplay writer Edithe Swenson, who also wrote "Who Is Clark Rockefeller?" (also starring McCormack) for Power and Lifetime, lives in the general upstate New York region where the true story unfolded. "She didn't know [Chris Porco] personally, but her kids went to school with him," Power reports. "At first, no one could believe this was Chris, and that's where she also came from.
"We started researching it, and for me, it became something Shakespearean in a lot of its overtones ... what happens to 'perfect' people when you don't know what lies beneath. That fascinated me, and we were dogged in our pursuit of getting this movie made. It took a long time."
However, getting rights from the real individuals wasn't a factor, though it almost became one when Chris Porco won a temporary injunction -- later stayed on appeal -- against the film being shown when scheduled.
"We also wanted to show how this could affect a community," Power adds, "how they didn't want to believe that one of their own could do such a heinous crime. A lot of families effectively let a wolf in the door. Many wrote letters to the Albany Times Union [newspaper] and said, 'He never could have done this,' then completely changed their minds."
Much of Delmar's population is known to be somewhat baffled by the "Romeo Killer" designation the film's title gives the seemingly quiet and reserved Porco, whom the movie also depicts as having a six-pack any bodybuilder would envy.
Power says she's been aware of that surprised reaction, but she claims, "Girls are still visiting him in prison. From our research, we knew that he 'played' a lot of them. He became like an outlaw rock star. I think he charmed everyone, including his mother ... and the network loved that title."
Clearly, Lifetime's hope is for "Romeo Killer" to advance the success the network has been having with true-crime movies, including "The Craigslist Killer" and dramas about the Drew Peterson and Casey Anthony cases.
"The appetite for them seems to know no bounds," Power reasons. "I've made a lot of movies about a lot of different subjects, and for me, there were a lot of interesting character arcs that we explored here. The cop and his daughter (played by Sarah Desjardins) became the conscience of the movie, which is why we composited him, to get inside his mind. Otherwise, we might as well do a documentary."
In fact, Lifetime will follow the debut of "Romeo Killer" with an hourlong "Beyond the Headlines" documentary about the Porco case, echoing the movie's conclusion.
Power says, "Our composite cop is asked, 'Do you think the town will ever get over it?' He says, 'Yes, I do.' Obviously, there is still some healing that has to be done -- but he says that in the end, it's a tragedy for everyone. There are no winners, but people will heal. And that's the best we can do in terms of hope."