The actor portrays Mariah in the NBC true crime drama which charts the 2011 murder of Day’s mother Betsy Faria and its aftermath, including how Betsy’s husband Russ (Glenn Fleshler) was wrongfully accused and Pam Hupp‘s (Renée Zellweger) involvement.
Mariah was only 17 at the time, her sister Leah was 21, and she struggled with being “extremely manipulated” by those in authority around her, Adlon said.
On Her ‘Heart-Breaking’ Talk with Mariah Day
“I was lucky enough to speak to Mariah on the phone once, before we started filming, and it was obviously very enlightening and heart-breaking, but she really gave me more perspective into what it was like, at that time in her life,” she explained.
“[Back] then she was so young, when it all happened she was only 17 and she was open, but obviously still reserved.
“But what she gave me in that conversation definitely made it more personal and definitely helped form what I wanted to do with the role.”
Adlon added that she’d never want to discuss their conversations in detail because she wants to “be respectful” to Mariah, but she did share some insight into what was said between them.
“She just told me about what it was like in that time of her life and how she was extremely manipulated by everyone around her because all the people that she loved and trusted believed one thing and she believed another.
“So she was manipulated and definitely felt like her voice was stunted and she wasn’t really… no one was listening to her. She wrote a lot in her journals and tried to find an outlet to help with her frustrations for what she’s still going through.”
Understanding Her Concerns
Mariah spoke about the show in an interview with KSDK News in March 2022 in which she shared some concerns with the tone of the drama, saying that watching the trailer made her concerned it was “kind of making a mockery of” what had happened.
When asked how she would respond, Adlon said she could see why Mariah was concerned and would likely feel the same in her position, but she assured that was never their intention.
“I understand completely, I think I’d feel the same way,” Adlon said. “I mean, she’s a real person, her family’s real, [and] are here except for Betsy. Her mother was murdered in a very gruesome way and in a very unapologetic way, and what they went through they were being gas-lit for years.
“So, I can’t blame her saying that, you know, I hope that she watches it and knows that there wasn’t a day where we didn’t speak about Betsy on set, and really think about and say ‘I can’t believe this happened.’
“How could you blame her for saying that? It’s her mom, it’s her family, and it’s weird that actors are portraying the worst thing that ever happened to your life.”
Family Struggles and Standing Strong
One difficult aspect of the aftermath of her mother’s death was the way in which her step-father was wrongfully accused, and convicted, of the crime because it led to a complete break in their family.
Reflecting on how this is evident in Episode 5, where Russ is unable to even speak to Mariah even after his conviction was overturned, Adlon said: “Her relationship with Russ changed the second she was completely manipulated into testifying against him in court, and that changed everything.
“I think Glenn [Fleshler, who plays Russ] did such an incredible job of conveying that on screen, and you can see Mariah struggle with her want to connect with him and just how she doesn’t agree with anyone around her.
“And [the episode] is me really being able to dig deep and I think my favourite thing is that Mariah, you can see how strong she is, you can always see her strength, but then the fact that she really got to stick up for herself.”
Referencing the moment where Mariah speaks to Pam after losing the court case against her over Betsy’s life insurance money, Adlon added: “I don’t know if this has happened in real life, but you know, just to kind of look at Pam and be like, ‘I’m okay, I’m moving on.’
“That was a very powerful moment for me, and for the role it felt good. Even portraying Mariah for a few months, having that moment was a relief for me.
“Episode 5, I feel like is definitely the most, in a way for me, I feel like it’s almost the most heart-breaking and empowering episode for Mariah.”
Going on to speak about what it was like filming with Zellweger, Adlon said her co-star was able to convey Pam’s “toxic” nature with ease.
“I mean she does it with such ease, the way that she portrayed Pam and sort of the fallout. You can just tell that the toxic narcissistic energy that she has is just starting to eat her alive and you know, bite her in the a**,” the actor said.
“But it was intense. It’s always intense, especially when you really care about a project and a role, and everyone else around you does too. I don’t know, the whole show was intense.
“You’re filming it, you’re looking at Renée and you’re like, I can’t believe that this is an actual person. That’s the way someone acted in the world and had no remorse and just could give less of a s**t about how they ruined people’s lives.”
The Thing About Pam finale airs Tuesday, April 8 on NBC at 10 p.m. ET.