'Dirty John': Connie Britton, Eric Bana Discuss Meeting Real-Life Players in "Cautionary Tale"

For the Bravo series, based on a 'Los Angeles Times' podcast, Britton met the woman she is playing, Debra Newell, and her daughter Tara.
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From left: Nate Jones, Connie Britton, and Eric Bana talk 'Dirty John' during Vulture Festival presented by AT&T at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Nov. 17.

Connie Britton is no stranger to being a part of shows that make a mark on pop culture (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story). But with her new series, Dirty John, she’s stepping into a story that’s already grabbed the public interest.

The Bravo production (which premieres Sunday, Nov. 25) was inspired by the 2017 podcast of the same name from Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard, which tracks the horrific fallout of a whirlwind romance between designer Debra Newell and con man John Meehan.

At Vulture Festival in Los Angeles on Saturday, Britton recalled that she first heard about the story from her friends after it went viral; when her team called about portraying Debra in the series, she downloaded the podcast and was hooked.

“I didn’t have to be convinced at all, because I was really pulled in by the story,” she said during a panel for the show. “And I was intrigued it had already been pulled into the zeitgeist. … I just jumped right in.”

To do further research into the real-life case, Britton met with the real Debra a few times. During their first lunch, Debra brought her daughter Tara, which Britton admitted was a double whammy. “[It was fascinating] to see how they remembered things differently,” she said, including a pivotal fight between John and Tara that plays out in the first episode. “It was really helpful and great.”

Eric Bana, who plays John, was left with limited options to dig deeper into the real John’s psyche, but he found that to be a luxury versus a hindrance. “It gave me freedom,” he said. “Sometimes you feel the urge or you want to get in contact [with the real person]. Sometimes it can be very freeing not taking that path. For me, it wouldn’t have been practical anyway. I took the attitude that I was going to find John myself. I was more interested in his behavior than him.”

Both actors were producers on the project — Britton was involved before Bravo was attached; Bana admitted that her tie to the show was appealing to him, as he was a longtime admirer of her work — which allowed them to have a bit more creative control.

“It’s a really nice feeling when, as two actors investing in a project where you’re basically going to be the face of it, that you’re involved at the level,” Bana said. “It gave me a lot of security."

Bana added, "It was nice to have a seat at the table, so if Connie and I had issues [with anything we had to do], we could present them together. But we’re all a team.”

Britton has kept the real Debra, and her decision to be public with her story, in mind during the duration of this process. “She hopes her story will maybe be a cautionary tale for other women,” Britton explained.

Dirty John premieres Sunday, Nov. 25, on Bravo.