*Warning: This interview has spoilers for season 1 of Based on A True Story.
On Peacock’s new comedy thriller series, soon-to-be-parents Ava (Kaley Cuoco) and Nathan’s (Chris Messina) plan to make a true crime podcast with a local serial killer (Tom Bateman) is tricky to navigate, to say the least. Not only do they need to keep their identities anonymous once the podcast goes live, but they have to be sure that cohost Matt, a.k.a the Westside Ripper, stays true to his promise to not kill again.
But then Ava’s friend— fellow true crime lover and affluent housewife Ruby (Priscilla Quintana)— complicates things even more. She discovers the trio’s scheme and threatens to reveal them if they don’t let her join the podcast. But her fate ends up fatal.
Quintana sees Ruby as the “lovable villain,” a character she found inspiration for from the women of The Real Housewives.
“I'm obsessed with The Housewives franchise,” Quintana tells Los Angeles Confidential. “This is my one and only opportunity to play a housewife of the Palisades, so I just launched into that. I was studying all the characters: we have Miss Erika Jayne, who I took a lot of inspo from, Lisa Vanderpump. So it was just so much fun for me.
She adds, “Ruby is a complex character. She comes off as a fun party girl and the girl that everyone wants to be around. But as you get to know her more, you realize that she's battling her own demons. And I think she acts out because of that. I was really intrigued by the psychology of that and I created my own backstory on her, how she grew up, how her parents raised her. I created this whole story where I think that her mom was left by her father and her advice to Ruby was, ‘It's great to marry for love, but marry for money first and then fall in love.’” As Quintana puts it, Ruby doesn’t want to just keep up with the Joneses, “she wants to be Joneses.”
Based on a True Story sees a financially troubled couple capitalize on the chance to strike gold on America’s obsession with true crime. It’s a heinous premise to not report a serial killer to the police in an effort to make money, but Quintana emphasizes that’s the whole point.
“In no way is the show making fun of violence or making light of violence,” she says. “The show is a satire of the degree to which we have become numb to violence in America and how we look for it as entertainment. So the show is more made to be a commentary on the current social climate. And it is fun to watch, as well. It's a very fun show. It's bingeable. It's a television event. We want people to binge it in one or two sittings. I know I did. I would say it's just an examination of how we've become so numb to violence and how can we learn from it? What does that say about who we are as a culture?”
Read more from Quintana below about Ruby’s death, navigating a shovel around a pregnant Kaley Cuoco and more.
At what point during the shoot did you learn about Ruby’s fate?
I found out like three days before we shot Ruby’s fate. [Creator] Craig [Rosenberg] called me and he was like, “So, I want to talk to you.” It was like a Saturday night and I was like, “OK, what's going on?” He's like, “So, Ruby's gonna die.” And I was like, “Ah, OK.” No one wants to be told that, but at the same time, I knew that it was coming. He had been hinting towards it. I think that if anyone is gonna die, it's kind of got to be our girl Ruby. It definitely adds that shock value, so I wasn't surprised at all and I said, “That's fine. As long as it's the most epic death ever.” And I think that he went above and beyond with that.
Are there certain techniques for playing dead?
That's a funny question. We had that scene at the Malibu house when they opened the door and she falls dead. That day I was battling the world's worst allergies, so I had to lay there with my eyes open, but I kept sneezing. So there's like a funny blooper reel of that because obviously dead people aren't sneezing. But we got through it, thankfully. And then the death scene where she gets buried, they had to dump a bunch of dirt on my face. And it was just a very dirty scene, and I don't think we realized how much of the dirt was gonna get in the fake blood and then matted in my hair. So we planned to just stand up, wipe the dirt off, lay down, do it again, stand up the dirt off, lay down, do it again. But we couldn't do that because of how clumpy it was getting, so we actually added a lot of hours on set to that filming day because after just a couple of times, I'd have to go up, shower, get into hair and makeup again, get all new wardrobe and shoot again. So that ended up being a really long day. But it was so much fun. I think that's the fun part of acting. All the glamorous stuff is amazing. Ruby obviously has amazing, fantastic, fabulous outfits. But I think getting down and getting dirty is really fun. So that was just a bonus for me.
Right before Ava and Nathan bury Ruby, there’s an imaginative moment where Ruby comes to life as if she’s been faking being dead, slams Ava and Nathan with a shovel unconscious and into the grave and yells, “The hot b**** wins for fucking once!” What was it like to film that scene?
That was so much fun. I think I might have— I'm not entirely sure, but I think that I actually improvised that or came up with it on the day. And it was just hilarious. Also, my favorite line from that scene is when she says, “F*** the baby,” and then hits Ava with the shovel. When I read that, I called our showrunner immediately and I was like, “You're insane.” He's like, “I know.”
What was it like filming whacking Kaley Cuoco and Chris Messina with a shovel— did that require training or some sort of choreography?
Yeah, there was a lot of training and choreography. The people were amazing because I was so nervous, like Kaley's pregnant and this shovel is inches away from her face. She's like, “It's okay. Just take the swing all the way through, you'll be fine.” And I'm like, “What if it flips? What if I just get a little too close?” No one wants to come near a pregnant woman’s face, especially someone that's your friend or just anyone. You don't want to come near their face with a shovel. That's so scary. So that part was a little hard for me, but I think we did it really well once I got the hang of it.
Based on a True Story is a comedy, but it also has very dark themes and what happens to your character is awful. In particular, the dinner party in episode six is very intense, especially for Ruby. How do you wind down coming off of set on those sorts of days?
It definitely gets heavy, and in some scenes I can bounce in and out. I can be in the scene and then go out… and shoot the s*** and just laugh. But for this specific scene, I had to stay in it. It was a long shoot. We shot that for like 12 hours or something, so it was hard to stay there for that long. And once I got home, you know what I did? I turned on my Housewives, I made myself tea and I unwound that way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy of Peacock