'Painkiller' Producers On Why Matthew Broderick Was Perfect for the Challenge of Playing Richard Sackler (2024)

The Big Picture

  • Painkiller focuses on Purdue Pharma and its President/Board Chair Richard Sackler as they deceive the public about the dangers of OxyContin.
  • Matthew Broderick's casting as Sackler, a real-life villain, adds an unexpected twist to his likable and easy-to-root-for reputation.
  • Broderick's performance as Sackler receives high praise from the producers and is considered crucial in making the detestable character easier to watch.

When you think of Matthew Broderick, the first thing that comes to mind likely isn't greedy big pharma billionaire. The Emmy nominee's career is defined by being likable and easy to root for, from his turn as the titular iconic delinquent from Ferris Bueller's Day Off to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw in the Civil War epic Glory and as Simba in the animated classic The Lion King. For Painkiller, however, he's playing wildly against type as Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler, who played a role in the opioid epidemic. Speaking to Collider's Christina Radish, producers Eric Newman and Barry Meier explained their reasoning by committing to Broderick as their star.

Painkiller is fictionalized retelling of the opioid crisis, largely focused on the perspective of Purdue Pharma and Sackler as they sell the highly-addictive drug OxyContin to the public as a miracle drug for pain relief without divulging just how dangerous it could be. The drug would ruin the lives of so many victims and their families — an angle also heavily highlighted in the series — while Sackler laughed all the way to the bank, never seeing any real punishment for his actions relative to everything the victims of OxyContin lost. In other words, Broderick plays a true, real-life villain. He's not completely without experience being downright diabolical — he played the vicious former principal with a taste for child flesh Michael Burr in the 2019 Netflix series Daybreak — but embodying a more realistic corporate ghoul is still out of the ordinary for him.

One person who didn't find it that out of the ordinary was Newman. "The choice to go with Matthew, and I’m incredibly grateful that he was receptive," the producer told Radish. "He’s phenomenal in the show." He did admit, however, that no matter who filled the role, it was going to be a challenge to get viewers invested in any way in a man so universally hated:

"Still, the challenge It’s incredibly challenging to play someone about whom most people who know anything about this story have made up their minds about who this person is. The challenge, therefore, is how you hook people into his story. I had a fair amount of success doing drug traffickers for six years, and a number of different traffickers. The challenge was also there, except it was compounded in the case of Richard Sackler, with a rich guy trying to hold onto his money, which is an endlessly unsympathetic idea, if you’re thinking about a character. God forbid, you lose your money. And it was someone who didn’t have a world view that anyone could relate to and that supported his efforts. In the case of Pablo Escobar and some of these drug traffickers, there was a class struggle that they could convince themselves they were waging, and it’s an American problem. 'They’ve certainly exported enough of their violence down here, so the least we can do is give them what they’re asking for, which is cocaine.' This was different."

'Painkiller' Producers On Why Matthew Broderick Was Perfect for the Challenge of Playing Richard Sackler (1)

Broderick's Likability Was Given a Sinister Spin for Painkiller

Reflecting on Broderick's cavalcade of likable characters, Newman believed that charisma could be turned on its head to make their slimy depiction of Sackler easier to watch even if he's detestable. "And so, to find a character that you can invest in and not immediately be repulsed by required, arguably, one of the most likable actors of the past 40 years," Newman continued. "When you think about his body of work, with the exception of Election, you love him. He’s phenomenal in that movie, but in terms of a character that you’re drawn to, he’s perfect, in that regard. It added a certain whimsy to a guy who is, arguably a monster."

Meier was also impressed with Broderick's performance as the Purdue Pharma President. That's high praise considering Meier penned the book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic which Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster's miniseries is based on. He specifically recalled a conversation he had with Broderick over the Sacklers when the star asked what Meier's impression of them was after spending so much time researching the opioid epidemic and its origins for his book:

"I met Matt on set, and he was amazing as Richard. We were talking and he said to me, 'Well, what’s your sense of who Richard Sackler is? Who is this person?' And I said to him, 'Well, I don’t know.' I never spoke with him. I never spoke with Arthur Sackler either. But the impression that I came away with is that they were flip sides of the same coin. Arthur Sackler was someone who never believed that he was wrong and would never be convinced that he was wrong. Richard Sackler was someone who was afraid to acknowledge that he was wrong. They were both prone to self-delusion, but it became much more profound and much more dangerous, when it happened with Richard Sackler."

Painkiller also stars Uzo Aduba, Taylor Kitsch, Dina Shihabi, West Duchovny, and John Rothman. All episodes are available now on Netflix. Check out the trailer below and keep an eye out for the full interview with Newman and Meier here at Collider.

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'Painkiller' Producers On Why Matthew Broderick Was Perfect for the Challenge of Playing Richard Sackler (2024)
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