Conviction Interviews – Part 1: Betty Anne Waters
The new film Conviction is based on a true story. Hillary Swank plays Betty Anne Waters, a High School dropout whose brother Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell) was wrongfully arrested for murder in 1983. The film portrays Betty Anne’s struggle to free her brother, going so far as to put herself through Law School so she could become his defender. With help from her best friend Abra and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, they are able to uncover DNA evidence to help exonerate Kenny. The film also features Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Melissa Leo, and Juliette Lewis in supporting roles.
Recently in Seattle on a press junket, Joseph Dilworth from popculturezoo.com and I were granted some interviews in support of the film. Following is our first interview with the real life woman herself, Betty Anne Waters:
Joe: Thank you for your time. It’s great to meet you. I suppose my first question is, how does it feel to see your story as a story and to see it as a film on the screen.
Betty Anne: Oh, it’s unbelievable. I’ve seen it 3 times. And I still can’t believe it’s about me. It’s like, as soon as it starts, I start crying. It’s too real, it’s too real.
Ed: Wow. How true is it?
Betty Anne: That’s why I cry. Because it’s real. It’s funny, it’s hard for me to judge Hilary a lot. Especially when it’s somebody playing you, but, I know from other people that have listened to her talk that they think it’s me talking. Family think it’s me talking, which is amazing. And I know how … she sent her dialect coach to my house and he’d tape me for two hours. So that was her first introduction to me. It’s kind of like Abra, who’s played by Minnie (Driver), we talk fast, and it’s kind of a joke between people that know us, they say we talk Abra-ese. Nobody else understands us. And so it was this big joke that they had to learn to talk like me. You know, but she did, she nailed it. One night, we were coming off set, and she jumped into a van with my niece and nephew there, and she started repeating everything on that tape. And my nephew is like “Why do you do all this crazy stuff? Dropping dogs, and ugh”, and then he realized it was her talking.
Joe: That’s actually one of the first things I noticed having grown up in New England. I sometimes cringe when I see movies set in Boston or somewhere. But for Conviction it was like “Wow, they’re actually from there”.
Betty Anne: Yeah.
Joe: So are you still doing work with the Innocence Project?
Betty Anne: I think I always will. It became my life. It’s like, I can never not see myself helping them, you know? I’m hoping that this movie will do something to open people’s eyes about the innocent people. And I actually live for the day that some body’s going to call me and say that because of this movie they did or did not do something and another innocent person goes free. I’ll die a happy woman.
Ed: Yeah, it works as a really good advertisement for them.
Betty Anne: Doesn’t it? And you know what, I’m so happy about that because, well, Barry Scheck is my hero. I absolutely love him. I mean, without him, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten my brother free. He helped me so much. And, um, I feel so lucky that now I might be able to help him. To help other people… I really do feel very fortunate.
Joe: Now, obviously in the movie, you guys went through a lot because DNA testing was new then and untried, and a lot of people didn’t necessarily believe it could prove people innocent or guilty, either way.
Betty Anne: Nancy Taylor still doesn’t believe it.
Joe: That was going to be my question. Is it still that hard a battle to get new evidence tested?
Betty Anne: Every state is different. That’s why the New York Innocence Project is trying to pass… not just New York, everywhere.., they are trying to pass National legislation, so that DNA testing can be available to everyone everywhere and that the evidence can be preserved everywhere. ‘Cause, if that evidence wasn’t preserved, my brother would’ve died in prison. You know, it’s like, why wouldn’t you want to preserve it? We didn’t know about DNA, that that was ever going to come about. That was a miracle. What’s going to happen next? … What it does is, it helps you find guilty people. And it helps keep the innocent people out of prison. So why wouldn’t you want to preserve it, keep it and do whatever you can to protect it?
Joe: And so, from what you said just a second ago, does that mean that a lot of these, for not necessarily every person that you help go free, that also leads to authority finding who actually committed the murder?
Betty Anne: In this case, they have a perfect DNA profile, and they have fingerprints that the movie doesn’t talk about. … You’ll see in the movie that I had a civil suit, and it was only a couple years ago after the movie’s already made and everything, that I found out that there were bloody fingerprints available at the time and my brother was eliminated right from day one. That Nancy Taylor knew about that. … um, what’d you ask me?
Joe: Does it also help in finding the people that actually committed the crimes as opposed to framing people?
Betty Anne: It could. Of course, it’s a double edged sword. It helps find guilty people, it helps prove innocence, helps prove guilt. It’s perfect.