Merritt Wever on Netflix's 'Unbelievable' and Learning Not to Torture Herself

Illustration by Britt Spencer

"When I got the first round of materials, I remember my blood started boiling, my adrenaline was pumping, my cheeks started flushing and my chest got really red."

Marie Adler's true story of being charged with lying about being raped had a visceral effect on two-time Emmy award-winning actress Merritt Wever, who plays Detective Karen Duvall in Unbelievable, now streaming on Netflix.

She's joined by Oscar-nominated actress Toni Collette and Kaitlyn Dever in the new series based on "The Unbelievable Story of Rape," a 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning article. It's not until two female detectives team up to take down a serial rapist that the truth about the teenager finally comes out.

Wever's compassion is unmistakable from her first scene. "I did so much research about the right way to investigate these cases and to interact with survivors and to hold that space for them," she says. "The tricky part is, you're not a counselor or therapist. You are playing a detective and doing a different kind of job. I got a little hung up around doing it the right way."

Wever spoke to Newsweek about the project and learning to look after herself.

What attracted you to Karen's role?
It was more about the story. I cared a lot about Marie and had a lot of respect for Detective Stacy Galbraith, who my character is based on.

How was working with Toni Collette?
She's pretty spectacular. The significance of getting to work with someone like her wasn't lost on me. People like her and like Lisa Cholodenko and Susannah Grant are part of the fabric of my creative consciousness. Their work has always been a big deal to me.

Do you think Marie's case was able to be solved the second time around because it was being investigated by female detectives?
It's not that simple. One of the painful, nuanced and interesting parts of this story is the first person who doesn't believe Marie and who brings it to the attention of the police—who should have investigated it fully—is one of her foster mothers, a woman who has been sexually assaulted herself. So I do think it matters if they're female, but I don't know that it's the only reason that this case went one way.

What did you learn from this role?
I would like to find a way to do my job without torturing myself so much about it. I don't think I've learned that lesson, but it's the goal I walked away with. Enjoy the work instead of agonizing over doing it well enough. There's got to be a balance.