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On View : Domestic Chaos : CBS AIRS FILM THAT WAS IN THE WORKS LONG BEFORE SIMPSON CASE

October 09, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On June 17, Susan Dey was in Vancouver on the set of her latest TV movie, "Beyond Betrayal." The CBS thriller tells the story of an abused wife on the run after escaping from the clutches of her brutal husband (Richard Dean Anderson) two years earlier.

On that day, production was interrupted when the film's executive producer, Daniel H. Blatt ("Men Don't Tell"), arrived and informed everyone that O.J. Simpson was a fugitive and fleeing police in a white Ford Bronco. It was the first time Dey became aware of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, whose marriage to O.J. Simpson was marked by reports of spousal abuse, and Ronald Goldman. "To me, it was surrealistic," Dey recalls.

And now CBS has scheduled "Beyond Betrayal" to air Tuesday, as interest in the high-profile Simpson murder case continues to build.

"I've been working on this for years and years," explains Blatt. "This was not a reaction to what was going on. It took a long time to get the script (by Shelley Evans) right."

Though "Beyond Betrayal" is about spousal abuse, the domestic violence is implied. "The picture deals with a subject matter that is obviously more in the public's eye, without being exploitative in any way whatsoever," Blatt says.

In "Beyond Betrayal," which is directed by Carl Schenkel ("Silhouette"), Dey plays Joanna Matthews, a former teacher who has relocated to Seattle and works as a waitress under the name of Emma Doyle. Skittish and frequented by nightmares of her life with her violent husband Bradley (Anderson), Joanna nevertheless feels free for the first time since her marriage. While working, she meets a gentle toy maker Sam (Dennis Boutsikaris) whose estranged wife has a drug problem. The two slowly fall in love. But unbeknown to Joanna, Bradley, who is a policeman, has finally tracked her down. When Bradley murders Sam's wife and Sam is thrown in jail for the crime, Joanna must decide if she should continue running.

"There is a real arc to her character," Blatt says of Dey's Joanna. "She is someone who is on the run and afraid and frightened. She (finally) realizes she has a sense of her own basic entitlement."

Dey was intrigued by the "thriller aspect" of the piece and has high praise for director Schenkel's taut, visual direction.

"I'm looking at TV and the need for a change," Dey explains. "Thank God, they're moving away from hideous films about making violent acts somewhat heroic or interesting. I was really excited about this. This is a thriller and yet it also has great meaning behind it and a great heart in it as well."

The role of the vicious Bradley is a 180-degree turn from Anderson's good-guy persona in the title role of "MacGyver" for seven seasons on ABC. "Part of the reason I was cast was because I did project a Mr. Nice Guy image," he says. "It became important to me to do the role because he wasn't Mr. Nice Guy.

"People asked me if I felt that I was running the risk of being typecast staying with 'MacGyver' for so long," Anderson acknowledges. "I guess I never felt that way. But I guess the proving of it was going out and doing a variety of roles, each of which got progressively darker. In a way, this is the most threatening because of his station as a policeman who is physically, domestically and psychologically abusive. I think the combination pretty much makes him the ugliest."

Anderson talked about the role with friends who are police officers. "They tell stories of the tensions and the pressure and the anxiety and stress that come with their particular jobs. I don't think the physical and mental abusive behavior is necessarily a direct result of the job. We don't tie that into the script."

Dey had a difficult time playing a victim. "I couldn't stand it," she says. "She was a victim allowing herself to be in hiding, coming from a small town that didn't have the kind of help available in larger towns. Joanna's story is more classic in terms of abused women who go underground, go into hiding. She couldn't get the system to help her because she came from a small town, and in that small town her husband, as a law enforcer, is a hero. The force did protect him. She had no choice but to go underground."

While doing research for her part, Dey met a woman who went underground several years before and, like Joanna, her husband was a police officer. "She had one of her children with her and the other was still with the father," Dey relates. "She validated everything that was in the script."

These women, Dey says, are not able to use their Social Security cards to get the type of job they need to support themselves. "The thing that upset me the most is that she said, 'I am about to leave this particular area very soon. The moment I start to feel comfortable I know it is time to leave.' "

Dey also worked hard with the costume designer to get a certain look for Joanna. "The reality is that (Joanna has) no money. So when we started putting together these clothes, there was always something wrong when we tried to put a look together. We came down to three outfits, I think, that she just used over and over again. I was really pleased when I saw the movie. It's so nondescript. It is like there is no personality in those clothes. It is a person who is nothing. As much as she's alive, she is nonexistent."

"Beyond Betrayal" airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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