How Netflix's The Good Nurse flips the script on the true crime genre

The Netflix production stars Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren, a New Jersey nurse who learns her close friend and co-worker is a serial killer. It debuts Oct. 26 on Netflix.

Film about serial killer Charles Cullen focuses on co-worker who brought him down

Amy Loughren, the subject of the film The Good Nurse, poses for photos on the red carpet ahead of the TIFF premiere of the film on Sept. 11, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Good Nurse isn't your typical true crime story. The Netflix production, starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, tells the true story of Amy Loughren, a New Jersey nurse who learns her close friend and co-worker is a serial killer. 

Instead of focusing solely on troubled nurse and killer Charles Cullen, The Good Nurse chooses to highlight Loughren's bravery as she worked with police to bring Cullen down.

"One of the first things Amy said to me when I said, 'Thank you so much for everything you did, it was an incredible risk to yourself,' was, 'Anyone would have done what I would have done,'' Chastain told CBC News at the film's TIFF premiere in September.

Cullen, a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit along with Loughren, was convicted in 2006 for killing 29 people using fatal doses of intravenous medications, although he confessed to killing at least 40 and experts suspect it's possible that he could have caused more than 300 deaths until his arrest.

In 2003, Loughren wore a recording device to capture Cullen's confessions, which police later used to arrest him. 

WATCH | The Good Nurse cast describe Amy Loughren's heroic acts:

The cast of The Good Nurse describes Amy Loughren as a hero

5 months ago
Duration 1:18
Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne and Noah Emmerich describe the heroic acts of Amy Loughren and her power to change the world in ways the institution wasn’t capable of.

Making the story come to life

Loughren worked closely with Chastain, both over Zoom and on set, to capture Loughren's empathy and the nuance of her actions, she told CBC News.

"She really wanted to be fiercely compassionate, and I think that she does that," Loughren said of Chastain's performance.

Redmayne, who plays Cullen, said he hadn't heard about the killer before reading the script, and couldn't believe how the story unravelled.

"This man, who seemed very gentle, very kind, very empathetic, was using that empathy and weaponizing it to do horrific things," he told CBC News.

From left, The Good Nurse cast members Nnamdi Asomugha, Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne pose for a picture on the red carpet for the TIFF premiere of the film on Sept. 11, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Noah Emmerich, who plays detective Tim Braun, said his role was different from other detectives he portrayed in the past. "The detectives couldn't get him. They were totally dead in the water until this little angel, Amy."

The film isn't the first adaptation of the murders. British channel Sky Crime ran a documentary called Charles Cullen — Killing for Kindness in 2020. Another 2008 film, Killer Nurse, was inspired by the serial killer. The Netflix movie is based on the 2013 novel The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber.

WATCH | How friendship helped Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne film gritty scenes:

Jessica Chastain, Eddie RedMayne on how their friendship made gritty scenes easier

5 months ago
Duration 1:28
“They wanted to work together and I was just there at the right time,” says director Tobias Lindholm

Bonds on set

It was a tough story to tell, Redmayne said, but working with Chastain helped. He noted he and Chastain had been friends for a number of years, but hadn't really gotten the chance to work together before The Good Nurse.

"Despite the fact that the subject matter is intense and gritty, we had a really joyful time making the movie," he said. 

Director Tobias Lindhilm said the actors' friendship was "just his luck."

"It's always dangerous to work with friends. I do think since it was a story not about a serial killer, but a friendship between two people that evolved into something else, I really needed that friendship," Lindhilm said.

WATCH | The Good Nurse trailer:

On watching her friend, Redmayne, transform into Cullen, Chastain said, "I don't like it, but Amy doesn't like it either, so I guess it's a perfect thing to play."

Loughren said Redmayne's characterization of Cullen gave her chills.

"I did the ugly cry. It was amazing," she said.

The Good Nurse debuts Oct. 26 on Netflix.


Ashleigh-Rae Thomas

CJF Black Women's Fellow

Ashleigh-Rae is a 2022 Canadian Journalism Foundation's Black Women's Fellow at CBC News. She has previously worked at Toronto Star and has written for Yahoo and Global News. You can reach her at ashleigh-rae.thomas@cbc.ca