May 10, 2013 at 8:48 AM ET
As convicted murderer Jodi Arias sits in an Arizona jail’s psychiatric ward on suicide watch, actress Tania Raymonde is 400 miles away portraying Arias for an upcoming Lifetime movie.
Best known for her work on “Lost,” Raymonde has dyed her hair blonde for the movie tentatively titled “The Jodi Arias Story,” which is being filmed in the Los Angeles area. Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday in the death of her ex boyfriend, Travis Alexander, who she stabbed 29 times, including slashing his throat, and shot once in the head on June 4, 2008, according to trial testimony.
When "The Jodi Arias Story" airs this June, the people who were glued to the four-month long proceedings can expect the same fascinating courtroom drama in the movie version of Arias' trial.
“Tania has somehow tapped into the sweet and likable things that drew Travis to Jodi, into Jodi’s weird eccentricities that are hard to explain, and into the demons that drove this young woman to do such a terrible, extreme thing,” said Arturo Interian, vice president of original movies for Lifetime Networks and A&E networks. “Tania has immersed herself in this role and I’ve seen her go from sexy to downright scary in the same scene.”
Lifetime began developing the film in March of 2012. An early draft of the script obtained by NBCNews.com indicates that the movie will prominently feature Arias’ and Alexander’s tumultuous on-and-off romance—along with their now infamous sex life—and the events that led to his brutal death. In fact, it opens with the pig-tailed Arias nude on a bed posing for photographs—an iconic image to the trial’s followers.
But now that Arias has been convicted, Interian said the script is being re-written to include key trial moments, particularly some of the heated exchanges between prosecutor Juan Martinez and Arias during cross-examination. Actor Tony Plana has been cast to play Martinez, who has become a local star and YouTube sensation as the result of his vigorous cross-examination techniques. Raymonde will go back to being a brunette for those scenes.
The script portrays Arias as a self-help-yearning, budding photographer who becomes obsessed with Alexander as soon as she meets him. She sneaks into his house through the doggie door, sends threatening emails to other women, and stalks him. Alexander is depicted as a flirtatious and popular goofball who becomes sexually addicted to Arias but does try to get rid of her.
During the televised trial, Arias testified for 18 days and provided outrageous and explicit details of her rocky relationship with Alexander, including a phone sex tape she recorded, photographs they took of each other having sex, and tales of Tootsie Pops and Pop Rocks escapades.
“We approached this story creatively from the point of view that Travis was the victim, and were trying to wrap our arms around why Jodi did what she did,” Interian said. “I think the verdict certainly validated our approach…I think people are fascinated with Jodi and I think this film is a serious attempt to look at what makes her tick. At the same time, I think what’s been lost in this story is the victim in this case.”
Jesse Lee Soffer of “The Mob Doctor” is playing Alexander and “will bring home the fact that a young man died needlessly here,” Interian said. The network hopes to bring to life Arias’ and Alexander’s relationship “in a way that only movies can.”
“Jesse’s a handsome fellow and he brings such a humanity to Travis,” Interian said. “You really understand this was a charismatic young man, a successful motivational speaker, and you really see why Jodi fell so hard for him. And I think Travis had a bit of naiveté as to what Jodi was capable of, and I think that Jesse captures that so well. Travis wanted to believe the best about Jodi and it cost him.”
And, of course, there will be sex. Although some of Alexander’s friends believed him to be a virgin, Arias provided plenty of evidence to the contrary during the trial. But can a basic cable network handle their X-rated trysts?
“There was certainly more to the Jodi-Travis relationship than just sex but given the dirty phone calls, the naked pictures, the sexts between them, certainly the media has focused in on their sex lives,” Interian said. “They were a young couple and they had kinky sex. I think our director, Jace Alexander, is up to the challenge. It’s basic cable so we don’t have to be quite so chaste as folks think. So, yes, there will be sex.”