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The Sinner Details Only True Fans Of The Show Will Know

Throughout its run, "The Sinner" has garnered multiple award nominations, including an Emmy nomination for Jessica Biel, and critics have praised the show for its acting and empathetic writing. This is no "cat and mouse game" with an evil serial killer; instead, "The Sinner" attempts to peel back the motivations for why people commit murder. "The Sinner" explores childhood trauma, guilt, and repression, all centered around a murder mystery. However, according to showrunner Derek Simonds, "The Sinner" is more of a "Whydunit" than a "Whodunit."

The standout for "The Sinner" has been series lead Bill Pullman as Harry Ambrose, a familiar face for any child of the '90s due to his work in "Independence Day" and "Casper." Each season has an entirely new cast of characters and a new mystery — or more aptly, a new person — to understand. Harry is a detective and the only character to return each season, though Ambrose is a different kind of detective. He's no whip-smart Sherlock zeroing in on clues, nor is there any sense of the machismo justice seeker so often found in crime stories; instead, Ambrose struggles with his own past and dark secrets. In many ways, Ambrose was intentionally written as a response to toxic masculinity.

Sadly, Season 4 will be the series' last, though fans should hopefully be pleased with the conclusion of Ambrose's arc. "The idea of this season was to push Ambrose so deeply into [self-blame], and the consequences of it, that he comes out the other end," Simonds told TV Line. "By the end, there is this question which is, 'Do you see another way?'"

For those who aren't ready to leave the world of "The Sinner," here are a few facts about the series that only true fans will know.

Jessica Biel has been a producer from the start

Tired of waiting for creatively challenging roles to come to her, Jessica Biel (like many other actors) has taken control of her career, choosing to produce a series she wants to see on TV. "Producing puts the power back into your own hands, so you're not sitting around waiting for somebody to deliver something amazing to you, which is very rare," she told the New York Times.

When Biel read Petra Hammesfahr's novel "The Sinner," she knew the book could be turned into they type of television series she wanted to bring to life. Biel has been a producer on the show from the start, and even after her onscreen role ended, she remained an executive producer for the following three seasons. If you miss seeing her character, don't feel sad for Biel, who's spoken about playing the dramatic role of Cora in Season 1, telling Gold Derby, "I just feel like I might be dehydrated forever, crying so much ... It was just so emotionally exhausting."

The TV series is different from the books

Petra Hammesfahr's novel "The Sinner" is the basis for the first season of the series. However, some substantial differences between the novel and the TV adaptation might surprise viewers. The novel is set in a German town, for starters, while the TV series moved the setting to New York state, where much of the first three seasons were filmed.

"The Sinner" is no lighthearted viewing experience; the series is not afraid to explore darker psychological themes, depicting episodes of childhood trauma in emotional flashbacks. And several times throughout the series, Ambrose willingly steps into the ritualistic behaviors of murder suspects, engaging with them to explore the darker aspects of human nature. Shockingly, the novel is even darker than the TV series; perhaps wisely, showrunner Derek Simonds decided to offer his audience more hopeful moments than the novel originally provided readers.

Another change between the novel and the TV adaptation is the character of Harry Ambrose. Ambrose is less developed in the book, and the focus is almost entirely on Cora. However, Ambrose and Cora are equally central to the narrative of the TV series. When the producers got the green light for a second season ("The Sinner" was originally only intended to be a limited series), there were questions about which of the characters the series would follow. Ultimately, Pullman's was chosen, carrying "The Sinner" through the next three seasons.

An unusual casting technique

"The Sinner" is a unique show, from its portrayal of masculinity to its true crime vibe and genre-bending narrative. And just as the series feels unusual in a world of police procedural and whodunit thrillers, showrunner Derek Simonds has also developed some uncommon behind-the-scenes practices.

Bill Pullman was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to professional acting. While he was a drama teacher at Montana State University, it wasn't until his 30s that he decided to try acting instead of teaching, achieving some success onstage before going on to star in his first feature film when he was 33. However, it was his theater work that caught Simonds' eye.

So instead of calling Pullman in for an audition via his agent, as usually happens in Hollywood, Simonds actually sent Pullman a letter. In the message, he mentioned how much he admired Pullman's work, specifically his role in "The Goat," a Tony award-winning drama about a man who falls in love with, well, a goat. Pullman believes his character of Martin in "The Goat" and his buried secrets drew Simonds to him, according to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. At the time, there wasn't a full script for the series, but there was a summary, and even with that small amount of information on hand, Simonds knew Pullman was exactly right for the role.

Bill Pullman had a huge influence on his character

The novel version of "The Sinner" is only one book, meaning that once a second season was ordered for the show, writers had to create an entirely new mystery for the character of Ambrose. The writers for Season 2 were developing scripts as the series was shooting, so even the actors had no idea where their characters would end up by the last episode.

To develop the character of Harry Ambrose even more for the third season, Simonds invited Pullman into the writer's room for his input on where he thought the character should go, which is fairly unusual in the entertainment industry. Pullman was happy to give his ideas for the character, even going so far as delving into his own past and early childhood for some of Ambrose's possible motivations.

Pullman told The Hollywood Reporter about the experience, saying he initially thought "Oh, this is a nice idea, and they're patronizing me" after he was invited into the writer's room. But as the scripts kept coming in, Pullman realized that many of his own experiences and ideas for the character had been included.

Carrie Coon wasn't sure about accepting the part of Vera

In Season 2 of "The Sinner," Ambrose investigates the brutal murder of two people committed by the son of a local cult leader named Vera, played by Carrie Coon. The character of Vera is tricky to pin down; is she friend or foe? Either way, Coon was exceptional as the dynamic matriarch, and the second season was arguably better than the first.

However, Carrie Coon wasn't the first choice for the part (which seems ridiculous now), although if she knows the identity of the actor the casting directors first offered the role, she isn't telling. Her real-life husband Tracy Letts was initially offered a role in Season 2 of "The Sinner" as Jack Novack, an old friend of Ambrose's. According to Coon, who'd just had a baby, "I thought, 'I'll come to New York for the summer [during filming], and I'll hang out with our baby and our friends.'" Eventually, casting directors approached her about also being in the series: "Somebody had somebody in mind, and that didn't work out, and some other people had me in mind, and it did."

In the end, husband and wife would be a part of "The Sinner" Season 2, though according to Coon, it's not uncommon, as the pair are often asked to star together. "It's funny that it's become this pitch tool for people when they come to us ... everyone is now coming to us in tandem! I think the people who want to work with us try to seduce us by offering our partner a part which I guess is a benefit of having our careers dovetailing in this unusual way."

The Season 3 character of Jamie wasn't easy to play

Season 3 of "The Sinner" unravels a new mystery in the destructive friendship between Jamie and Nick, played by Matt Bomer and Chris Messina. Ambrose investigates Matt Bomer's character Jamie, who might be responsible for Nick's death after a brutal car accident. Bomer ("American Horror Story" and "The Normal Heart") was thrilled to take on the role as he'd been a fan of the series; however, letting go of the part proved to be more challenging than he anticipated.

During filming and even after, Bomer found it hard to shake off the darkness and rage his Season 3 character had exhibited, telling Backstage, "It did mess with my psyche in ways I didn't even realize ... I was at the airport, and I started looking at the people around me and sort of judging and assessing people attached to their phones or disconnected from each other in a very similar way to Jamie, and it started to freak me out a little bit."

Jamie becomes violent as the season progresses, accessing parts of himself he thought he'd left behind when he stopped speaking to Nick. One of these scenes proved to be among the most difficult of his acting career. Filming some of the rage scenes was so emotional for Bomer that after filming the stairwell sequence, Bomer leaned over to showrunner Simonds and said, "That was one of the scariest things I've ever done." As Simonds revealed in an interview with Gold Derby, the crew kept the cameras running and encouraged Bomer to improvise much of the scene, allowing that rage to progress naturally.

Dreamwork was a vital part of the series

One of the unusual aspects of working on Derek Simonds' show is that sometimes actors are invited to participate in unorthodox workshops. According to Matt Bomer and Bill Pullman, dreamwork, hosted by Kim Gillingham, is a standard part of "The Sinner" pre-season preparation. Pullman was initially unsure of participating in the workshops, especially since he didn't feel like he ever remembered his dreams, but he decided to try it.

As it turns out, on the day before his individual dream workshop, Pullman did remember his dream, which included Keanu Reeves (sounds good) and "connected to a lot of things I couldn't understand ... but it was also in my character," with the cabin his character lives in making an appearance as well. Ultimately, as he relayed in an interview with Build, Pullman felt like the experience was incredibly helpful in visualizing his character during the season.

Matt Bomer and Simonds are "big fans of using dreams and the subconscious to influence the work," Bomer told ET. In fact, it's one of the reasons he was excited to work with Simonds on "The Sinner." Bomer and Chris Messina (Nick) did a dream workshop together before filming, just the two of them, which helped to build the intense bond that the two characters share. As Bomer told Build, their workshop heavily focused on breaking down barriers between the two men and accessing Jungian archetypes.

Matt Bomer was always going to be Jamie

While preparing for Season 3, Simonds had a clear picture of exactly who would play Jamie: Matt Bomer had always been at the top of his list. Fortunately for Simonds, Bomer was already a fan of the series and his work, telling ET that "I met with Derek years before, when he was involved in 'Call Me By Your Name,' and we really hit it off. I love the way he liked to collaborate with artists, I liked the way he liked to work. I was hungry for something that was going to challenge me in ways I hadn't been challenged before ... I had a feeling, even though our initial conversations were just very loose conversations about thematic elements of the story, that Derek was going to come up with something really special."

The part of Jamie is so entwined with Bomer that he felt it difficult to move outside the character once filming ended. It became, in many ways, a very personal role for him.

"The final scene we shot was my final scene and within an hour of wrapping I completely lost my voice for two weeks! So there was something coming through me that needed to get out of me by the time we were finished," he told Gold Derby. In fact, Bomer was so physically inside the role that throughout the season he dropped 20 pounds, an action that felt "right for what the character was going through."

Matt Bomer and Chris Messina became incredibly close

During Season 3, Jamie and Nick have a destructive friendship that pushes their boundaries as they play dangerous games that could, and do, lead to death. Since the two actors were asked to build this dark and dysfunctional relationship on set, Matt Bomer and Chris Messina found interesting ways to develop their bond when the cameras weren't rolling.

In an interview with Build, Bomer revealed that he asked Messina to make a Spotify playlist for him before filming, which included songs Nick and Chris would have listened to during their college friendship. Bomer would walk around the city, listening to the playlist to get into character; however, even though it's just a playlist, Bomer refuses to reveal the songs Messina chose because it feels deeply "personal."

This offscreen relationship created a deep trust between the two actors, enabling them to carry the emotionally harrowing scenes needed for the season. According to Bomer, "Chris was so great at coming on set and taking risks ... that you just felt like you could make any choice with him and it was OK ... We'd obviously built this huge history of their relationship together that we had to work off. And then at the end of the day, you hug it out, you tell each other you love each other and then you go on about your lives."

The setting for Season 4 reflects the themes

Season 4 of "The Sinner" sees Harry Ambrose leaving New York for a small island off the coast of Maine as he follows his girlfriend Sonya (Jessica Hecht) on an artist's retreat. This island, called Hanover in the season, is an isolated fishing community, one that's dealing with racial tensions, human trafficking, and the suicide of a young woman.

The first three seasons of "The Sinner" were filmed in New York; However, in Season 4, the setting becomes a much larger part of the story, a catalyst for many of the characters' actions. A Nova Scotian island called Lunenberg became the real-world stand-in for Hanover. Frances Fisher plays Meg Muldoon, matriarch and community leader in the small village. In an interview with TVMeg, Fisher talked about the effect that filming in such a remote community had on the cast and crew. Looking back on the "Completely brightly painted houses" and comparing the experience of entering the set to walking into "some magical Brigadoon-ish town," she recalled, "We were immersed in the air of it and all of the different weather patterns that would occur in a day. I think that affected all of us, you know, psychologically and emotionally. "

As part of that goal to include ​​racial and class politics into the final season, Simonds considered "the idea of Ambrose encountering a seaside town and having the metaphorical power of the ocean, the myth around fishing and seafaring, and Ambrose sort of entering as a fish out of water this world that he doesn't understand, had a lot of dramatic potential and kind of helped us develop his character further."

Emotional empathy is Harry Ambrose's superpower

One of the unique themes of "The Sinner" has been its constant fascination with masculinity and matriarchy, most notably told through the eyes of Harry Ambrose. Season 3 delved into toxic masculinity and the failures of many men to form healthy friendships. In contrast, the other three seasons have had powerful, older female characters at the center of traumatic relationships.

The series has been very intentional in these themes, which Simonds shared in an interview with Gold Derby as he discussed the development of Ambrose's character by saying, "He was someone who related to personally the trauma that Cora went through, and that was part of his interest in understanding what happened to her."

And for Simonds, the idea of the detective, particularly in noir narratives, was a powerful image for the series. "From the start with Ambrose, I was very aware of the iconography of the detective .... how the detective is always this hyper-masculine and tough guy," he pointed out. Saying he took pleasure in "bucking that trend and making Ambrose very vulnerable," Simonds wanted to "[Have] his superpower be his empathy ... his emotional empathy with the criminals that he encounters."