‘The Staircase’: Patrick Schwarzenegger & Dane DeHaan on Sibling Competition

The Staircase Dane DeHaan and Patrick Schwarzenegger
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HBO Max

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episodes 1-6 of The Staircase.]

The Staircase may be all about the circumstances surrounding Kathleen Peterson’s (Toni Collette) death, but at its core, it’s a drama about her and Michael Peterson’s (Colin Firth) family.

Along for the ride are a large ensemble among which include Michael’s sons, Clayton (Dane DeHaan) and Todd (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who go through quite a few changes as the HBO Max limited series progresses. Following the untimely end of Kathleen’s life, Todd is the one to step up and try to keep things together for his father and siblings, while Clayton is treated as a bit of a pariah for past discretions.

The Staircase Dane DeHaan and Patrick Schwarzenegger

(Credit: HBO Max)

Still, they stick by their father, no matter what ground they’re on. “Maybe they feel more of a responsibility to step up for their father because they are his biological sons,” DeHaan admits. “I think what’s clear to me is that Clayton truly believes his father is innocent and didn’t do it, and that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to be there for him and to prove his innocence.”

Even when the rest of the family wished to keep him out of the courtroom for Michael’s trial, Clayton was determined to do right by his dad. And after Michael went to prison, Clayton was the one who stepped up as Todd’s hold on the situation faltered.

“Our character arcs continue to grow,” Schwarzenegger teases. “There’s a little bit of a role reversal, and Clayton becomes more stable. Todd’s become the one that’s falling off and trying to find a new identity getting involved with drugs and alcohol and women and all this different stuff.”

The Staircase Dane DeHaan HBO MAx

(Credit: HBO Max)

Through this shift though, the strained relationship between the brothers isn’t made any easier. “I think like every brother, you love each other, you care for each other, but there’s always kind of some elements of competition,” says Schwarzenegger. Early on Todd was Michael’s confidante, the shoulder to lean on in rallying the family during the court proceedings, but as soon as he was sent to prison, it appeared as if something broke in Todd.

“I’m kind of the favorite, I’m the one that’s more sturdy and trustful and the one that our father can rely on,” Schwarzenegger says of Todd. “And Clay kind of has his history and some things that we want to try to hide and push to the side.”

Ultimately, that course of action doesn’t work because once Michael is sent to prison Todd sort of snaps. “When Michael does go to jail, all of a sudden this person that Todd relied on is [gone] and he goes off the rails,” DeHaan shares. Yet, Michael’s imprisonment does something somewhat positive for Clay. “The absence for Clayton is almost empowering… while his father’s away, he gets his life together and impresses him.”

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While they’re supporters of Michael, the question remains, do they have any feelings of guilt over Kathleen’s death? Especially when they caused her grief in the months and years leading up to it. “I’m not sure if Clayton and Todd being that much more perfect or not having certain mess ups would have changed the outcome of much,” Schwarzenegger says. “I think that Michael had his flaws and their relationship had its flaws… we’re just a small piece of the puzzle.”

See how the puzzle continues to grow as The Staircase streams on HBO Max.

The Staircase, New Episodes, Thursdays, HBO Max