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Nicole Kidman’s 1995 Dark Comedy ‘To Die For’ Was Inspired By a Real-Life Crime

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / mxria / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / mxria / MovieStillsDB

Wouldn’t it be fun to be rich and famous? Sure, it might appeal to some, but how far would you be willing to go to achieve that status? In the 1995 film, To Die For, Nicole Kidman‘s character Suzanne Stone is willing to kill for it. It’s a film that makes audiences glad that no one is really that ruthless… right?

To Die For was based on the 1992 novel by the same name, which in turn took inspiration from a real-life crime that took place in 1990.

‘To Die For’

To Die For is a 1995 dark comedy-drama film directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Nicole Kidman in a career-defining role. The film tells the story of Suzanne Stone (Kidman), a beautiful and ambitious weather reporter in a small town who is determined to achieve fame and fortune at any cost.

Suzanne is a charismatic and manipulative woman who dreams of becoming a television personality. She is married to Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon), a working-class restaurateur who is content with their simple life. Suzanne, however, sees Larry as an obstacle to her ambitions and concocts a plan to get rid of him.

Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, and others at the wedding of Suzanne Stone and Larry Maretto in To Die For.
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / lindsaylohanslastfan / MovieStillsDB

Driven by her desire for fame and recognition, Suzanne seduces a teenage boy named Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix) and manipulates him into carrying out a plot to murder her husband. She believes that by eliminating Larry, she will be free to pursue her television career without any hindrance. Suzanne’s cold-hearted and calculating nature is revealed as she manipulates everyone around her to achieve her goals.

As the film unfolds, Suzanne’s plan begins to unravel, and the consequences of her actions become increasingly dire. The events are presented through a mix of documentary-style interviews and traditional narratives, providing a satirical commentary on media sensationalism and the pursuit of fame.

Nicole Kidman delivers a captivating performance as Suzanne Stone, showcasing her range as an actress. She portrays Suzanne with a perfect balance of charm, ruthlessness, and vulnerability, capturing the character’s relentless drive and desperation for recognition. Kidman’s portrayal earned critical acclaim, with many considering it one of her best performances to date.

To Die For explores themes of ambition, obsession, and the dark side of the American dream. It delves into the destructive effects of media manipulation and the lengths some individuals are willing to go to achieve their desires. But it ultimately does more than that – it was actually based on a true crime.

The murder of Greggory Smart

In 1989, Pamela Smart married Greggory Smart, and the couple moved to New Hampshire. Pamela, who had a communications degree from Florida State University, wanted to work in television and become the next Barbara Walters. To achieve this, she took a media coordination position with a school district. Soon afterward, the Smart marriage began to crumble as Pamela discovered that her husband had engaged in an affair. Pamela entered into her own dalliance with Billy Flynn, a 15-year-old student.

Holland Taylor, Nicole Kidman, and Kurtwood Smith in a still from To Die For.
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / michaella92 / MovieStillsDB

On May 1, 1990, Greggory Smart was found murdered in the couple’s home. The police suspected that he had been killed during a break-in, however, that was not the case. Pamela told Billy Flynn that she would not sleep with him unless he killed Greggory. He enlisted the help of his friends Pete Randall, Vince Lattime Jr., and Raymond Fowler to commit the murder.

Pamela denied having any involvement in her husband’s death. However, Pete Randall and Vince Lattime Jr. confessed to the police that Pamela had planned the murder of her husband and she got Billy to do it. Lattime’s father also found a gun in his home, which he turned in to the police as he believed it to be the murder weapon.

One of Pamela’s friends, Cecelia Pierce, agreed to wear a wire and captured a conversation in which Pamela incriminated herself. The tape, the gun, and Billy’s friends’ testimony led to Pamela’s arrest on August 1, 1990.

Her trial was big news, and in a turn of fate, the 22-year-old was put into the limelight of the media – exactly what she had always wanted.

Pamela Smart’s trial and reaction to the film

Pamela Smart’s trial concluded on March 22, 1991. She was convicted of being involved in her husband’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. For their part in the crime, the four teenagers all served time in prison and have since been released. Smart, on the other hand, was sent to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. As of 2023, she is still incarcerated.

Nicole Kidman as Suzanne Stone in To Die For.
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / Zayne / MovieStillsDB

Smart got to see To Die For while in prison, however, unlike critics and general audiences, she did not give it a stellar review. She told The Washington Post, “It’s almost like when you see a car accident, and you think to yourself, ‘Why am I looking at this?'” She also made the point that many people would simply believe it to be true just because they saw it in the movie.

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Smart also didn’t like Kidman’s portrayal of her. She said, “She portrayed me as flaky, like an airhead. In the movie, she came across as very narcissistic. I’m so not that way at all.”

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.