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Exploring the Life of Robert Durst

Andrew Jarecki on the millionaire and the murders behind his HBO miniseries, The Jinx

The HBO miniseries The Jinx isn’t a work of fiction, though at times it can feel like one. The six-part series tells the story of Manhattan real estate heir Robert Durst, an eccentric septuagenarian who’s been accused of multiple murders and had for years evaded cops before being arrested for shoplifting a sandwich. The situation, to put it mildly, is odd.

Perhaps even stranger is how it came about. After director Andrew Jarecki made All Good Things, a 2010 feature film based on the murder of Durst’s wife Kathleen, his subject made contact and offered to share his side of the story.  The result began airing on HBO earlier this month and has had audiences captivated. As long as they’re not related to Durst. Indeed, his brother Douglas recently told the New York Times, “There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had the opportunity to kill me, he would.”

Here, Jarecki discusses what convinced him to spend time with an accused killer, how he used filmmaking to uncover the truth about a cold case and what questions about the Durst case have left him scratching his own head.  

So, you decided to make a series about a guy who some people think has killed more than one person. Does that feel dangerous?

Any kind of documentary subject is a real subject and there are real issues related to it. I think we’re generally there to tell a story, and I’ve never felt endangered in any way by Bob. Frankly the people who are most antagonistic of this film include the family! I’m much more concerned about Bob’s brother’s action towards me than Bob’s.

How has he behaved towards you?

You know, they’ve been hostile to the project since the very beginning. They’ve said false things about us, our intentions and the kind of work that we do. Then they take it to another level. They sued me personally. None of that stuff alarms me from the standpoint of liability, but I think that the level of anger and anxiety about the subject is really remarkable.

I’m curious about diving into a subject like this—do you find yourself discovering new things or is it an exercise in connecting preexisting dots?

You have to go through some of the history to tell the story, but that’s not where the action is. The action, I think, is along the lines of, What don’t I know about this story? I think that’s what’s most exciting about this series and what makes it substantial on another level. 

What was your greatest sort of aha! moment?

The most powerful thing I can say is that during the course of this series, you will learn what happened. When you have a case that has baffled authorities for the last 30 years and has stretched decades without a solution, I think that will be very compelling for the audience. I think the audience has a lot of questions. I think the majority of people don’t know much about it, they know that there was a guy who grew up in the lap of luxury and ended up years later in a $300-a-month rooming house in Texas.

Working with a character like Bob, did you learn anything about yourself?

It’s very hard to get it right. Any time you want to tell a story in a way that’s going to be absorbed by the general public, the standards are high. You want to break some ground and show something that’s different than seen before. Here we were bound by the format. We knew that we were living in a binge-watching universe. We said let’s cut this story, let’s make it exactly as long as it needs to be to tell the story and let’s not add anything unnecessary. 

This was made for TV. If you were to re-visit the idea of a feature film, how might you approach it differently?

I don’t know that we’d do it any differently. That film was never designed to be the exhaustive telling. There was a certain amount of investigation that came along with doing it—we were essentially trying to tell a tragic love story.