St. Louis attorney Joel Schwartz on his new book and actor playing him in “The Thing About Pam”

Joel+Schwartz

Joel Schwartz

Bill Motchan, Special For The Jewish Light

The murder of Betsy Faria in 2011 initially cast her husband Russ as the villain and her presumptive killer. That was until the Jewish St. Louis attorney Joel Schwartz stepped in and ably defended Faria. Betsy Faria’s friend Pamela Hupp was then charged with the murder.

The crime investigation and trial of Russ Faria are described in the recently published “Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case” by Schwartz and true crime writer Charles Bosworth.

The case is also the subject of the NBC miniseries “The Thing About Pam” starring Renee Zellweger as Hupp and Josh Duhamel as Schwartz.

Schwartz will give a talk on untangling the Betsy Faria murder case on April 6 at SIU Edwardsville at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Attendance is free, and registration is required. The registration form is here.

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The Jewish Light caught up with Schwartz last week for a Q&A.

Briefly describe your job.

In a nutshell, I defend justice to make sure the system works as it should.

How is the book doing?

The book sales have been going wonderfully and the TV series helps. It’s kind of neat because the book and TV series, while there are factually accurate, are a completely different take on the facts.

You got to spend a fair amount of time with Josh Duhamel, the actor who portrayed you. What was that experience like?

It was interesting in its normalcy. Josh is a normal guy from North Dakota with no pretenses. Had we grown up together and known each other, we’d be good friends. And we’ve become friends.

Actors who play real-life roles are good at observing and recreating their subjects. Did Josh pick up your characteristics?

It’s interesting to watch him play me because most people who know me—other than I’m left-handed and he’s right-handed—he kind of has my mannerisms down. The casualness and the calmness that he seems to project is very similar to my personality.

Josh Duhamel’s portrayal of you also shows him playing the guitar, which you do. How did you get started playing?

My parents made me play piano. I hated it, and I picked up a guitar when I was in the seventh grade. I got in a band with my cousin and some friends and we were terrible but we thought we were good and by the time I was in the ninth grade, we were playing every bar mitzvah in town.

Are there similarities or skills needed to be effective as an actor and a trial lawyer?

You need to believe what you are telling the jury. Otherwise, you’re going nowhere, and if you don’t believe in what you’re saying as an actor, you’re going to be a pretty terrible actor. 

You had acting aspirations before becoming an attorney. Did the experience of working with the writers and actors on this project make you wistful for that life—or glad you chose the career path you did?

I enjoy what I do, am I’m always employed, unlike most actors. The first acting I did was with my dad in a play at the JCC called “A Hole In The Head.” I was in the fifth grade and I had the acting bug ever since. I have done some community theatre and with my band, I get to perform, which is what I love. I’m also acting in a sense in front of a jury, but it actually means something. 

As a defense attorney, you often need to assemble clues like the pieces of a puzzle. Do you enjoy solving puzzles for fun or playing games like wordle?

Absolutely, I love hard puzzles. I always carry “The New York Times Magazine” with me because in the back is the crossword puzzle. I always complete it. Sometimes it takes me a long time, sometimes a little, but with all the waiting around I do, this is how I occupy myself.