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The Hollywood Star Who Almost Played Baby Reindeer's Martha

This article contains mentions of sexual assault and mental illness.

"Baby Reindeer," which was marketed as a reworked version of a true story, was one of Netflix's biggest and most unexpected hits in 2024. Now, the controversial yet critically acclaimed series is facing some potential legal trouble — and that trouble may have revealed that one of the show's biggest roles was almost played by a huge Hollywood star.

According to Tatiana Siegel's report in Variety, "Baby Reindeer" and its creator, Richard Gadd, are coming under fire from real-life people who claim that they were represented — and subsequently maligned — in the miniseries. To add to those issues, Gadd is being accused of engaging in what Siegel calls "casting couch antics," with trans actress Reese Lyons claiming that Gadd instigated a romantic connection with her in real life while telling her that he was in the midst of casting a prominent role for a trans actress. (The role ultimately went to Nava Mau.) 

Despite the series' production company saying that Gadd had no final say in casting, what Siegel says next might be one of the most surprising allegations made against Gadd: "Those familiar with the production say Gadd micromanaged casting and fired his CAA agents after they and Netflix pushed aggressively for Melissa McCarthy to be cast as Martha. (A knowledgeable source says McCarthy met Gadd about the role but ultimately wasn't interested.)" Jessica Gunning ended up portraying Martha — so who exactly is the character that could have been played by McCarthy?

Martha is a particularly frightening and upsetting character in Baby Reindeer

Within the narrative of "Baby Reindeer," an apparently autofictional story created by Richard Gadd and based on his one-man show, Martha Scott is certainly the antagonist — but she's also a deeply tragic character. When Donny and the audience first meet Martha Scott, she sits down in front of Donny while he's working as a bartender, and though she claims to be a high-powered lawyer, she also says she can't afford a cup of tea. When Donny pays for her drink, Martha forms an instant attachment, which only increases in intensity; meanwhile, Donny is trying to launch his ailing stand-up career and ends up beginning a relationship with Teri (Nava Mau), a transgender woman whom he initially dates in secret. 

As the show continues, it's revealed that Donny deeply sturggles with his queer identity due to a traumatizing and abusive relationship with a male mentor, who repeatedly and brutally sexually assaulted Donny for a period of time before the show's narrative actually begins ... and it's also revealed that Martha has a history of stalking. Martha makes Donny's life a living hell, heckling him during open mic nights, sexually assaulting him when they see each other in person, and physically attacking Teri when she sees the two out on a date. By the time the story ends, Martha is sentenced to a short prison sentence, but Donny realizes that he can't stop thinking about the woman who both mockingly and affectionally called him "baby reindeer" in countless texts, emails, and voicemails.

A woman claiming to be the real Martha has spoken out about Baby Reindeer

In April of this year — just a few weeks after "Baby Reindeer" dropped all of its episodes on Netflix — real-life figures faced scrutiny and harassment as would-be Internet sleuths tried to figure out the "real people" behind the show's characters. An anonymous Scottish woman who claimed to be the real inspiration for Martha spoke out about the trials she faced when the show was released, and earlier this month, Variety reported that the woman, Fiona Harvey — who spoke to Piers Morgan in an interview about her trauma — is suing Richard Gadd and Netflix. "The lies that Defendants told about Harvey to over 50 million people worldwide include that Harvey is a twice-convicted stalker who was sentenced to five years in prison, and that Harvey sexually assaulted Gadd," the legal complaint reads. "As a result of Defendants' lies, malfeasance and utterly reckless misconduct, Harvey's life had been ruined. Simply, Netflix and Gadd destroyed her reputation, her character and her life."

Sean Foley, who was accused of being the inspiration for Donny Dunn's abuser Darrien O'Connor (Tom Goodman-Hill), also had to speak out about the show and ask that people stop attacking him on social media. Clearly, "Baby Reindeer" is causing a ton of controversy ... so it's possible that Melissa McCarthy is relieved that she didn't play Martha after all.