WEST CHESTER — “I’ll get some guys out there to check the area.”

Those few words let Christine Bleiler know that she had — to some small degree — made it in Hollywood.

The line was spoken by one of the actors playing a police officer in the HBO crime drama “Mare of Easttown,” a story about the investigation by a female police detective played by actress Kate Winslet into a homicide in a small town in the Philadelphia suburbs. But the words were not in the original script; the line came straight from Bleiler’s head.

The 17-year-veteran police officer — Bleiler has been with the Chester County Detectives Office for six years, and before then with the Oxford Police Department, investigating drug cases and reports of child abuse and is now part of the office’s Major Crimes Unit — had begun helping the creator of the drama get the tone and substance of police work just right in 2018; in doing so, she had formed a solid working relationship with the series’ star, Winslet.

And one morning, the telephone at Bleiler’s home in Chester County rang. It was Winslet, with a question.

“I think it is the second episode,” Bleiler said in an interview about her experience with “Mare” last week. “They were talking about phone pings,” the process of finding a particular mobile phone, geographically. “And she called me up as I was getting ready for work and said, ‘We’re doing the scene on the phone ping and this just seems too wordy. How would you say this?’ 

"I don’t remember what the exact lines were, but I said, 'This is too much. Just say, 'I’ll get some guys out there to check the area,'" Bleiler recalled. "And I think that is what the other character, Colin Zable, says on the show. 'I’ll get some guys out there to check the area.' And I heard that and I thought, 'Oh, that’s what I said.'"

Bleiler cited the exchange as an example of the way that those involved in the series, which premiered last month on the cable network and which was filmed in locations around Chester County, Delaware County, and the general Philadelphia area, including Coatesville, Phoenixville and Chadds Ford, worked diligently at getting the right amount of authenticity concerning police work in the show.

The show has received favorable reviews for the story as well as for Winslet’s work as the titular character, a single mother and grandmother with a complex past working as a criminal investigator. 

"Brad’s goal was to make this as real and as close to police work as possible for TV," Bleiler said of Brad Ingelsby, the Berwyn native and "Mare" screenwriter to whom she was introduced through a mutual friend, Marple Police Officer Pete Baylor, who also worked on the production. 

It was the same message that Ingelsby gave to Dave Obzud, chief of police of the real Easttown, the Upper Main Line community at the eastern end of the county. Ingelsby had reached out when he was in the initial stages of development and continued to pick Obzud’s brain about the "minutiae" of police procedure needed to give the series the verisimilitude he craved.

"They reached out to us, and Brad Ingelsby asked to come in," Obzud said. "He came in and asked would I mind looking at the script. He had a lot of interest in procedures. 'What about this? Is this what you do? What would you do with this?' He just wanted to learn. He wanted to get everything right."

Of course, both Obzud and Bleiler said there were instances when what really happens in a criminal investigation can’t be included in a television production because, after all, who wants to watch 45 minutes of someone typing a police report?

"On television, things happen much quicker," said Obzud. "And we would have conversations about that because they have to script it for television."

The chief also addressed what is obvious to those who know Chester County, and who know that the leafy, upscale suburb of Easttown is not the same as the gritty, working-class community of Easttown depicted in the drama.  

"It is meant to be a fictional place," he said. "It was not meant to be this Easttown. That Easttown can be anywhere. So they filmed in a whole bunch of different towns in the area. If you are looking for something to look like Easttown, this is not going to."

Bleiler and Winslet met via email and phone before filming on the project began and established a professional relationship over mutual life connections.

In their first phone conversation, she said, "It just took off. For the first hour-and-a-half it was just about life, and police work, and motherhood. It wasn’t all about the show, but it was incredibly engaging. I think we found this common ground, even though we come from very different backgrounds, obviously. I feel like we hit it off, just being working moms."

Winslet is known in the entertainment industry for meticulously researching her roles, and face-to-face meetings with Bleiler reinforced that. 

She asked about interrogations ("It’s about building rapport and finding a common ground, whether they are a victim, suspect or witness," Bleiler told her); how to unholster a firearm ("We did not use real guns"); and how to wear and use handcuffs ("Don’t worry about a technique, the goal is to get them on quickly and safely.")

"She was incredibly committed to Mare and making sure she did her justice," the detective said. The work at achieving a realness to the story that Ingelsby asked Bleiler and Obzud to assist with has not gone unnoticed in the press. 

Said a reviewer for the website TVInsider.com, "There’s a pungent authenticity to this series, attributable to series creator Brad Ingelsby hailing from the region. He knows the turf, and is so invested in Mare’s realism that on the rare occasion when she does something unforgivably stupid and petty, we’re not surprised that she doesn’t get away with it."

Discussing the character, Bleiler said it was the flaws in her life that made Mare so compelling.

"I don’t have interest in cop shows, really," she said. "I do it every day, so when I go home I don’t care to watch it. I am not a 'Law and Order' person. That’s not my thing. I’ve seen a couple of those episodes and I roll my eyes because it’s ridiculous. And the characters are always perfectly done and everything works out perfectly fine, and that’s just not police work. That’s not who we are. 

"And that was not the goal with Brad," she continued. "So everything, down to the wardrobe, I said, 'Don’t put her in certain thing just to make her look good for TV.' That is what is so great about Mare.  

"There are so many layers to her," Bleiler said. "And she is a human. She is not (portrayed) as this perfect police officer. She is out there doing her best. Everything she does, whether you agree with it or not, she’s doing it in her own mind for good intentions. She’s just a real human being, and that's what I love about her. She’s not perfect, but what she does is for good intentions, whether she does it right or not."

The amount of time Bleiler spent on the phone with Winslet and on the set with the crew gave her an appreciation for both.

"To be on set is a long day," she said. "The days were easily 12 hours, if not more. It’s incredibly tedious. The time it takes to do one scene, that could be a two-minute scene, would be a half a day’s work. I couldn’t believe the work they put in to make a TV show. You just don’t appreciate all the work and the talent that’s behind the scenes. You watch a TV show and you take it for granted.” As for Winslet, Bleiler had nothing but praise, as an actor and a person.

"I don't know if there are enough words to describe her," the detective said. "She is incredibly focused and dedicated to her craft, her work. She wanted to get this right. She put in so much time to get this character right. She truly cares about her work. And she nails it. 

"She is who you would want her to be. In every sense of the word. She is really a great person."

Both Obzud and BleiIer had an opportunity to see the entire story, so they know how the mystery ends. 

"I had a vision of what it was going to look like reading the script, and then you go on set, it’s all over the place. Now that I’ve watched it, it's incredible to see it all together," said Bleiler. "Mare, to me, has been on my mind for three years, since talking with Brad about this character, and now she’s come to life. It’s a really cool experience to see her be who I thought she was going to be."

Said Obzud, "I think it has been excellent. If you’ve watched and think it’s slow, wait. Hang in there. It’s going to get much better."

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

To contact Staff Writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

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