Baby Reindeer's Richard Gadd Reveals What He Won't Comment on "Ever Again"

After initially asking Baby Reindeer viewers to stop speculating on who inspired the show's characters, the series creator explained why he won't be responding to the matter further.

By Elyse Dupre May 14, 2024 3:11 PMTags
Watch: Baby Reindeer Star Richard Gadd Won't Comment on THIS Ever Again

Richard Gadd is staying tight-lipped when it comes to this subject.

After previously asking Baby Reindeer fans to stop speculating on the real-life identities of the show's characters, the series creator and star explained why he won't be issuing another response.

"I don't agree with the sleuth thing," Gadd told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published May 13. "I've put out a statement publicly saying I want the show to be received as a piece of art, and I want the show to people to enjoy as a piece of art." 

As he further elaborated, "I'm called Donny Dunn. It exists in a sort of fictional realm, even though it's based on truth, it exists in a fictional realm, let's enjoy the world that I've created. If I wanted the real-life people to be found, I would've made it a documentary."

And as Gadd sees it, weighing in on the subject will only fuel the frenzy.

"I've spoken publicly about how I don't want people to do it and if I start playing a game of whack-a-mole, then I'm almost adding to it," he continued. "I don't think I'll ever comment on it ever again."

TV's Most Killer True Crime Transformations

Still, the Netflix star knows he can't stop people from trying to get answers.

"I can't confirm or deny anything relating to the real-life people who the characters are based on in the show," he added. "I know for every single part, there's been about five or six people who have been sort of named as each part, even all the way down to the pub manager. The Internet's always going to do its thing. I can't really comment on that. There was a video the other day of someone had sent me of someone claiming to be Teri. I'd never met them before in my life. The internet just does this thing and I just have to let it do its thing. And that's that."

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix

Gadd initially spoke out on social media weeks after the release of Baby Reindeer, which is based on his experiences with a stalker and sexual assault.

"Please don't speculate on who any of the real-life people could be," he wrote in part of an April 22 Instagram Stories post, per a screenshot shared by Today. "That's not the point of our show." 

Meanwhile, the woman who allegedly inspired the stalker character Martha, Fiona Harvey, has denied sending Gadd thousands of emails and said she's never been charged with a crime or spent time in prison.

"I'm not a stalker. I've not been to jail. I've not got injunctions," Harvey said in an interview on Piers Morgan Uncensored that aired May 9. "This is just complete nonsense." 

To learn more about Baby Reindeer, keep reading.

Richard Gadd Takes the Stage

Hailing from the village of Wormit in Fife, Scotland, Richard Gadd is an Oxford School of Drama alum who built a name for himself at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with primed-to-shock shows like 2013's Cheese & Crack Whores, 2014's Breaking Gadd and 2015's Waiting for Gaddot, which won a Scottish Comedy Award for Best Solo Show.

Not one to describe himself as a traditional comedian in any sense of the form, Gadd told The Skinny in March 2016, "I don't think I can stand up and tell a story; I haven't written an anecdote or a joke in my life. What I do is high-concept theatrics; big ideas; in-your-face, smash-mouth comedy."

Still, while he wasn't shy about detailing his personal issues in his work—"If you tackle these uncomfortable zones you become stronger as a person"—he was known for playing more of an outlandish character on stage.

Animal Instincts

But the real Gadd stepped up in Monkey See Monkey Do, which debuted at the Fringe in August 2016.

Running on a treadmill the entire time, trying to get the figurative monkey off his back, Gadd unpacked the self-loathing and crisis of masculinity he experienced after being drugged and sexually assaulted by another man four years beforehand, when he was 23. His telling was interspersed with images (the first being video of Gadd vomiting) on a screen and snippets of audio, including recordings from sessions with his therapist that he lip-synced on stage.

The Guardian described Gadd's approach as "open-vein emotional engagement," singling out a moment where he, recalling what happened when he ran into an ex-girlfriend after his assault, revealed himself as "a man unable to conduct the most basic small talk, so consumed is he by self-consciousness and shame."

Gadd told the publication, "I am a completely different person than I was. It changes your life. After it happened, I lost control of myself." Afraid of how those close to him would react, he didn't say anything for a long time, let alone tell the police.

"I was always worried what people would think and that they would judge—but nobody gave a s--t," Gadd said. "I mean, they cared, but they didn't think less of me for it." And once he had told pretty much everyone who mattered to him, it was time to "let it all out."

Monkey Sees Major Success

Monkey See Monkey Do—which Gadd himself described as "dark, off-kilter and weird"—promptly won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Comedy Show. The prize came with a check for £10,000 (roughly $13,500). 

"I've hinted at a lot of my problems on stage, I think that's obvious," Gadd told The Scotsman at the time. "But I've always done it in a very heightened way which often obscured the actual meaning and truth a lot of the time...Some of the very real themes I was exploring were almost too loud and in your face to ever be taken seriously."

Monkey See Monkey Do got its title from sports psychiatrist Professor Steve Peters' Chimp Paradox model, he said, the idea that we're basically all "apes trying to be human beings, therefore we think emotionally but have to remind ourselves to think rationally."

Gadd shared that he was prone to anxiety and manic depression, but had been through extensive therapy and was sober, practicing meditation and in the best physical shape of his life. (He started running long distances so that he'd fall asleep easier, too tired to think, and he wanted to incorporate that essential ritual into his show.)

"I always thought I'd tell this story once I had an audience that was going to listen," he said. "But I didn't feel like I could rush the healing process. I had to wait. There's a few nerves and wondering, 'Is this too soon?' But it will hopefully be a good thing."

Audiences came in droves and Gadd spent months performing Monkey See Monkey Do around the U.K.

"I didn't want another miserable year," he told The List toward the end of 2016, "so I wanted to combine the personal goals of trying to find inner peace with the professional goal of getting people to listen to what I have to say."

Harnessing Baby Reindeer

Gadd returned to the Fringe in 2019 with Baby Reindeer, his disturbing account of being stalked for years by an older woman named Martha—which, he stressed, was not her real name—whom he met while tending bar in London in 2013. She seemed down and out and he felt bad for her and gave her a free tea, he explained, and as she kept returning to the bar, he didn't initially discourage the attention.

"I certainly egged the situation on before I realized that it was as dangerous as it was," Gadd told the Independent. "I behaved like a prick at times."

Included in his show's signature multimedia set-up were projected scrolls of Martha's emails (she sent him 41,071 over three years, he said) and samplings of 350 hours' worth of voicemails, as well as testimonials from his parents and other witnesses describing the toll Martha's misguided affections took on all of their lives.

The horror of the situation intensifies when Gadd describes how almost impossible it was to get police to take action, not until after he'd gone through every message she'd ever sent to find the stalking needle in the just-reaching-out haystack.

An Unexpected Sequel

According to Gadd, he had thought this chapter was behind him until Monkey See Monkey Do caused a sensation—and Martha found his number.

"That was the worst part," he told The Guardian after debuting Baby Reindeer. "It felt like I'd expunged the demons of one person who had caused me so much grief, only so that she could take center stage in his place. It felt so awfully ironic."

It was then, Gadd wrote for Netflix, that he started "listening, logging, and annotating every single voicemail she ever left me in the hope of bringing it all to an end. Praying that she would say something incriminating so that the situation could be dealt with properly and effectively."

The situation was dealt with in 2017. During a restless night it occurred to him that he needed to "stage this whole ordeal." But once again, he couldn't force the process.

"I hadn't quite grasped it yet," Gadd told the Guardian. "If I'd rushed it a year ago, it would have just been a victim narrative. And everyone would have come out saying, 'Oh, you're so brave, and well done for doing this.'"

Moreover, he added, "It would be unfair to say she was an awful person and I was a victim. That didn't feel true."

Empathy for Martha

Gadd acknowledged it was obvious to the audience that he should not be engaging with Martha, and that much of the discomfort came from watching him dig himself a deeper hole.

When he'd flirt with Martha (represented by an empty bar stool) in his stage show, "I find that quite awkward, because you can tell that the audience turn against you in those moments," he told the Independent. "And they're right to."

And despite everything she put him through, he felt for her.

"When we think of stalkers, we always think of films like Misery and Fatal Attraction, where the stalker is a monstrous figure in the night down an alleyway," Gadd explained. "But usually, it's a prior relationship or someone you know or a work colleague. Stalking and harassment is a form of mental illness. It would have been wrong to paint her as a monster, because she's unwell, and the system's failed her."

As for how much of Baby Reindeer actually happened, Gadd told the Guardian, "The skeleton of the story is absolutely true."

But, his theatrical account was much more dramatic than how it played out in real time.

"The feeling you get most of all when you're getting harassed is relentless tediousness and frustration," he explained. "I didn't want the audience to feel that."

Baby Reindeer Goes Global

A seven-part series based on Gadd's show of the same name, also incorporating the devastating story told in Monkey See Monkey Do, premiered April 14 on Netflix.

Gadd portrays Donny Dunn, a struggling writer-performer who meets Martha (Jessica Gunning) while tending bar and, feeling sorry for how sad she seems when she comes in, gives her a complimentary cup of tea.

When Martha—who calls him "Baby Reindeer" because he reminds her of a stuffed toy she had as a kid, with "big lips, huge eyes and the cutest wee bum"—sends Donny a friend request on Facebook, he Googles her and finds articles about her checkered past, including one headlined, "Sick stalker torments barrister's deaf child."

He accepts her request anyway and it all devolves from there. Eventually it's revealed that, when he met Martha, Donny was just scraping by emotionally after having been drugged and sexually assaulted by an older man he'd really trusted, writer Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill).

According to NetflixBaby Reindeer debuted at No. 5 on its list of the most-watched programming of the week with 2.6 million views, then spent the next two weeks at No. 1, amassing 22 million views and 87.4 million hours of viewing.

Reindeer in the Wild

As Gadd soon found out, Netflix viewers are even more interactive than theatergoers.

Hearing the story was rooted in fact, Internet sleuths weren't going to sit idly by while possible real perpetrators were out there, somewhere, unexposed.

And unlike Gadd, who has never publicly named the people on whom Darrien and Martha are based, Reddit users, X posters, et al., have been happy to attempt to fill in the Baby Reindeer blanks themselves. Social media accounts have been highlighted as potentially belonging to the real Martha and speculation has run amok as to who Darrien could be. 

Enough so that Gadd pushed back April 22 on his Instagram Story, writing, "Hi Everyone, People I love, have worked with, and admire (including Sean Foley) are unfairly getting caught up in speculation. Please don't speculate on who any of the real life people could be."

Foley, an actor, director and Olivier-winning writer, reposted Gadd's message to X and also wrote, "Police have been informed and are investigating all defamatory abusive and threatening posts against me."

Pleas to Stand Down

The actress who plays Martha said that the people trying so hard to figure out who inspired Gadd's story had "missed the point of the show."

Gunning told BBC Scotland's The Edit, "If you like the show and you are a fan of it, you should stick with the story of Martha and Donny being what connects you, not trying to do any detective work and find out any real identities. I think it is quite sad and I would urge them to watch the show again and see that that was not the point of the show at all."

Gadd did "an amazing job of not making the story so black and white, so there's no goody or baddy or villain or victim, really," she added. "They are just complicated people like humans are."

Gunning found Martha "just fascinating," she said. "One minute, she is vulnerable, the next minute she is hilarious, but vulnerable."

The Real Martha?

Ahead of the series' premiere, Gadd said he wasn't worried about the real Martha trying to reach out, telling Vanity Fair, "The situation did result in a situation, shall we say, where she cannot contact me again." (He's said in multiple interviews since 2019 that he has to choose his words carefully for legal reasons.)

But, he added, "When it comes to stalking, you can never really escape. There's always the nugget of worry in the back of your head." 

On April 26, the Daily Mail published an interview with an unidentified woman who said she is the inspiration for Martha and that she is now the victim of Gadd's unwanted attention.

"He's using Baby Reindeer to stalk me now," she told the publication. "I'm the victim. He's written a bloody show about me." The woman said of the actress playing Martha, "She sort of looks like me after I put on four stone during lockdown but I'm not actually unattractive."

She denied stalking Gadd, saying, "Richard Gadd has got 'main character syndrome.'"

Gadd did not respond to E! News' request for comment about the Mail article. 

But he previously said that the production took pains to mask identities.  

"It's all borrowed from instances that happened to me and real people that I met," he told Variety. "But of course, you can't do the exact truth, for both legal and artistic reasons. I mean there's certain protections, you can't just copy somebody else's life and name and put it onto television. And obviously, we were very aware that some characters in it are vulnerable people, so you don't want to make their lives more difficult."

And he emphasized that real-life events didn't unfold exactly as they do in Baby Reindeer.

Reiterating that "a lot of stalking is quite boring," Gadd explained that "you need to move certain timelines around, you need to move certain points to the end of episodes to make them pay off a little better. As well as a true story, you have to make it visually interesting."

But while there's a psychological thriller aspect to the narrative, he really wanted it to be "an examination of the ramifications of trauma," he said. "And I think that's quite subtle in the show, but a lot of people are really getting that aspect of it. They see Donny and they're appreciating someone's self-destructive tendencies in the wake of trauma. And I think people are finding a great comfort in that, honestly."

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