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Many know Joel Schwartz as the criminal defense lawyer who defended Russ Faria during both his murder trials for the death of his wife, but there is much more beneath the man portrayed in the NBC series The Thing About Pam.
The six-episode series delves into the 2011 murder of Elizabeth "Betsy" Faria, which resulted in the wrongful conviction of her husband, Russ Faria. Betsy’s friend, Pamela Hupp, was a key witness in helping put Russ Faria behind bars and would later be charged in Betsy's murder. It was Joel Schwartz, the savvy St. Louis-based lawyer, who defended Faria in his first murder trial. Schwartz stood by his client and later appealed his conviction, helping shine a light on Pam Hupp as a suspect in the case.
Joel Schwartz spoke with Oxygen.com about his work as Faria’s lawyer, his path towards becoming a lawyer, and the excitement of being played by Daytime Emmy Award-winning actor Josh Duhamel in The Thing About Pam.
“How much time you got?” Schwartz joked when asked “Just exactly who is Joel Schwartz?”
Schwartz describes himself as a family man who loves spending time with his wife of 26 years and their three kids. When not in the courtroom, he enjoys traveling and being the lead guitarist and singer of a rock band called “JFB” (Joel’s F****** Band).
“I’m an optimist who likes to try everything, from acting to writing to music to being a criminal defense lawyer,” said Schwartz, mentioning his leading role as Dr. Frank N. Furter in a charity production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “I work hard, I play hard.”
Schwartz graduated from the University of Texas in 1984. He lived in Austin while earning his law degree because he “wanted to have a base to work from,” though he didn’t have any intention of practicing law.
“I quickly moved to Los Angeles, realizing this is what I loved, to be an actor,” said Schwartz. “Once I got to L.A., I was a waiter trying to become an actor, just like everybody else."
Working at a talent agency to make ends meet, Schwartz managed to squeeze in acting auditions but didn't catch his big break. The 1988 writers' strike seemed unending, he said, reinforcing that an acting career might not be in the cards.
"So no longer was I a waiter trying to act," he said. "I was simply a law graduate waiting tables.”
Schwartz decided he could use the time during the strike to spend a few weeks back home with his family in St. Louis. While out to dinner with his father, he ran into an old friend, a lawyer in the midst of a murder trial. The friend invited Schwartz to come and watch the trial before quickly introducing him to the public defender, who offered Schwartz a position right away.
Schwartz didn’t put much stock into the offer and said he needed a few weeks to think it over.
“I chose to give it one year,” Schwartz said. “And here I am, 33 years later.”
Flash forward to Betsy Faria’s 2011 murder. The mother of two was found stabbed to death in her home two days after Christmas. Russ Faria’s cousin, Mary, entered Schwartz’s office and asked for his help shortly after Faria’s arrest. News of Betsy’s case received a fair amount of coverage that week, so Schwartz was familiar with the murder.
“I assumed, just like everybody else… that this husband had brutally stabbed and killed his wife,” Schwartz told Oxygen.com. “I came away with a vision of a guy who, even given [my] healthy dose of cynicism, kept giving me a story that was so easily disprovable that I had hoped and believed that it would, in fact, be true. And, as it turned out, it didn’t take very long to determine that his story was accurate.”
Schwartz described the real-life Russ Faria as an intelligent and insightful man who could be rough around the edges, a man he formed a close friendship with over the years. Schwartz said it was “once we got all the discovery [evidence]” that he knew his client had been wrongfully accused. Schwartz couldn’t come up with any possible scenario in which Faria killed his wife.
“Given the hard evidence we had, he would have had to pull off the crime of the century,” said Schwartz. “And while I do think Russ is intelligent, he doesn’t have the criminal mind it would take to do this.”
Both Faria’s murder trial and exoneration are examined in The Thing About Pam, which focuses on Pam Hupp, whom Schwartz said he suspected had a role in her friend Betsy Faria’s death early on in the case. In July 2021, Hupp was formally charged with Betsy’s murder and has pleaded not guilty.
“I don’t know, and still don’t know to this day, if Pam is actually the individual who plunged a knife 55 times into her friend,” Schwartz told Oxygen.com. “But I can say with certainty [that] Pam was involved, I have no doubts or qualms about that.”
Joel Schwartz explained he had only seen the trailer but was excited to see the series once it premiered on March 8.
“It couldn’t be more entertaining,” Schwartz said of the trailer. “It was so good. They got everybody down. Josh certainly has me down.”
Schwartz said he spent “hours upon hours” in the (Zoom-held) writers room with the showrunner, Jenny Klein. He explained there were several delays due to COVID-19 and a hurricane in New Orleans, where the show was filmed, but that he became hopeful once two-time Academy Award-winning actress Renée Zellweger signed on to play the lead as Pamela Hupp.
He was just as delighted to learn that Josh Duhamel would be playing him.
“It is exciting. It’s surreal. It’s fun,” Schwartz said. “Honestly, every woman I come across, especially in my age category, is in love with the guy, and understandably so … I’ve gotten to know [Duhamel]. He’s just a really, really fun, good guy who happened to be a wonderful actor.”
In the meantime, when not having a cameo in the upcoming series, Schwartz keeps busy in the courtroom. Months after defending Patricia and Mark Thomas McCloskey (in the high-profile gun-toting case where the married couple pointed firearms at George Floyd protesters), he has also announced a new book, co-authored by New York Times bestselling author Charles Henry Bosworth, titled Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Case.
“I’m still doing my thing,” said Schwartz. “I’m plugging along, doing what I need to do, and continuing to work hard to represent my clients."
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