Debra Newell Reveals What ‘Dirty John’ Got Wrong: ‘Remember, It’s Hollywood’

Debra Newell on What's Real and What's Not from 'Dirty John'
John Meehan, Debra Newell, Connie Britton as Debra Newell, and Eric Bana as John Meehan  Courtesy of Debra Newell; Frank Ockenfels/Bravo

Debra Newell is clearing the air. The story of how the interior designer fell in love with John Meehan was first revealed in the “Dirty John” podcast, hosted by L.A. TimesChristopher Goffard. Then, it was repurposed for the Bravo series, Dirty John. While the TV show was based on real events – with Connie Britton playing Debra Newell and Eric Bana as John Meehan, a.k.a. “Dirty John,” not everything went exactly as it appeared on screen.

The series came to an end on Sunday, January 13, with Debra’s daughter Terra (played by Julia Garner) stabbing John after he attempted to kidnap her. Luckily, as a fan of The Walking Dead, she knew how to stab him in order to kill him. After he landed in the hospital, Debra was given the choice to disconnect the machines keeping him alive. However, she passed the task off to John’s sister, who decided to turn off the machines. So, how much of that was true?

“When everything happened to Terra, I called [John’s family] to let them know about their brother. They were very open and very warm, and came over and spent time with us. I got to be friends with Karen,” Newell told Us Weekly in an exclusive interview. “She helped me with the process of John and the death, helping remove all his belongings, so on and so forth.”

Debra Newell on What's Real and What's Not from 'Dirty John'
John Meehan and Debra Newell Courtesy of Debra Newell

However, some things were different than they appeared on screen.

“Remember, it’s Hollywood,” she told Us. “First of all, I don’t feel desperate. I think that it’s very natural to want to have a companion and to be in love I was not quite described the way that I think that I am.”

She continued: “The other thing is I did do my investigation – unfortunately too late. It is very, very important to do it in the beginning, obviously. But I did do an investigation into John, and I went into hiding. I had to prepare to go into hiding for seven months, which isn’t just walking away. You have to change accounts, find another place, look at your business, get a new phone, a new residence, even rental cars. There was time to prepare for it, and so I was in hiding for seven months.”

On Monday, January 14, the story will be told again through a two-hour documentary on Oxygen, Dirty John: The Dirty Truth. Newell, 59, explained to Us that on the podcast and show, they missed what Meehan really did: “coercive control.”

Debra Newell on What's Real and What's Not from 'Dirty John'
John Meehan and Debra Newell Courtesy of Debra Newell

“Laura Richards opened my eyes to it. It really helped relieve me, to some degree, knowing that it is such a common thing, unfortunately, but I now knew what happened to me and that it could happen to anyone,” the interior designer explained. “There was a relief there knowing that somebody really knew this type of person and that it is very, very common.”

Many who watched the show took to social media to react, shaming Newell for continuing her relationship with Meehan. However, the response was “better than it was from the podcast,” she said. “More people are becoming aware that it could happen to them. You’re still dealing with negative comments, but it’s OK. I’m tough.”

One thing that does still bother her is the reception to her mother, who forgave her brother-in-law after he murdered her sister.

Debra Newell on What's Real and What's Not from 'Dirty John'
John Meehan and Debra Newell Courtesy of Debra Newell

“My mom is a very forgiving person. The one thing that she felt during my sister’s death was that she was the glue because my dad and my brother and I were all very, very upset,” she shared. “She was trying to be strong and keep us all together.”

However, that doesn’t mean she’ll never date again. “When I do date, it’s going to be completely different. I definitely won’t do online dating,” she said. “But there are great men out there, also. I just happen to have one of the worst ones.”

Dirty John: The Dirty Truth airs on Oxygen Monday, January 14, at 8 p.m. ET.

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