Natasha Gregson Wagner is speaking out about the must-see moment in the new HBO doc, ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind.’
“How does it make you feel when they call you a person of interest?” That’s the question that Natasha Gregson Wagner, 49, asks her stepdad, Robert Wagner, 90, during a pivotal moment in HBO’s new documentary about her mom. Although Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind mostly focuses on the life of the West Side Story screen legend who died nearly 40 years ago, it doesn’t shirk away from the details surrounding her tragic death. Natasha asks her “Daddy Wagner” to go through what happened that November 1981 night that led up to her mom’s body being found drowned off the coast of Catalina Island, California. They go through that evening step by step, discuss the reopening of the case 30 years later and the allegations hurled by true crime conspiracy theorists that he had something to do with the 43-year-old’s mysterious disappearance and death.
“I don’t pay very much attention to it, Natasha, because they’re not going to redefine me…” the Hart To Hart actor tells his stepdaughter. “I know who I am.” It’s an answer that Natalie Wood’s oldest daughter admits moved her. “I was really touched by that line,” the mom-of-one tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY. “And I agree with him. When those outlandish kind of ideas first came to light in 2011, 2012… he was upset about it, because of my sister [Courtney Wagner] and myself, for us. But it wasn’t something that dogged him and I think he said it exactly right, because it didn’t define him. He knows who he is. He knows the marriage they had. So, it’s like if you have brown hair and someone keeps telling you, ‘Your hair’s blonde.’ You’re like, ‘I’m not crazy. I know I have brown hair. You’re the crazy one thinking that it’s blonde.’ He’s clear on who he is and I’m clear on who he is, which is why those stories haven’t really dogged me either.”
It seems that in the public consciousness, there are two Natalie Woods. For some she’s the former child star who wowed in iconic films like A Miracle On 34th Street and Rebel Without A Cause. Others are fixated on her mysterious death. The fact that her husband (whom she married, then divorced, then re-married) argued with her co-star Christopher Walken on the night that the three of them hung out on the Wagners’ Splendour yacht. The fact that she disappeared after going to bed, but was found later drowned, floating in the water wearing a jacket and her flannel nightgown. To this day no one knows exactly how or why she went missing. (Although Natasha and Wagner theorize in the doc that she must have slipped and fallen trying to secure the dinghy to the boat to stop it from slamming against the yacht and disturbing her sleep.)
Initially ruled an accident, Wood’s case was reopened in 2011, with the cause of death changed on her death certificate from accidental to “drowning and other undetermined factors” in 2012. In 2018 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators declared Wagner a “person of interest.” But, in the HBO doc (which is packed full of home videos and family photos), and her memoir, More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood, Natasha wants to celebrate her mom’s life and work, not fixate on her passing. “[The] focus should be on her life, not on her death,” she says, “because her life was much more interesting and vibrant and full.” She later adds, “She was brave. She was funny. She was courageous. She was a shining human.”
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind premieres on May 5 at 9pm ET/PT, exclusively on HBO. More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood, goes on sale on the same day.