Netflix’s latest limited series is Painkiller, the story of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, who became known for their central role in America’s opioid crisis. The new series is based on The New Yorker article “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe and Barry Meier’s book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic.
Matthew Broderick, Uzo Aduba, and Taylor Kitsch are among the cast of this new show. Painkiller offers a distressing, sometimes gruesome, peek into the opioid epidemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.
Comprised of just six episodes, Painkiller doesn’t waste time diving straight into the heart of its story, starting by introducing us to Richard Sackler (Broderick), the man who helped finetune Purdue’s formula MS Contin and turn it into the designer drug Oxycontin.
Aduba plays Edie Flowers, a composite character functioning as the show’s emotional anchor. Edie is a legal investigator working out of Roanoke. She’s investigating a medical fraud case when she catches her first whiff of Oxycontin and follows the trail down the Purdue rabbit hole, leading her straight to attorney John L. Brownlee, who would later open a criminal investigation into the company. But you’ll have to watch the show (or read the source material) to find out what happens.
Netflix Painkiller cast and character guide
Besides Edie and Richard, there are several other notable characters in Painkiller, many of whom are based on real people. If you’re interested in learning more about the cast, who they play, and who they are based on in real life, keep reading to check out our complete Painkiller cast and character guide.
Uzo Aduba as Edie Flowers
- Age: 42
- Birthday: February 10, 1981
- Uzo Aduba’s Instagram: @uzoaduba
Uzo Aduba is a talented, award-winning actress probably best known for her performance as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in the acclaimed Netflix series Orange is the New Black. She became more widely recognized in the early 2000s thanks to her performance in Translations of Xhosa. She went on to win a Helen Hayes Award nomination for her performance in the play.
The American actress has also been on Broadway, making her debut in the 2007 production of Coram Boy before becoming an original member of the Godspell revival cast in 2011 and 2012. Her first television appearance was in the long-running procedural Blue Bloods.
Since then, Aduba has received multiple awards nominations, and she’s won three Primetime Emmys for her work in Orange is the New Black and the limited series Mrs. America. She was also nominated for In Treatment.
Uzo Aduba movies and shows
Most recently, Aduba starred in HBO’s revival of In Treatment as Dr. Brooke Taylor. She also starred in the FX miniseries Mrs. America and will next appear in Shonda Rhimes’ upcoming Netflix series The Residence and the comedy-mystery film Providence. Aduba is set to star in the adaptation of Edward Kelsey Moore’s 2013 novel The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat.
Other projects she’s known for include the aforementioned Orange is the New Black, Lightyear, Miss Virginia, and National Champions.
Is Edie Flowers in Painkiller based on a real person?
Aduba stars as a legal investigator from the US District Attorney’s office in Roanoke, Virginia. While investigating a medical fraud case, she learns about Oxycontin and soon becomes part of US Attorney John Brownlee’s team to file criminal charges against Purdue Pharma.
While many characters in Painkiller are based on real people, Edie Flowers is not one of them. Edie is a composite character based on an amalgamation of several different people but not one specific individual.
Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler
- Age: 61
- Birthday: March 21, 1962
Matthew Broderick is an established, Emmy-nominated actor who has been in the industry since the 1980s. His acting career began with parts in Neil Simon projects like the stage production of Brighton Beach Memoirs and the movie Max Dugan Returns.
His first breakout role onscreen came with the comedy film WarGames and from there, he went on to star in Addicted to Love, Project X, Inspector Gadget, and, of course, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of his most famous films.
Matthew Broderick movies and shows
In recent years, Broderick has appeared in movies like the Jennifer Lawrence comedy No Hard Feelings, Lazy Susan, Love is Blind, and Wonder Park.
He had a recurring role on television in the FX series Better Things and starred in Netflix’s post-apocalyptic show Daybreak. Some of his other notable parts include playing Leo Bloom in the film adaptation of The Producers and starring opposite Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy.
Is Richard Sackler in Painkiller a real person?
Yes, Richard Sackler is indeed a real person, as is the entire Sackler family depicted in Painkiller. Sackler is the former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma.
Boardwalk Empire star Michael Stuhlbarg portrayed Richard Sackler in the Hulu series Dopesick.
Taylor Kitsch as Glen Kryger
- Age: 42
- Birthday: April 8, 1981
- Taylor Kitsch’s Instagram: @taylorkitsch
- How tall is Taylor Kitsch? 5 feet 11 inches
Taylor Kitsch is a Canadian actor and model who first rose to prominence with roles in projects like Kyle XY and Snakes on a Plane. One of his first significant roles came with the movie The Covenant, which co-starred Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Steven Strait, and Chace Crawford. Later, Kitsch landed the role of Tim Riggins in the Emmy-winning drama series Friday Night Lights. He reteams with FNL’s creator Peter Berg for Painkiller.
Taylor Kitsch movies and shows
In the past decade, Kitsch has gone on to star in several big movies, like Savages, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Battleship, John Carter, Only the Brave, and 21 Bridges.
In 2018, he played the cult leader David Koresh in Paramount’s Waco miniseries. He starred in season 2 of HBO’s True Detective and in the Prime Video show The Terminal List, which also stars Chris Pratt, Constance Wu, and Riley Keough. Next, he’ll take the lead in the Netflix Western American Primeval.
Is Glen Kryger in Painkiller a real person?
No, Glen Kryger is a fictional character created for the show, as is the rest of his family, including his wife Lily, their daughter Kaylee, and Glen’s stepson/Lily’s son Tyler.
West Duchovny as Shannon Schaeffer
- Age: 24
- Birthday: April 24, 1999
- West Duchovny’s Instagram: @westduchovny
West Duchovny is an up-and-coming actress and the daughter of actors David Duchovny and Téa Leoni. She got her start in showbiz at a young age as she once guest-starred in an episode of her father’s famous show, The X-Files. In recent years, Duchovny has branched out and started acting in more lead roles in projects like Painkiller and Hulu’s Saint X.
West Duchovny movies and shows
Duchovny is probably best known for playing Alison in Saint X, based on the novel by Alexis Schaitkin. Before that, she had a recurring role as the hedge witch Whitley in The Magicians, and she starred alongside Amanda Seyfried, Finn Wittrock, and Jennnifer Carpenter in the psychological drama film A Mouthful of Air. She also appeared in the movies Linoleum and The Report.
Is Shannon Schaeffer a real person?
No, Shannon is not a real person. In the show, Shannon Schaeffer is a former college athlete recruited to become a Purdue sales rep by Britt Hufford (played by Dina Shihabi). Though Shannon isn’t real, these types of sales reps were a genuine and insidious way for Purdue to push Oxycontin to the public.
Dina Shihabi as Britt Hufford
- Age: 33
- Birthday: September 22, 1989
- Dina Shihabi’s Instagram: @shihabidina
Dina Shihabi is another Netflix alum who previously starred alongside Mamoudou Athie in the short-lived show Archive 81 (gone but not forgotten!). She is a Saudi Arabian actress who attended the graduate Acting Program at the NYU Tisch School of Arts, where she received her MFA in 2014. Some of her earliest acting roles include parts in projects like Madam Secretary, Daredevil, and the 2014 film Amira & Sam.
Dina Shihabi movies and shows
Shihabi has acted in a few Netflix projects now, including Daredevil, where she played Neda Kazemi in two episodes, and Altered Carbon, where she played Dig 301. Additionally, she had a significant role in season 1 of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, playing Hanin. Shihabi also appeared in Ramy, Ghosts of Beirut, and more.
Is Britt Hufford in Painkiller a real person?
Britt Hufford is fictional, like Shannon Schaeffer, Edie Flowers, and the Kyrger family. However, Britt represents some of the real Oxycontin/Purdue sales reps.
More Painkiller cast members
There are a few other notable cast members in Painkiller, including the actors who play Richard’s uncle Mortimer and Richard’s father, Raymond. One Mississippi star John Rothman landed the role of Mortimer, while Raymond is portrayed by Sam Anderson (Where the Crawdads Sing).
Marvel star Clark Gregg, known for playing Agent Phil Coulson in the MCU, also stars in Painkiller as Arthur Sackler. Though his character dies before the show, he reappears throughout the season as a vision to Richard.
Tyler Ritter plays John L. Brownlee. The show’s portrayal of Brownlee is primarily accurate to the real guy, the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2001 to 2008. Tyler Ritter is an American actor and the son of the late actor John Ritter. His mother is Nancy Morgan, and he’s the brother of fellow actor Jason Ritter.
The following Painkiller characters were based on real people:
- Clark Gregg as Arthur Sackler – Richard’s uncle
- John Rothman as Mortimer Sackler – Richard’s uncle and Arthur’s brother
- Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler – Richard’s father and Arthur/Mortimer’s brother
- Noah Harpster as Curtis Wright – Former FDA official who approved Oxycontin
- Krista White as Mary Jo White – First woman to be the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
- Stephen Sparks as Howard Shapiro – Former general counsel for the FBI
- Ned Van Zandt as Rudy Giuliani – US attorney and former New York mayor
- Brian Markinson as Howard Udell – Purdue lawyer and head of legal
- Cody Porter as Dr. Paul Goldenheim – Purdue’s chief medical officer
- John Murphy as Michael Friedman – Purdue’s sales and marketing executive
The following Painkiller characters were created for the show:
- Carolina Bartczak as Lily Kryger – Glen’s wife
- Jack Mulhern as Tyler Kryger – Glen’s stepson
- John Ales as Dr. Gregory Fitzgibbons – One of the few doctors opposed to Oxycontin
- Ron Lea as Bill Havens – Lawyer meeting with Edie in DC
- Ana Cruz Kayne as Brianna Ortiz – Lawyer meeting with Edie in DC
The Society star Jack Mulhern plays Tyler in Painkiller
For fans of The Society, you might recognize the actor who plays Tyler from somewhere. Jack Mulhern played Gareth “Grizz” Visser on Netflix’s popular (but tragically short-lived) teen drama show. Mulhern also starred as Dylan Hinchey in HBO’s Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet and Julianne Nicholson.
Who plays Rudy Giuliani in Painkiller on Netflix?
Rudy Giuliani has been in the headlines plenty over the past decade, so some viewers might be surprised to learn that he was previously involved with Purdue Pharma, acting as one of their attorneys during the criminal investigation brought against the company by John Brownlee.
In Hulu’s Dopesick, the role was played by Ozark alum Trevor Long. In Netflix’s Painkiller, Ned Van Zandt plays the infamous US attorney and former New York mayor. Zandt has appeared in shows like The Blacklist, New Amsterdam, and The Marvelous Ms. Maisel.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.