Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Crowded Room and includes discussions of child abuse and rape that some readers may find upsetting.


Perhaps one of the most intriguing series of the year so far, The Crowded Room, lands on Apple TV+ this week – on Friday 9th June.

The series stars Spider-Man actor Tom Holland as Danny Sullivan, a young man who's arrested following his involvement in a shooting in New York City. Set in the '70s, the series explores Danny's life and how he got to be in the predicament he finds himself in – through a series of interview with Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried), pieces of Danny's life puzzle start to slowly fall into place.

But the opening credits of the series also reveal that this series isn't entirely a work of fiction, stating that the Apple TV+ series is inspired by a well-known book.

Is The Crowded Room based on real events? Read on to find out more.

Is The Crowded Room based on a true story?

As mapped out in the show's opening credits, the new series is inspired by the acclaimed 1981 Daniel Keyes novel The Minds of Billy Milligan. The book explores the true story of Billy Milligan, who is also known as William Stanley Milligan and was later referred to in the media as 'The Campus Rapist'.

Milligan was the first person in US history to be acquitted of a crime by pleading to have dissociative identity disorder (DID) after being arrested for the kidnapping, robbery and rape of three women on the campus of Ohio State University.

His defence team built the case around his mental health diagnosis, pleading insanity, and argued that his other personalities were to blame for the crimes committed. He was the first person to raise the disorder as such a defence: Milligan stated that it was 'Ragen' who had committed the robberies and 'Adalana' who had raped the women.

Keyes' book maps out the story of Milligan, who is known as having one of the most remarkable and harrowing cases of multiple personality ever recorded. Keyes also explores the 24 different personalities that took over Milligan's body.

While there are obviously many, two of interest to viewers of The Crowded Room would be those that Milligan first named: Adalana, the shy, lonely, affection-starved lesbian who "used" Billy's body in the rapes that led to his arrest, as well as Ragen Vadascovinich, a Yugoslavian communist who Milligan claimed had committed the armed robberies Milligan had been charged with. Arguably both of these characters hold striking similarities to Lior Raz's Yitzak and Sasha Lane's Ariana.

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But while The Crowded Room may be inspired by the book, leading actor and executive producer Tom Holland has also said that they used the book and Netflix documentary Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan as prompts, rather than sticking directly to the source material.

Chatting exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Holland shared: "We read the book, we watched the documentary, we had countless meetings where we were trying to figure out a way to make that story work for our TV show. But we did have this epiphany where we decided to pivot to a piece of fiction, just because we wanted to change certain aspects of the story and make a different show.

"But we did loads of research. And it was incredibly helpful to read that book. But there was a time where we had to put it down and put it to the side and focus on the task at hand. But all in all, it was a really, really helpful piece of research."

He continued: "I always find that I take everything really seriously, I understand the responsibility that we have as actors and creators, and now an executive producer, I can't believe I get to say that, but I feel very honoured to be able to say that. But yeah, the responsibility was heavy with this one.

"And we all took it very seriously. We did the work to make sure that we were all as well versed in the subject matter as possible. And I'm delighted to say that I really think it comes through in the show, the show feels very authentic and accurate. So I'm really proud of everyone involved."

Speaking about the twists of the series, Holland also said: "I think people will be shocked as I was when I was reading the scripts for the first time. What I would like to express and to stress is that this is an accurate depiction of what this can be like, Akiva [Goldsman] has a background in this world and we've spoken to psychiatrists and people that have experienced people who have this ailment. So I do think it's an accurate depiction."

While many know Goldsman for his work on films like A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code and even Star Trek: Picard, the Oscar-winning screenwriter is the son of two therapists.

His father and mother, Tev and Mira Rothenberg, were actually both clinical child psychologists who ran one of the earliest group homes for "emotionally disturbed children". Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 2002, Goldsman shared: “They were kids with diagnoses that don’t even exist any more--infantile autism and childhood schizophrenia. These were children who never knew you were not supposed to dream when you were awake. I lived in a household with five or seven of these kids.

“By the time I was 10 or 12, I realised they had taken my parents away from me. I wanted nothing more to do with that world. I wanted to be a writer. I had a fantasy that someday I’d see my name on a book.”

Is Danny Sullivan a real person?

Tom Holland stars in The Crowded Room
Tom Holland stars in The Crowded Room. Apple TV+

While Danny Sullivan isn't a real person, he is inspired by Billy Milligan.

Milligan was acquitted of his major crimes (which formed nine criminal charges in total) but spent a decade in a series of psychiatric hospitals. In his time in prison, Milligan was reported to have 10 different personalities but later on, an extra 14 were uncovered and were labelled as 'The Undesirables'.

It is believed that Milligan had multiple personalities from as young as the age of five, with his later trial defence and doctors stating that severe physical and sexual abuse inflicted in childhood by his stepfather Chalmer Milligan caused the onset of separate personalities. Milligan’s mother, sister and brother all attested to the abusive nature of Chalmer Milligan, who denied the allegations against him.

Billy Milligan was released in 1988 and in 2012, was diagnosed with cancer before dying at a nursing home in Ohio in 2014 aged 59.

If you're thinking that the story of Milligan sounds familiar aside from The Crowded Room, you're not mistaken. M. Night Shyamalan's 2016 film Split stars James McAvoy as Kevin Crumb, who is based solely on Milligan.

Is Rya Goodwin a real person?

Amanda Seyfried in The Crowded Room
Amanda Seyfried in The Crowded Room Apple TV+

Rya Goodwin isn't a real person but the "curious interrogator" is certainly loosely based on aspects of series creator Goldsman's life.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com about the series and her role in it, Amanda Seyfried said: "It's loosely, loosely based on Akiva Goldsman's life. Akiva is a therapist, his mum was a therapist, my character’s based on his mother. It was amazing for me because I got to take so much from that."

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, you can visit rapecrisis.org.uk. Call free on 0808 500 2222 – 24 hours a day, every day of the year – for confidential support and/or information about your nearest services.

The Crowded Room is coming to Apple TV+ with the first 3 episodes on Friday 9th June. New episodes weekly. Start your seven-day Apple TV+ free trial.

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