- Private investigator Andy Kay rates 10 private detective scenes in movies and TV shows for realism.
- Kay discusses how he can tell if someone is being deceitful by looking at their body language.
- He also comments on the best ways to tail someone on foot and by car.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
[a man fires a gun at a speeding red ferrari] [tires squeal]
Andy Kay: I’m not going to say it doesn’t ever happen, but not very often. And we don’t drive a lot of Ferraris.
My name’s Andy Kay. I’m a private investigator, and I’m also the owner of Kay and Associates Investigations here in Los Angeles for about the last 30 years. Today I’m going to be looking at private-investigator scenes from movies and television.
“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994)
Gruff Man: What do you want?
Ace Ventura: HDS, sir. And how are you this afternoon? All righty, then.
Andy: I’ve been a delivery guy a couple of times. I’ve been a waiter. I’ve actually asked a maître d’ to give me the bottle of wine to deliver to the table one time. So, yeah, it happens.
There’s actually laws against impersonating another person. Walking up with the outfit, nobody’s going to say anything about it. If you go up there and say, “Hey, I am FedEx,” then you’re stepping over a line.
Gruff Man: Son of a b—-!
Ace: That was a close one, ladies and gentlemen.
Andy: When little animals go missing, unless we have good information that somebody has stolen it or it’s a big dog, expectations are pretty low. It happens, and we’ve gotten some back. Nobody’s going to do it like that, because you would not know, first off, that the dog was going to be anywhere accessible in the first place, that the guy is going to even answer the door in the second place. There is just so much presumption in this case that it would just never happen that way. Except for Jim Carrey.
[Ace’s engine sputters]
Ace: No problem! It gets flooded. We’ll just wait a few seconds.
[Gruff Man attacks his car with a baseball bat]
Andy: All that planning just to be caught at the end with a baseball bat. Usually we don’t have to worry about getaway. The big thing about being a private investigator is to be private, so that they don’t ever know we were there.
I would give this clip a 2. It’s designed to be comedic, and it’s very good at it.
Sherlock: Ah, sergeant, we haven’t met.
Dimmock: Yeah, I know who you are. And I’d prefer it if you didn’t tamper with any of the evidence.
Andy: The police officer, first thing he said was, “I prefer you not be disturbing our evidence,” and that’s exactly correct. They would have never let him in those doors at that point. Once they were there, they would have taken over the scene. The disdain for what he was saying shows you that they are not big fans of private investigators, which is a lot of the times the situation with police officers. A lot of times we are working with the police, a lot of times we are working against the police.
Sherlock: I’m amazed you didn’t notice. All you have to do is look around this flat. Coffee table on the left-hand side. Coffee mug handle pointing to the left. Power sockets, habitually he used the ones on the left.
Andy: You can notice things that are out of sync. I mean, that’s extreme, for sure. And all that’s going to come out in pathology anyway. They’re going to know if he’s right- or left-handed. There should be dozens and dozens of photos of the crime scene. So they’re going to notice some of those things. There’s nothing there that wouldn’t come out through the normal process anyway. And the private investigator’s not going to be a part of that.
There’s a lot of different things you can tell about people from looking at them and appearance-wise, but if you start assuming too much, you might’ve fallen into a trap for what they’re, you know, trying to make themself be portrayed as. So, you look. You don’t draw conclusions that way.
I would rate that at probably a 5, just because it’s entertaining and you have to make it such, otherwise it’s not going to work.
“Veronica Mars” (2014)
[phone rings as Veronica photographs Gia through her window]
Gia: Hi, this is Gia.
Andy: Well, there’s a whole lot of violations of law in this one. We have this thing called expectation of privacy that we’re supposed to work within. And so if you can see something from public view, without magnifying it, you can record it. If you can hear a conversation in public, again, the expectation of privacy is gone. So you can do that. Taping phone calls, it’s a two-party state. It’s in California, obviously. They said they’re in West Hollywood. So you cannot record that phone call. If she was licensed, she wouldn’t be for much longer if she was caught doing it.
You can get the information other ways. And you definitely couldn’t use it in any kind of a court or a prosecution, because they’re going to toss it all out. So it’s worthless for anything other than developing corroboration with other evidence that you find.
Gia: Hey, something’s happening. You need to get over here right away.
Andy: I’ve had situations like this where we actually just rented the apartment across the street. That way, if I can open my window and see into theirs, it’s fair game. So there’s ways around what she’s doing. And this is, obviously, an area where she wouldn’t expect anybody to be looking in on her. Although if people have public access to that roof, she could also be in the same situation.Say it’s a rooftop bar and she’s just sitting there at a table. She has the right if she can see it. I have to get a closer look
Yes, sometimes cameras do come in handy. Now there’s much smaller magnifications that we use that do the same job. We also use drones a lot with magnification, because if we can see it from there, we can get anywhere on it. If it’s in public space, we can magnify on it.
I’ll give this clip two stars, just because it’s absolutely nothing a private investigator is going to do.
“Knives Out” (2019)
Benoit Blanc: Did you converse with Harlan at that time?
Richard: Well, he was there, we must have spoke.
Benoit: In his study?
Richard: I don’t think so.
Andy: From an interrogation standpoint, it was actually pretty good. He left information out of the question so that they could try to extrapolate on it, and that way you can see which way they’re going. You could see that Don Johnson was coached a little bit on how to react while you’re trying to hide something and you’re trying to convey something else. So it was done well. Just the way he led his expressions and then, “Oh, yeah,” you know, kind of things. Things like that. The things that you look for are when they look away a lot, when they have to stumble, when they say things that are just out of line anyway. They try to divert from something when you ask a question.
Now, a lot of people will hang their hat off of watching some ex-FBI agent tell you how to read people. And once you do that, you start missing everything else. You really have to trust yourself and your interactions with people. So you really have to pay attention to those body cues and facial cues without becoming a victim of counting on every single one to mean a certain thing.
Lieutenant Elliot: Who hired you?
Benoit: I do not know. An envelope of cash showed up at my apartment yesterday with a news clipping of Thrombey’s death.
Andy: Well, actually just today we got a case where we have an anonymous client. I know she’s a female. That’s all I really know about her. So it’s very strange, but, yeah, it happens. You really want to know who your clients are the majority of the time.
I give it … 7. One of the more realistic portrayals so far.
Jake: What makes you certain that your husband is involved with someone?
Evelyn: A wife can tell.
Andy: Good scene. Now, as I recall, in this movie, that was not the actual person she was portraying herself to be. But she was right about that statement. When she said, “A woman knows these things,” she was right. Women know. We actually keep the numbers every year, ’cause we do a lot of these cases all over the globe. It’s always between 96% and 99% of the women that hire us are right. Guys are about 50%. They know about half the time if it’s really happening or not. They just tend to be more wary of other men around or things like that. So it’s about 50% with guys, about 96% to 99% with women.
One of the big giveaways is being overprotective of the cellphones and the pads and any of their other devices. We’ve got a great digital-forensics department. Somebody brings us a computer or a telephone, we can retrieve, you know, deleted texts, deleted pictures, all those kind of things.
Jake: Mrs. Mulwray, this type of investigation can be hard on your pocketbook. It takes time.
Evelyn: Money doesn’t matter to me, Mr. Gittes.
Andy: Most investigations are expensive. It’s not a cheap thing to get into. For infidelity cases, I’ve had cases go where we were watching somebody 24/7 for three weeks. And I got on the phone with my client, and I said, “Hey, he’s not doing what you think he’s doing.” And she says, “Andy, please stay on this. I know.” And so we did, and, honestly, it wasn’t two days later before he was at one of the high-end hotels in Beverly Hills with two prostitutes. And then three days later, we end up at a townhouse up in Agoura where he paid for it and he’s had a woman living there with him for years that nobody knew anything about. So sometimes it takes a long time.
I would rate the accuracy of this scene a 10 out of 10.
“Sherlock Holmes” (2009)
Andy: Following people on foot, you definitely want to do a lot of the things he did. Stay out of sight, don’t look ridiculous enough to everybody else around you that they’re saying, “Hey, there’s a guy, like, hiding behind the wall watching you go around corners.” You don’t want to do that. You always have to look just like you belong there, because it’s not just that person you have to worry about seeing you. You have everybody else that if you’re acting weird and stalkerish, they’re gonna go tell somebody. Last thing you want to do if you’re following somebody is have the police pull you over to ask you what you’re doing. That kind of ends the surveillance right there.
Quite often when we end up in a on-foot situation where we’re doing a surveillance, it started off in a vehicle. So you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be able to do, and like I talked about in some of the other situations, you have to be able to flow with it as things change. Almost all my guys, when they’re doing surveillance, they’ll have a couple extra shirts or tops or maybe a pair of shorts. Anything that they can switch out fast to make themselves look different and not catch the eye over and over and over again. Because if they’re walking in an area where there’s not a lot of people for a long time, a lot of people take walks in parks, things like that. So you have to kind of be ready to be on foot.
It wasn’t terrible. You want your disguise not to be so ridiculous that it’s noticed as ridiculous, because then they’re going to pay attention to you. His was a little over the top there. I’d give him a 7. 8. We’ll go 8.
“Magnum, P.I.” (1980)
[gun fires] [tires squeal]
Andy: The biggest misconception people have about private investigators is that we’re always in gunfights and that we’re out arresting people. And that’s not very often what happens. I’m not going to say it doesn’t ever happen, but not very often. And we don’t drive a lot of Ferraris. I would give this clip a 2.
[one car following another car]
Andy: In that scene, it’s much better than watching the subject of the investigation being followed by a red Ferrari half a car length behind him and not noticing it. If you can’t be out of sight, blend in. You want to use cars that fit in everywhere. I mean, we use a lot of Priuses in Los Angeles.
The other thing is, anytime you’re following somebody and you end up in a situation where you’re in a lot of traffic, odds are they’re going to take a lot of turns, things like that. Of course, use a very inconspicuous car and also try to use several. That way somebody can leapfrog these. We can have a car on the opposite way. And if they come and we know that this one’s going to take a left, “Hey, coming towards you.” Then you’re already in the street over, you pick up the car, you go off. The next one turns in behind and then tries to leapfrog ahead. If we have to speed, we do it.
It was amazing, ’cause he was actually keeping an OK distance, but there was never, ever any traffic in between them. Woman parks, and he stops right in the lane and sits and watches her. That’s a sure way to be seen. So, not a good tail. If you think somebody is tailing you, start making unnecessary turns into places that are odd and then make multiple turns. Make them follow you into those turns.
I’ll give him 5, ’cause I like Jimmy Stewart.
“True Detective” (2014)
Rust: I remember there was no physical evidence connecting Dora Lange to the dude’s place out in the woods, meaning it probably didn’t happen out there.
Andy: Yeah, it still happens a lot. We use a lot of big whiteboards with a lot of drawings through in this, and then a lot of those get erased as we go. And we have lots of mirrored rooms that the same thing happens with dry erase and we put pictures on so we can see them, and as things develop and change, most cases just don’t need that kind of investigation, but we use it a lot.
Fiona: Rest of the family, they don’t really talk to Aunt D.
Andy: There’s a whole plethora of things that we can do that law enforcement can’t do. We can talk to people, I don’t have to read you your rights. I can start questioning you from the beginning with the intent of having you confess to me. Obviously, the biggest thing is I can go anywhere in the world and work, and I don’t have to let anybody know I’m there. And we don’t need to take a ton of time for approvals. So, if you tell me that you need to have a certain thing done, we can prioritize it because you’re paying us to do it, whereas law enforcement may never prioritize it. So they may never get to it just because they’re overrun. In that part he did pretty good, I thought.
Andy: In this scene, you’ve got a father who’s looking for a lost daughter. He’s obviously very bereaved. I think he’s doing the right thing by going through this. I think this is a very common scene. I think that a lot of people do these types of things when this happens, even before they call us. Social media, websites, places where they have memberships, things like that are always important in those kind of investigations. We employ them a lot.
Some of the times you will use photographs and things and do reverse imaging. Now, I’m not talking about doing a Google reverse image. We use a lot of the same soft- and hardware that the FBI uses, that a lot of law enforcement uses, and it’s only available to licensed investigators or law enforcement. So we have very good people that go and dig this stuff out. And a lot of times, if you have a daughter that’s missing or a son that’s missing, if we can have their computers, we can get a lot of information about what their thought process was before they ended up missing.
There is no such thing as secure on the internet. Nowhere. If it can’t be gotten right now, it’ll be available some other time. You just see what happened to Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg’s phone numbers and everything else ended up hacked from his own site. So, nothing is safe. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what site it is. If you’re putting it out there, you might as well expect that it’s going to be accessible to anyone. So, at some point, if the right person wants to get in there and dig long and hard enough and invest whatever it is, time or money, they’re going to find it.
I would give this a 10 out of 10. It’s a very accurate depiction of what would happen.