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The name Candy Montgomery is familiar to many. But after the first three episodes of Love & Death, people will better understand the woman who has been known as the housewife who struck her friend 41 times with an axe.
“I oddly think we made the show she would want to have made,” Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Candy, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We really defend her, without trying to let her completely off the hook. But we are telling, I think, her story.”
The seven-part Max series written by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Undoing and many more) released its first three episodes before moving to a weekly release. And the three-part premiere, all of which were directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Mad Men and many more), serve as an opening chapter to the true-crime retelling of the infamous story.
On June 13, 1980, Texas housewife Candace “Candy” Montgomery was accused of brutally murdering Betty Gore (played in the series by Lily Rabe), the wife of her former lover Allan Gore (played by Jesse Plemons), striking her 41 times with an axe. As will be revealed in later episodes when the series revisits the trial, a jury ultimately found her not guilty, after her side argued self-defense and a momentary snap, triggered by childhood trauma. As her attorney points out, they couldn’t find her innocent, but they did find her not guilty.
Since then, Montgomery, who is now in her 70s, has not done public interviews. Her only cooperation into the retellings of the case has been in the book Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson, which is one of the source materials that informed Love & Death. The other source here is the two-part Texas Monthly article “Love and Death in Silicon Prairie,” which is what prompted Glatter and Kelley to license the rights for their TV miniseries.
Montgomery’s years of silence and attempt to start over — the finale, also directed by Glatter, gives an update on her current whereabouts — is why the Love & Death team did not reach out to her when making their series.
“I knew that she didn’t want that,” says Olsen. “And I really have a respect for someone who draws such a hard line after such a national story to have never done an interview after the fact. Besides participating in Evidence of Love, she hasn’t done a single interview since the trial. I can appreciate why someone would want their anonymity and privacy, even though we’re evading it by making the show.”
The first three episodes introduce Candy, a young mother of two, as a well-liked member of her small town and Church community in Wylie, Texas. She should be content. But when she realizes she’s not, she propositions a neighbor and friend’s husband, Allan Gore, to have what Glatter describes as the “most unsexy beginning of any affair ever known.”
“They actually got together at her house and ate lasagna, and wrote a list on butcher paper of the Do’s and Don’t’s to try to be safe in this affair they were doing. We copied it directly in terms of what those Do’s and Don’t’s were. To me, you couldn’t make that up,” Glatter tells THR of Candy and Allan’s documented three-monthlong affair planning process. “I am very interested in when things are not what they appear to be. That you have to look deeper to see what’s really going on. In the late ‘70s, women got married at 20. You had your two kids, you made your meals, you moved to the suburbs, you joined the church, you have a wonderful, supportive community — you did everything right. Why is it that there’s a hole in your heart and psyche and spirit that’s a mile wide?”
Other elements of the story were, as the director describes, “stranger than fiction” and also part of the appeal for her and Kelley to take the story on. “The Marriage Encounter really took place at a medieval themed hotel, Dunfey’s Royal Inn, which was on Northwest Highway in Dallas, Texas. I would have never chosen that as a director unless it was true,” she shares of the religious weekend experience to bond couples that both the Montgomerys and the Gores attended. “I thought Marriage Encounter was incredibly moving. If you don’t have therapy, that’s a place that couples can go and really be honest and talk to each other — though Allan wasn’t totally honest.”
Taking the time to set up the Montgomery and Gore marriages, Candy and Allan’s affair, and Candy’s discontent in the backdrop of Wylie was a different approach than the Hulu series, Candy, which starred Jessica Biel in the titular role and Melanie Lynskey as Betty, that released a year prior. In Love & Death, it’s not until the final moments of the third episode that Candy even arrives at Betty’s house that day, with the final shot ending on Betty holding the axe.
Glatter has shared their collective shock at hearing that, two months into filming Love & Death, Hulu was moving ahead with their own version of the Montgomery-Gore story. Though that series filmed after, it finished and released first. Glatter elaborates: “We had licensed all the underlying rights, so we thought that we had covered all our bases, but it’s public domain material so there’s nothing you can do.”
She adds, “For a long time I did not [watch Candy]. We were already on our path, we were doing it the way we chose to do it. There’s a beauty to the world this exists in. We started with all the community building scenes and the way we ordered shooting I thought was critically important to develop the world. This is a world that’s very bucolic and beautiful on the surface, but what’s underneath is quite a bit different. So all the scenes we shot at first were the church scenes, the picnics, the singing. And it bonded the actors and all of us in a really profound way. So I felt like it was watching something else and a different approach, though I respect everyone has their own way of looking at material.”
Another change is the look of the characters. While Biel memorably donned Candy’s short curly wig and large glasses, Glatter’s vision was not to have Olsen and the cast look exactly like the people they were playing. “She didn’t want my hair actually permed because she thought it would be distracting,” says Olsen. “I had a sense of freedom just from that choice that Lesli was making of trying to tell the heart of this story, not so much a documentary version of it.”
Glatter explains, “If she had been playing a character that had been in the public zeitgeist, like Marcia Clark or Jackie Kennedy, everyone knows who those people are and you have to be as realistically real as possible. But Candy, no one really knew. So we decided to do not even a version of it, but something that was appropriate to the time. We did stick very clearly to the courtroom wardrobe — they found this crazy jacket that Candy was photographed in. But that was a choice to not wear a wig and have that be what is focused on.”
Though the trial became national news, there were no recordings. So Olsen says she spent the most time crafting Candy’s voice. “I would send Lesli so many voice memos saying, ‘What about a thicker change on the A sound? Or, what about a higher-pitched voice?’ Once I got it and we started working, there was something physical my voice was doing that I wasn’t really aware of, and Tricia Sawyer, my longtime makeup artist, was with me one morning and was just like, ‘There she is. Your eyes shift when you get into Candy mode.’ And I never actively thought of that, but there is a version of her in my head that felt so easy to slip into once I figured it out.”
In THR‘s review of Love & Death, critic Angie Han said of Olsen’s striking portrayal, “Her saucer-like eyes prove to be her most effective weapon. At times, they seem to shine so big and bright it’s almost unnerving; at others, they court sympathy by flooding with tears or dimming completely.”
Olsen also hasn’t seen Candy, having only spoken to Biel about their shared part for the first time weeks ago. But both she and Glatter agree that the unexplainable is why people are so attracted to this story. “I think it would be an interesting exercise as an audience member if you’ve seen that to also see ours, or vice versa,” says Olsen. “It’s not about one person owning a story, it’s about how different people come together and tell a tale or tell a version of a story, and how many ways there are to tell a story that I find endlessly fascinating, which is why you return to the theater and the same plays all the time. To me, it’s not an us vs. them. It’s more like, how does that inform this version of this story?”
Still, all of these years later, many questions remain. And Glatter hopes Love & Death will help to answer them.
Olsen agrees: “Something really tragic happened and we don’t want to excuse or negate that in any way. But I think the exercise we are doing is: How do we tell someone’s story and still understand how their lives led to that moment? And have a bit of understanding behind someone’s choices where we would normally leap to judgment, without having had this experience of the show.”
Love & Death is streaming its first three episodes on Max, with the remaining four dropping weekly on Thursdays.
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