Love & Death is based on the-crazy-but-real-story of Texas housewife Candace “Candy” Lynn Montgomery, whose extramarital affair with fellow church member, Allan Gore, ended in the murder of her lover’s wife, Betty Gore, in Wylie, Texas, on 13 June 1980. During the assault, Betty was struck 41 times with a wood-splitting axe, leaving local authorities to investigate one of the most gory, disturbing cases in the state’s history.
“This is a story that if it wasn’t true, you couldn’t actually make it up,” says Oscar and eight-time Emmy nominee Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, The Newsroom, Mad Men), who directed the show from a script by series creator and 11-time Emmy winner David E Kelley (Big Little Lies). “Real life is always stranger than anything we could try and create.”
Glatter and Kelley also executive produced alongside the likes of the hit-making team of Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and Emmy winner Per Saari (Big Little Lies, The Undoing). Going into the project, the team knew they had to get the casting right if the show was to stand out from the other true-crime shows out there.
“We wanted viewers to fall in love with Candy,” Glatter explains. “She was the life of the party, but she was not all that she appeared to be on the surface, so we needed an actress that could thread that very delicate needle.”
Critics Choice Super Award winner and Emmy nominee Elizabeth Olsen (Wandavision) was her first choice… and it was spot-on.
The critics are raving about the show’s central performances. “There’s just something about Elizabeth Olsen as a housewife with a dark side that is endlessly appealing,” says TheWrap.
Olsen’s co-star is man-of-the-moment Oscar, Emmy and BAFTA nominee Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog, Breaking Bad, Fargo), whose latest movie, Martin Scorcese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, premiered at Cannes last week, rocketing him to #9 on IMDb’s Starmeter, with Collider calling him “one of the greatest actors today.”
For Plemons, who grew up less than two hours from where the events took place, the story had an added eeriness. “It’s so hard to imagine this happening in your backyard. That’s what’s so scary and intriguing about it.”
Glatter agrees. “The story is very much about a perceived version of the classic American dream,” she says. “It’s about life in the late-1970s— a time when people got married at 22, had kids, and church was their social network.”
At least at its outset, the show leans into that shininess, setting up its characters “like a cappuccino,” Kelley says, “frothy on top, but underneath, there’s a bitter taste.”
Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the show has a surprising dollop of humour. “I didn’t want the narrative to be without levity,” Glatter says. “Life isn’t like that.”
Plemons shared his co-star’s fascination with their characters’ naivete and almost childlike behaviour. “I think I would have related to Allan a lot when I was younger,” he says. “His dynamic with Candy is like something you’d normally see between teenagers. There is a repression and shame around sex, a feeling of not fully being able to express themselves, and all the baggage attached to that.”
This isn’t your typical affair. “Candy chooses to have an affair, but she doesn’t pick the ‘hot guy’—she picks the little-bit paunchy nice guy she stands next to in the church choir,” says Glatter. “They talk about it for months before they act on it. It wasn’t lascivious. It was, ‘Let’s think about it over lunch.’ It was about being seen and heard rather than just about sex. I wanted to play all of that with respect and realism.”
For a while, we’re almost tempted to forget what’s coming. But this is after all a true-crime series …
Filming the murder itself was harrowing for everyone involved. “Shooting the murder was a horrible experience for all of us,” says Glatter. “And we wanted it to be. We didn’t want to glorify anything.”
“It was f*cking awful,” admits Olsen. “Filming it came with a crazy surge of adrenaline. I was incredibly overwhelmed over those three-plus days. I’ve killed people on-screen before, but this was truly awful.”
“Do I think the real Candy Montgomery will watch this show and like it? I don’t know,” muses Glatter. “I really don’t think she intended to kill Betty. If she had just walked out the door when they started arguing, maybe it would have never happened? We will never know. I hope embedded in this story is compassion for the human condition. We are fallible beings and we need to embrace the holes in our heart before damage ever occurs. Secrets are so damaging …”
At the time of publication, Love and Death is currently the number one most-watched Max Original limited series globally.
Love & Death is now streaming – HBO Max (USA), Binge (Aus/Nz), Showmax (ZA) – with new episodes weekly.
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