This story about Elizabeth Olsen and “Love & Death” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
What is it about Candy Montgomery that Hollywood finds so irresistible? With two high-profile limited series in consecutive years, the tale of a housewife-turned-accused ax murderer has proven tantalizing. In 2022, there was Hulu’s “Candy,” cocreated by Robin Veith and Nick Antosca and starring Jessica Biel as the woman acquitted of butchering the wife of her lover. Now there’s HBO Max’s “Love & Death,” an interpretation of the same gory tale, written and exec-produced by David E. Kelley and starring Elizabeth Olsen.
Olsen’s interest in stepping into Candy’s blood-soaked flip-flops had less to do with what Montgomery did or didn’t do and more with how she operated. “The appeal for me is that I don’t feel like I know how to use my femininity as a person in the world,” Olsen said. “And this is a woman who has managed her entire life to use her femininity as a strength to get what she wants. It’s a part of myself that I’m trying to investigate. There’s something in me that has a hard time, for whatever reason, trusting people who use that skill, and I don’t necessarily like that part of myself.”
That Montgomery’s entire persona hinged on appearances fascinated Olsen, who, as an actor, is well acquainted with outside pressure to look a certain way. “Where I started with her, she was holding on to whatever she presents because she needs some sort of public affirmation — to the point where, during the trial, she told her lawyer that she wouldn’t become an emotional monkey for him because even though she’s on trial for murder, she’s still concerned about how she comes across to people from an aesthetic standpoint,” Olsen said. “I just found all those choices to be really odd and interesting.”
Because “Love & Death” is based on a true story, Olsen had plenty of material at her disposal to help build her character. There is ample archival news coverage, plus the true-crime book “Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs” by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson that the miniseries is based on. They all dove into how in 1981, Berry Gore, a suburban Dallas wife and mother of two, could have ended up in a pool of blood in her own home, struck 41 times with an ax. Montgomery knew the Gores from church and was having an affair with Betty’s husband, Allan. At the murder trial, she successfully claimed self-defense and was acquitted.
“The reality of what happened is almost like doing your homework for you because you don’t have to make things up,” Olsen said. “There’s something nice about having any kind of existing source, because there’s something to interact with. There are sentences or letters or anecdotes from a person’s life that unlock something for you.”
Of course, there are myriad ways for an actor to approach a character, and Olsen relished watching Jesse Plemons, who plays Allan, work through his own process. “It’s just the smallest things that sometimes lead people in a direction, and for Jesse that was choosing the hairstyle that he wanted,” she said. “It came from real pictures where he was just like, ‘I think this is the guy.’”
The producers and directors knew that living inside a gruesome tragedy would be taxing for the cast, so to break the ice, Lesli Linka Glatter decided to shoot the more upbeat church choir scenes early on. “We all played a getting-to-know-you game by doing all the church sequences first,” Olsen said. “[Lesli] thought it could be helpful for us to understand the world we’re inhabiting together. It was really fun, based on the characters that we were creating in a vacuum, how the roles play with each other and [which] colors we each got to paint with.”
Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.