Marcia Gay Harden and Emily Skeggs became inseparable on the set of “Love You to Death,” a Lifetime movie about a protective mother (Harden) who manipulates her daughter (Skeggs) to the brink of violence. The two leads became so close that when Skeggs fell sick during a long day of shooting, Harden was ready with wine, a cheese spread, and a drawn bath at Skegg’s hotel room.
The bond Harden and Skeggs developed over 18 days of filming was similar to the love between a mother and a daughter, but not quite like the duo they portrayed.
“It was truly beautiful,” Skeggs told TheWrap’s Thom Geier of Harden’s gesture at a Q&A on Monday following a screening of the tv film that premiered earlier this year. “I felt like I had an incredible mentor and support system on set.”
“Love You to Death” is a fictionalized version of the 2015 murder case of Dee Dee Blanchard. That June, Blanchard was found stabbed to death in her Missouri home. Nicholas Godjean — then-boyfriend of Blanchard’s daughter Gypsy Rose — carried out the act at his girlfriend’s behest. They believed by murdering Dee Dee, Gypsy Rose would be freed from her mother’s control.
In “Love You to Death,” Skeggs plays 16-year-old Esme Stoller, a wheelchair-bound computer gamer — inspired by Gypsy Rose — who slowly turns on her mother Camile while developing an online relationship with a fellow gamer, Scott.
The story has led to multiple documentaries and the first season of Hulu’s true-crime series “The Act.”
Harden told the audience at Los Angeles’ Landmark Theatre that she and Skeggs quickly became friends on set in Vancouver, even getting massages together a week into filming. Harden was infatuated with the Grammy and Tony Award-nominated actress.
“It became the best possible version of what you all just watched,” Skeggs told the audience about their relationship.
The actresses bonded over their mutual fascination with Dee Dee Blanchard, who later was said to have had the mental disorder called Munchausen by proxy — a disorder where a caretaker exaggerates their patient’s condition to gain sympathy. Harden said she signed on to the project after talking with the producers about her character Camile and how she walked the line of being a relatable, worried caretaker and a monster.
“If there’s something recognizable about her, then she could be your next-door neighbor,” the actress, who won an Academy Award for her role in 2000’s “Pollack,” explained.
For the role of Camile, Harden said she based the character off of the “leeching sense of need” we sometimes have for each other, where we are in search for answers in someone else when we can’t find it in ourselves.
Harden focused on Camile’s “ugliness,” she said, not necessarily in what was on the outside, but the sheer amount of baggage Camile carried knowing she was “obliterating” someone else to fit her distorted version of love.
Skeggs said she was long infatuated with the story after listening to her fair share of true-crime podcasts.
“Something that’s fascinating to me about this story is how [Esme] found her voice, and how she learned to stand up for herself,” Skeggs said, adding that she herself is a shy person.
During the early moments of the film, Esme rarely speaks, often getting shut down on anything that would potentially harm her. It isn’t until Esme is gifted a blue wig from a neighbor to wear during an upcoming gaming convention that she begins to both figuratively and literally stand up for herself — even giving herself the moniker of Blue Esme.
“Love You to Death” is a Sony Pictures Television production. It was directed by English filmmaker Alex Kalymnios (“The 100”) and written by “The Shallows” screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski.