Love & Death's ax murder scene was 'one of the most difficult' of Lesli Linka Glatter's career
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Love & Death.
Candy Montgomery's trial over the ax murder of her friend and fellow congregant Betty Gore reaches an explosive verdict in the finale of Love & Death, the Max limited series based on the true story that rocked the small town of Wylie, Texas in 1980.
As revealed in the source material the series is based on (Evidence of Love by Jim Atkinson and Joe Bob Briggs and the Texas Monthly articles), the housewife (played by Elizabeth Olsen) is acquitted of the murder of Gore (Lily Rabe), whom she lacerated with 41 ax wounds after Gore confronted her about an affair she had with her husband, Allan (Jesse Plemons). Montgomery's showman attorney Don Crowder (Tom Pelphrey) convinced jurors it was an act of self defense, that Montgomery had suffered a dissociative reaction rooted in past trauma.
Below, director and executive producer Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Justified, Mad Men) talks the finale and explosive murder sequence, which she called "one of the most difficult scenes I've ever shot in my career."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to begin by asking about that jarring sequence in episode 5, where Candy's driving to Don's house post-police interrogation and singing along to ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me."
LESLI LINKA GLATTER: That was directed by the wonderful Clark Johnson. One of the things we set up early in the show is that Candy finds peace and finds herself when she is singing. She has a hole in her heart that is a mile wide that she can't seem to fill, and that's one of the things that interested me so much in telling this story. It was less about telling a true crime story, but more about looking at the men and women of that time — primarily, women who did it all, you know? They got married at 20, they had two kids, they moved to the suburbs, they had a wonderful community built around family and church. Why do they feel so empty inside? I think one of the ways that Candy filled it was singing, finding some sort of joy in that. That time alone in the car and singing was built from the first episode on and now, after this horrible murder.
With the murder scene in the utility room, how did you toe the line of recreating what had happened without glorifying the bloodshed?
That is a balance that one has to be very careful with. I did not want to glorify it in any way, nor did I want to vilify. But it was a horrible crime. I think to not tell the truth is a disservice to the story. We chose not to show Candy striking Betty with an ax 41 times. We maybe did eight, which is plenty. The rest is left to one's imagination. But again, you know, we'll never know. We only know this story told from one person's point of view. We did stick with that version of the story that was told in Evidence of Love and in Candy's testimony in court . . . It was one of the most difficult scenes I've ever shot in my career — and I have blown a lot of shit up. I have shot a lot of action sequences, but this was not that. This was two housewives in a small space. It was two women, two friends. It was up close and personal. It was horrible. As a director, I did everything I could to try to protect those two amazing actresses who put themselves in it so completely. But yeah, it was intense.
One of Candy's attorneys, Robert Udashen, was an advisor on the show. [Crowder died in 1998.] What other types of research informed the trial scenes?
He was on the set, which was incredibly helpful in every way. We were always turning to him. He was very helpful to [series creator and writer] David E. Kelley, but David had all the court transcripts, so much of that was in the transcripts. The scenes between Don and Candy wouldn't have been there [and were fictionalized], but in terms of what actually went on in the courtroom, we had transcripts of that. It did become, like, 'The circus is coming to town.' Everybody came from miles around and wanted a seat. There is not a lot of footage of Candy or the people involved, nor a whole lot of photographs, but there is a lot of interview footage from the news of people who actually came and wanted to be part of the trial. It was nothing that anyone had ever experienced in this town or surrounding towns. It was packed and people were turned away. It definitely became a phenomenon.
The final scene comes full circle with Candy visiting Allan before she leaves Wylie. Tell me more about that creative decision.
I think it was really important that Candy went to Allan. I think she couldn't leave that town and leave everything [after what] happened without saying something. And they didn't say very much to each other. It was actually more about what wasn't said than what was said. Because how does one say I'm sorry for something that's so horrifying? I think it was essential for Candy to be able to move on and have a life... and for Allan to be able to move on. And Allan's story, I mean, everyone's personal story — life is so incredibly inexplicable. People want to explore and try to understand what is profoundly inexplicable. That's why the story is so compelling. Why did this happen? How did this happen? We humans are such complicated beings.
Now that you've gone through the process of adapting this for the screen, what do you make of Candy's trial verdict?
I remember the first time I read the Texas Monthly story and I was like, oh my god. She was found not guilty. She was not found innocent because there's a big difference. She actually committed the murder. But I have to believe that the jury believed that she had a dissociative reaction, that they believed the doctor and they believed her, and that something split open in her psyche at that moment. When I read it the first time, I could not believe it was true. It read like a short story. That's what was so intriguing about it. She was found not guilty. That is really hard to imagine.
All seven episodes of Love & Death are streaming on Max.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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