Variety We’re living in a true crime boom in both scripted and unscripted television — but “Love & Death” director and exec producer Lesli Linka Glatter said she hopes her new HBO Max series will be seen as much more than that.
Sure, the series involves the true story of accused (but acquitted) axe murderer Candy Montgomery, played by Elizabeth Olsen. “There is a horrible true crime at the core of this, but we didn’t want it to be just a true crime story,” Glatter said Saturday in a panel discussion after the premiere of “Love & Death” at the South by Southwest festival. And the show doesn’t shy away from Montgomery’s actions. But “it’s really, things are not what they appear to be. You have to go deeper to see what’s really going on. We really tried to look at the ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than the ‘what.’ How could this happen?”
The “Love & Death” premiere, held at Austin’s Paramount Theatre, served as a bit of a homecoming and reunion for the limited series’ cast and crew. “Love & Death” was filmed in the area, and is a story set in Texas (and even partly inspired by stories in Texas Monthly magazine). With an audience filled by actors and artisans who played a part in the production, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
“This is the perfect place to show our show for the very first time,” Glatter (who was born in Dallas) said before a screening of the premiere episode. “We made it here. It is a Texas story. I am a Texas human. To tell a story that is set here, shot here, I see so much of our Austin cast and crew here…. For me this is about a Texas town and the characters. I fell in love with all of them. But there is also a deep hole inside of those characters.”
After the screening, creator and executive producer David E. Kelley explained his inspiration: “It was a true story. If I had written this stuff and made it up, they would have revoked my writers license, which has taken away before but this time it would have been for good. All that stuff really happened. I really felt more like a stenographer than a writer in this one. The story was so juicy and the characters were complex and human. It’s not often you find a nostalgic, warm community series that ends with an axe murderer.”
Olsen similarly noted that although her character eventually commits murder, she was drawn to the early nuance of Candy. “I fell in love with the way David wrote the first few episodes,” she said. “[Candy] was just so optimistic and resilient and hopeful and striving for more and had a deep hole in her life. She didn’t have any resources trying to fill it. So she’s doing the best she can with what she’s got and I just loved that about her.”
Jesse Plemons, who plays Allan Gore — the man with whom Candy has an affair (and whose wife Candy eventually kills) — said he is “drawn to characters that don’t reveal themselves immediately.”
Lily Rabe, whose character Betty (Allan’s wife) is the one killed by Candy, notes that in Kelley’s script, “Everyone is is on a path and struggling.” She notes that she has worked on several Kelley projects and “With David, I’ve been so lucky to work with him a few times. And “there are no foils for other characters. It’s just not the experience that I’ve had ever playing any of the women that he writes,” she said. “I think for Betty, she is sort of sinking, but she’s she’s trying to stay afloat. And she’s she’s doing her best. I think this is not a show about failing marriages, I think it’s about so much more.”
The HBO Max show was an official selection at this year’s SXSW festival. The seven-episode limited series debuts with three episodes on Thursday, April 27, followed by one episode weekly through May 25.
David E. Kelley wrote the series and Lesli Linka Glatter directed the first four and the final episodes, while Lionsgate is the studio. According to the show’s logline, the drama “tells the true story of Candy and Pat Montgomery and Betty and Allan Gore – two churchgoing couples enjoying their smalltown Texas life… until an extramarital affair leads somebody to pick up an axe.” The series is inspired by the book “Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs” and a collection of articles from Texas Monthly (“Love & Death in Silicon Prairie,” Part I & II).
Olsen and Plemons lead the cast, which also includes Lily Rabe, Patrick Fugit, Krysten Ritter, Tom Pelphrey, Keir Gilchrist and Elizabeth Marvel.
Kelley exec produces through David E. Kelley Productions; Nicole Kidman and Per Saari are EPs through Blossom Films; other EPs include Lesli Linka Glatter, Scott Brown and Megan Creydt (through Texas Monthly), Matthew Tinker, Michael Klick and Helen Verno.