From The Dropout and Pam & Tommy to Dahmer and The Watcher, real-life stories have been a boon for TV creators looking to launch the next buzzy streaming series. Increasingly, though, the real people involved in those stories have gone public expressing their discontent about seeing their lives dramatized for the audience’s entertainment. Pamela Anderson famously called the makers of Pam & Tommy “a**holes,” while the survivors of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims have criticized Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series for “retraumatizing” them.
Now, HBO Max is premiering Love & Death, a limited series from David E. Kelley based on the famous 1980 court case where Texas housewife Candy Montgomery was tried and acquitted of murdering Betty Gore, the wife of Montgomery’s lover, Allan Gore. WandaVisionstar Elizabeth Olsen plays Montgomery alongside Jesse Plemons as Gore, and she preemptively tells Yahoo Entertainment that she doesn’t believe the real Candy — who is still alive and reportedly living in Georgia — will be turning in.
“I don’t think she’ll see it,” Olsen says. “I think she’s created such a distance between herself and the trial. I really think of this as telling a really complicated story of moments that led up to a tragic event, and portraying people who, at any moment, [had done] one thing was different, this even potentially could never have happened … Hopefully we’re humanizing an experience on all sides.”
Watch our interview with Love & Death stars Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons on YouTube:
Love & Death is the second series to dramatize this particular true crime story. Last year, Jessica Biel played Montgomery in the Hulu series Candy, which starred Melanie Lynskey as Betty Gore. While Montgomery hasn’t addressed either show in the press, one of Gore’s surviving relatives told BuzzFeed News that they weren’t contacted by Hulu or HBO Max as both shows went into production. “It’s extremely frustrating and definitely stressful,” the relative said. “I hate that when I just want to scroll through the Hulu menu, I get slammed with a giant picture of Candy.”
Those feelings definitely weighed on the mind of Lily Rabe, who plays Betty in Love & Death. “It’s incredibly complicated, and something that I still think about,” the American Horror Story star admits. “There’s always a tremendous responsibility when you’re playing someone based on a real person, and because of that I felt my job was to try and understand Betty in the best possible way that I could.”
For his part, Plemons indicates that he similarly focused on the task directly at hand: doing his best to embody the version of Allan that Kelley wrote on the page. (Like Montgomery, Gore is still alive and reportedly lives in Florida.) “The way I look at it is that this is our job to tell stories, and there’s obviously something here that people have curiosity and fascination with. You just hope that you’re telling the truth as you see it with these characters and the story. But I can’t imagine what a complicated feeling that is and just wanting to move past it.”
Part of the fascination with Montgomery’s story may have to do with the fact that she and Allan didn’t seem like the “type” to have an affair given their respective backgrounds as small town churchgoers. “People are strange and do strange things — Allan included,” Plemons says. “Dig deep enough into almost anyone’s life and you find something surprising.”
Olsen, meanwhile, says that she appreciated that Kelley dramatized their relationship without passing judgement on their decision to have an affair. “I think the whole show is trying to withhold judgement… and that’s how I approach characters. I enjoy that we withheld our judgement of people making human choices to fill a lack [in their lives].”
“We didn’t want to glorify or vilify them,” confirms Love & Death director Lesli Linka Glatter. “We wanted to look as these complex characters in all their great qualities and foibles. You had these two couples that got together in their twenties and did everything right — they each had kids, and a warm, supporting community. So why was it that [Candy and Allan] had this deep hole inside of their hearts that they didn’t know how to fill? Candy says over and over again that she wants more… she knows that something’s missing. That’s what really interested me in her story.”
In order to play Montgomery in Hulu’s Candy, Biel famously underwent a fairly radical transformation, including a memorable perm. But both Glatter and Olsen specifically decided not to follow in those footsteps for Love & Death. “What was more important to me was the creation of who this person was at an emotional level,” the director says. “Lizzie is an actress that is so generous and skilled that she allows you in through her eyes to show us something about the human condition.”
According to Olsen, it helped that she was able to match how Montgomery appeared during the trial without an abundance of makeup and hairstyling. “Lesli didn’t think the perm was important,” she recalls. “Also from a logical standpoint, we’re covering the two years that lead up to the day she’s arrested when she does have the perm and you can’t really keep a perm for two years. So it didn’t make sense then to logically then change her hair midway through those episodes — it just seemed like a distraction. We wanted to avoid distraction and tell the human story.”