Interview with Love & Death Executive Producer and Director Lesli Linka Glatter

Interview with Love & Death Executive Producer and Director Lesli Linka Glatter

Crafting the Look, Feel and Tone of Love & Death: Inside the Series with Executive Producer and Director Lesli Linka Glatter

Kelley and Saari brought to Love & Death an unflappable track-record for telling complex, female-centred stories. But they needed an undaunted visionary to help them realise their ambitions.

Enter eight-time Emmy nominee and three-time Director’s Guild Award-winner Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Man Men) who faced a particular challenge in crafting an appropriate look, feel and tone for this story as the series’ helmer-executive producer.

“I wanted to dig deeply into these characters and their world, all the while balancing the tonal shifts in the original story,” says Glatter. “The story is very much about a perceived version of the classic American dream. It’s about life in the late-1970s— a time when people got married at 22, had kids and church was their social network. I didn’t want the narrative to be without levity. Life isn’t like that. This is also a story that if it wasn’t true, you couldn’t actually make it up.”

Glatter says she saw particular appeal in Candy as a protagonist. “She has holes in her heart and soul that are immense and she picks absolutely the wrong thing to fill them. There was also a giant disconnect between the public and private Candy, which I don’t think was uncommon for women at that time.”

Most importantly, they couldn’t “let Candy off the hook” for her terrible deed.

“I have a lot of compassion for her, but also for Betty. She was trapped too. And there is also a tragedy to be explored in a culture that fostered a collective inability to express feelings,” Glatter says. “And that’s what I wanted to explore; not just tell a story about a horrible murder.”

Despite having each carved out legendary statuses in both TV and film, Kelley and Glatter had somehow never previously collaborated. And Glatter says it was clear from one of their earliest conversations that theirs would be a partnership defined by equity. “We were having dinner and he said ‘You are the directing showrunner and I am the writing showrunner.’ We were instantly a team. None of it could happen without David’s amazing words, and it was my job to bring those words to life,” she says.

Kelley began his writing process in December 2020 – during the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic – with the intention of writing all seven hours of the series. Glatter started scouting locations in Texas in May of 2021 and filming began in September of 2021.

It wasn’t lost on Glatter, a native Texan herself, the novelty of being able to shoot in her home state, just hours from where the events of Love & Death took place 42 years ago. “I love Texas— the wide open spaces, the sense of possibility,” says Glatter. “This is absolutely a Texas story and the fact that I’m from there hopefully gave me even more compassion and perspective.”

One of the team’s most exciting and daunting tasks was securing Love & Death’s key cast, namely the role of Candy Montgomery, a role that required its performer to possess a rare combination of gravitas, playfulness and accessibility, all within an actor in her early 30’s.

“When I read David’s amazing scripts, I thought immediately of Elizabeth Olsen,” says Glatter. “I remembered her from her breakout film [2011’s] Martha Marcy May Marlene. Her career is such an interesting combination of provocative indie films and commercial projects like WandaVision. Lizzie is an incredibly intelligent and layered actor – she’s so smart, coming from the theatre and studying Russian literature at NYU. She’s the real deal.”

Adds Glatter: “We wanted viewers to fall in love with Candy. She was the life of the party, but she was not all that she appeared to be on the surface, so we needed an actress that could thread that very delicate needle. Elizabeth had everything we’d hoped for.”

For the role of Allan Gore, Glatter admits “all I could think of” was Oscar-nominee Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog) who is an extraordinary actor. For Candy’s engineer-husband Pat, it occurred to Glatter, “Oh, my God. What about Patrick Fugit?”

Emmy-nominee Lily Rabe (American Horror Story) was cast to play the doomed Betty Gore; Emmy-nominee Tom Pelphrey (Ozark) as Candy’s bombastic attorney Don Crowder; and the cast was rounded out by acclaimed supporting players, including Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Keir Gilchrist (Atypical) and Elizabeth Marvel (Homeland). “We have an absolute dream cast,” says Glatter. “I also loved being able to cast in Texas, too. We found so many great local actors.”

As she designed her directorial approach for Love & Death, Glatter was struck by numerous “human” moments in Kelley’s scripts, which served as potent reminders of her mission. “I wanted to refine the IP and make the series about character and story—the scenes at the church, Allan and Betty’s Marriage Encounter therapy weekend… I wanted to embrace the unique and sometimes humorous environment, without making fun of it,” says Glatter.

Within these smaller moments, Glatter still had to navigate at least three very distinct genre shifts over the course of the series: the dark humour beneath Candy and Allan’s affair; the horrible and gruesome murder and subsequent police investigation; and the courtroom drama of Candy’s trial.

These narrative ebbs and flows coalesce in a way that elevates the material from its basic “true-crime” foundation. “Candy chooses to have an affair, but she doesn’t pick the ‘hot guy’—she picks the little-bit paunchy nice guy she stands next to in the church choir. None of it makes sense, and yet it’s incredibly moving,” says Glatter. “And they talk about it for months before they act on it. It wasn’t lascivious. It was, ‘Let’s think about it over lunch.’ It was about being seen and heard rather than just about sex. I wanted to play all of that with respect and realism.”

As for the violence, “I can say without a doubt that shooting the murder was a horrible experience for all of us,” says Glatter. “And we wanted it to be. We didn’t want to glorify anything. I based all the choreography on what was written in the book and police forensics. We tried to be very specific in how we dressed the scene—the dog bowl, the child’s teaching toilet, the book of nursery rhymes. It all adds to the tragedy and trauma.”

In conceiving the courtroom scenes in episodes 6 and 7, Glatter recalled a particular classic film and how, despite the real-world events it depicts, it managed to create a sense of mystery in the viewer. “Every time I watch All The President’s Men, I still wonder, ‘Is it going to be a different ending?” says Glatter of director Allan Pakula’s 1976 Watergate thriller starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

“That’s what I was trying to achieve with the courtroom scenes here too. I wanted both the prosecution and defence to be seen as equally powerful so you’re wondering, ‘Oh my God, is she not going to get off? And of course she does, but it isn’t at all joyful. They didn’t find her ‘innocent;’ they found her ‘not guilty.’ Nothing good came of this ordeal for anyone involved, and for me, it was an incredible test to portray,” says Glatter.

ITV Press Centre

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