Love & Death: Love, loss and a story too terrible to be true – Airs on Sept. 7 exclusively on ITVX

Love & Death: Love, loss and a story too terrible to be true - Airs on Sept. 7 exclusively on ITVX

Reflecting on Love, Loss and a Story Too Terrible to be True with Cast Members Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Patrick Fugit, Lily Rabe and Tom Pelphrey

Love & Death’s on-screen talent each came to the project with varying degrees of knowledge of the tragedy. For Jesse Plemons, the story had an added eeriness. “My family lived in the Dallas area until I was five and then we moved to another town about an hour away. So, I should have heard about it, but I didn’t,” says Plemons (“Allan Gore”). “So when I finally read the Texas Monthly article, I was gripped and totally freaked out. It’s so hard to imagine this happening in your backyard. That’s what’s so scary and intriguing about it.”

It was the story’s domestic-horror tone that intrigued lead actor Elizabeth Olsen to want to play Candy, alongside of the added twist of approaching Kelley’s scripts with as much neutrality as possible. “I have to defend any character I play, but with this story, there was the added challenge of knowing the effect these events have had on so many peoples’ lives,” says Olsen. “But I almost have to cut that part of my brain off because, while we are telling a true story, we’re still telling a creative story. We have to take certain licences because these people weren’t famous; we don’t know, say, their speech patterns or other personal details. There’s a lot of room for invention.”

Olsen and Plemons shared a fascination with their characters’ naivete and almost childlike behaviour. “I think I would have related to Allan a lot when I was younger. His dynamic with Candy is like something you’d normally see between teenagers,” says Plemons. “There is a repression and shame around sex; a feeling of not fully being able to express themselves and all the baggage attached to that. It was really interesting to explore Allan essentially coming into himself, which David captured so well in the scripts. There are funny moments, which seems odd to say considering the events that ultimately took place.”

Olsen, who had no contact with the real Candy Montgomery – who is now 72 and reportedly living in Georgia – calls her character “an incredibly persistent woman” and someone who approached everything in her life with a rare optimism.

“She was always trying to solve problems, especially the huge internal conflict she was experiencing about her identity,” says Olsen. “Her kids were already old enough to be in school, but she was still young and – she felt – still sexually desirable. At the same time, she was also trying to start her own business. There was a lot of playfulness and joy that came with her relationship with Allan. She was able to fully be herself around him.”

One of Love & Death’s most genre-defying devices is the loving, if imperfect, marriages depicted between Allan and Candy and their respective spouses.

Patrick Fugit, who plays Candy’s adoring if “somewhat clueless” husband Pat, says his character couldn’t have been a bigger departure for him as an artist. “Lizzie and I talked a lot about, ‘Why were they even together in the first place? Does Pat understand what Candy needs? Clearly, he doesn’t! He feels electrified by her, but she’s reaching outside of their sphere for something bigger. And she doesn’t know what that is. And Pat sure as shit doesn’t know either,” says Fugit.

Echoing Plemons, Fugit agrees that Pat and Candy too reflect the 1950s values they inherited from their parents. “It’s sad, actually. They were immediately thrust into an adult world with adult consequences, but still so young,” he says. “They weren’t given tools by the previous generation about how to have and maintain a happy family and a marriage.”

Lily Rabe (“Betty Gore”) says while she is quite opposite in many ways to Betty, she of course found deep connection to her character and loved the challenge of doing so since they move through the world so differently. “At one point while shooting after Jesse and I had become friends, he said, ‘You really could not be more different from Betty’. But there are certainly commonalities I share with Betty as a woman and a mother,” says Rabe. “I was very protective of her while we were shooting. I think she had an overwhelming degree of fear, which became her motor. And that feels dangerously relatable. It can consume you. It’s a choice I find myself having to make every day: to not over-water the soil my fears are growing in.”

Olsen, Plemons, Fugit and Rabe felt a collective appreciation during production for the carefully curated, respectful approach that Kelley employed in painting their characters with empathy and believability “A universal positive of David’s writing is his conversational tone,” says Fugit. “It can feel awkward at first, but when you’re in the moment with your fellow actors, you’re like, ‘Wow, this feels like a real conversation.’ And while he’s never written ‘true crime,’ he’s written a ton about human nature and that gives you a lot of ideas as an actor. I could tell the others felt that, too.”

The cast’s closeness was particularly useful for Olsen and Rabe when they had to film the harrowing scene in which Candy murders Betty in the latter’s laundry room. The actors share in Glatter’s assessment of the experience as emotionally taxing. “It was fucking awful,” admits Olsen. “Filming it came with a crazy surge of adrenaline. I was incredibly overwhelmed over those three-plus days. I’ve killed people on-screen before, but this was truly awful. And maybe the hardest part of that whole sequence was trying to make a light axe look heavy!”

Rabe says she’s also done her “fair share of murder scenes,” but that sequence was one of the most intense she’d experienced. “Lesli is pretty unflappable as a director but I remember, when it was over, she just held my hand and we wept,” says Rabe.

Adding to the stress and heightened emotions, says Rabe, “Betty had a daughter, a young baby and believed she was pregnant with her third child. I was in fact pregnant with my third child while shooting the series, which was incredibly poignant. Betty was fighting for her life,

in a way that was almost superhuman. That willfulness, to me as a mother, and to someone who was pregnant, felt like the most human thing there is. I still can barely talk about it.”

Olsen and Rabe say their intimacy as actors and friends proved to be crucial. “Our bond grew tenfold during that time,” says Rabe. “We knew we had to have a certain kind of endurance, both physical and emotional. A few times we just sat quietly in our corner with a hand on a knee, like teammates at halftime.”

Amidst the bleakness of Love & Death, there’s a welcome levity in the character of bombastic attorney Don Crowder, whom Candy hires to defend her in her murder trial. Actor Tom Pelphrey admits his knowledge of Don and the case at large was scant, but Kelley’s scripts blew him away in ways he didn’t expect. “What really got me was I couldn’t stop laughing. All the characters, except for Don, are so earnest and lacking guile and irony. The story struck me as so virginal in the tone,” he says.

In preparing to play Crowder, Pelphrey read all the IP, “did all the Google image searches” and gleaned fascinating insights in an interview with Crowder’s wife Carol (played in the series by Olivia Grace Applegate), published after the couple had divorced in the mid-1990’s.

“Reading that helped me filled in stuff between the lines about Don,” says Pelphrey. “What most struck me was that he and Carol remained best friends and were very respectful with each other, which is incredibly rare.”

Pelphrey was also moved by Crowder’s real-life commitment to helping foster children and those who had been abused and/or neglected. He seemed to gravitate to helping people cope with trauma, which likely informed his willingness to take Candy on as a client. And his strategy in defending Candy was very much ahead of its time in how he framed both trauma and emotional triggers as explaining her actions. “We’re accustomed to this kind of language now, but back then, this wasn’t something anyone was talking about in the context of a criminal defence,” says Pelphrey.

Sadly, Crowder died by suicide in 1998, which cast a larger, tragic pall over the character. “I was surprised when I learned Don committed suicide. While it’s always tragic- this felt especially so. Don seemed like such a vital, good man; he was constantly championing the dispossessed and the underdog.” says Pelphrey. “I really connected with that mission, and the fact that he didn’t like authority very much. I can relate to that too, one hundred percent.”

ITV Press Centre

Scroll to Top