How Jessica Biel Found Empathy for Candy Montgomery in Hulu Series: ‘You’re Still Kind of With Her at the End’
In 1980, Texas homemaker Candy Montgomery was accused of murdering Betty Gore, the wife of the man she was involved with. It was a crime no one saw coming, and that was part of the reason Jessica Biel was drawn to play the role in Hulu’s limited series “Candy.”
Starring opposite Melanie Lynskey and Pablo Schreiber, Biel completely transformed — wig, glasses and all — into the character. She also worked double duty as an executive producer on the gory project.
On this edition of the “Variety Awards Circuit Podcast,” we talk to “Candy” star and executive producer Jessica Biel about adapting the real-life true crime story. After that, we chat with “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” star Adrien Brody about playing iconic Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley. Listen below!
Variety’s Emily Longeretta sat down with Biel to talk about starring and executive producing “Candy” and what brought her to the story:
When you first picked up this script, why were you interested?
The nonlinear storytelling, just the subtlety, the feeling of that suburban oppression, the mundanity of these people’s lives kind of flew off the page. It was, at times, just stiflingly terrifying and also just normal, cool, nice, great and funny. It’s quite oddly funny until it’s not.
Did you know about the case of Candy Montgomery?
I had never heard of the story before, which did surprise me because I’m a huge true-crime fan. I listen to a lot of podcasts; I’m kind of up to speed on true-crime stories. Once I really started diving into who she is and how this ending happened this way, I got really interested in why and how did this very normal woman — seemingly very normal, upstanding pillar of the community, good mother, good wife, nice human — how did she commit this crazy act of violence?
How did you craft Candy in a way as a villain that audiences still want to watch?
She’s the untrusting narrator. This person did some crazy stuff. How can we make the audience fall in love with her? That was my whole goal. I wanted to create this person that you really, really were conflicted about. You’re with her. You’re with her and then, wait a minute, I’m not sure if I’m with her. As the story unfolds, you empathize with the actions. You get it on some level. You connect on a human level in some way. You’re still kind of with her at the end. That’s what I hoped to create. You just have to have empathy. I didn’t play this character like she was the villain.
As an actor, you had to find a way to tap into her. How did you draw parallels between Candy and yourself?
I think there are so many things that she’s experiencing that every human has experienced, specifically women. This feeling that you have to be perfect all the time, and you have to look a certain way, and you have to be the best mom and the coolest mom and the best wife and have the perfect party house. Everything is fabulous all the time. I kind of feel like the women in my family have sort of had a version of that, you know, where you just put a smile on everything. I do that in my life, and I’m working really hard to not do that. I’m working really hard to be really authentic, and it’s getting easier. It’s been a long journey. I’ve been working on this for many years.
Meanwhile, Biel about playing a real-life individual in a fictionalized project, and now we have another on this episode.
HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” stars John C. Reilly as Dr. Jerry Buss, who has a dream of adding some flash to the NBA by buying the Lakers, recruiting rookie sensation Magic Johnson, played by Quincy Isaiah, and turning it into the hottest ticket in Los Angeles.
Spoiler alert: He did succeed. But there were plenty of bumps along the way, and that included the journey before winding up with the right coach. We know that would eventually be Pat Riley. But in season one of winning time, Riley, played by Adrien Brody, is still an assistant coach, under temporary coach Paul Westhead – and even that role is threatened as Buss’ original coach, the injured Jack McKinney, is nursed back to health.
When Pat Riley first enters “Winning Time,” he hasn’t yet turned into the coach with the Armani suits and slicked-back hair. In 1979, he’s trying out to do color commentary with Lakers announcer Chick Hearn. But ultimately he realizes his true calling.
But we’re not there yet, which means we’ll likely see more of Pat Riley’s evolution in Season 2. Variety’s Michael Schneider spoke with Brody about the unique gig of playing a fictional version of Pat Riley. Given the pacing of the show, we asked Brody what he knew about how the story would unfold.
“I always liked the Lakers a lot,” Brody says. “I’ve spent a lot of my years kicking around in LA as an actor, and so I’ve watched a lot of games. They’re some of the greatest players ever. Kareem and Magic changed basketball as we know it, that whole Showtime era kicked in with this time period that’s being depicted by the show, obviously, and that fastbreak basketball. I remember Pat Riley from those days. He just left a real indelible impression on me. It’s a funny thing, because I couldn’t tell you many other coaches from that time. So it’s rare for a coach to leave an impression.”
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.