Krysten Ritter and Tom Pelphrey on ‘Love & Death’ and This Real-Life Murder
May 25, 2023
[Editor’s note: The following contains some spoilers for Love & Death.]Written by David E. Kelley, the Max Original limited series Love & Death tells the true story of Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen), a churchgoing housewife in smalltown Texas whose extramarital affair with Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons) ultimately had deadly consequences. Candy is as charismatic as Allan is passive, making the two a very unlike pair, but their mutual need for intimacy and connection that leads them to look outside their marriages and to each other, also finds them caught up in a murder investigation that starts to unravel all the lies and deceit.
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During this interview with Collider, co-stars Krysten Ritter (who plays Candy’s friend, Sherry Cleckler) and Tom Pelphrey (who plays Don Crowder, Candy’s trial attorney) talked about what most appealed to them about this project, how they viewed their characters, the fun of shooting Don’s courtroom scenes, shaping Sherry’s look and wardrobe, their characters’ relationships with Candy, and how spot-on the set decoration was with every detail.
Collider: The Marvel Universe has so taken over the world that there are three of you in this project together, between the two of you and Elizabeth Olsen. When you work together, does it feel like you are all part of a special club? Is there an unspoken bond? Do you have a secret handshake?
KRYSTEN RITTER: We only just remembered, 30 seconds ago, that we’re all in Marvel projects. Not kidding. Right before this, we were like, “Oh, right.” We’re just so lucky to have work, as actors, and get to be in cool projects.
Image via Max
Well, they know what they’re doing by casting great actors, so it’s not surprising that several of you would end up working together.
RITTER: Thank you so much. Thank you for saying that.
This is a fascinating story with a very strange and compelling character at its center, with Candy Montgomery. What was it about this that most interested you? Was it the craziness of the story? Was it the time period? Was it what you would get to do with your character?
RITTER: I feel like I’ve done maybe two other period things, so that was part of the fun of it. It was like, “Cool, let’s make the hair as big as possible. Sure, let’s go red. Sure, let’s wear six-inch clogs. Sure, let’s do bell-bottoms. Sure, let’s make the eyeshadow blue.” That really was the fun part of it. I love jumping in and saying yes, and having the whole experience of it.
TOM PELPHREY: Yeah, absolutely. And all the scripts were excellent. They didn’t feel waste a word. It never felt like there was a wasted scene. When there’s a real flow and purpose to everything, it just makes it more fun to go to work.
Tom, something struck me as so funny about the scene with your character sitting in his office, with all the deer heads, hanging on the wall. How did you view this guy? Initially, he’s clearly in over his head, but he also really steps it up. Do you think he’s someone that was waiting for a moment like this?
PELPHREY: Yeah. I don’t know if the actual Don [Crowder] had that many deer heads on his wall. That might have been a little bit of artistic lessons. But I think he was definitely a man who was always up for a good challenge and one hundred percent somebody who, if he agreed to do something, he played to win. So, when the idea of representing Candy came along, he knew that if he took that job for her, he was going to win her case, or die trying. That’s something I respect a lot about him. He was a football guy. He was an athlete. He was a personal injury lawyer. He was the guy who went on the roof of the law building, every day at lunch, and got a tan. He had his gym shorts with him in his bag and he had the dumbbells on the office floor. He was that dude. And he clearly liked having trophies in his office.
Image via Max
What was it like to do the courtroom scenes, especially when you’re talking to the jury? Are those types of scenes fun to do? Do you dread those days, when there’s so much dialogue?
PELPHREY: They’re a lot of fun. It almost feels like being in a play. Some of the courtroom scenes were eight or nine pages long, which almost never happens. There was the cross-examination with Jesse [Plemons] on the stand. When I had to do the examination of Candy, that was a third of the entire script, including the flashbacks and stuff. Just to give you an idea, some of those scenes really play out. Doing them, moving around on stage, and having to project your voice so that the jurors could hear you, felt a little bit like a play, which was fun. I haven’t done one in a while.
Krysten, how did you shape your performance? Were there things that helped you in finding and figuring out who Sherry Cleckler would be? Did you get to have some freedom and fun with that?
RITTER: Yeah, I got to have fun with it. I keyed into her being in the town gossip and being a busy body at church. When you are a beautician and you have everybody sitting in your chair, you know everybody’s business, and there was something really fun about that. This character brings a little levity and a little bit of lightness to a pretty dark story. So, yeah, I had a little bit of creative freedom there, and just got to have fun.
Did you have a hand in how she would look and what she would wear?
RITTER: Yes, of course. That’s part of your job, as an actor. It’s a collaborative process and it’s so important to what we do. I can only find the finished product of the character, working with the hair and the makeup and the wardrobe to find it. You come with your ideas, and then it just takes on a life. We were just like, “Let’s go for it. She’s a beautician, so she’s gonna be dressed to the nines, every time she leaves the house.” So, we definitely had a little bit of fun there. There was a lot of blue eyeshadow.
Image via Max
Was there a specific inspiration for the hair?
RITTER: We wanted it to be big. The bigger the hair, the closer to God. That’s the thing. I’m from a small town, like this town. I grew up going to a really small community church. My Aunt Sharon was the church choir leader and she had a beauty salon in her house. I had her send me photos of her when she was young, and the hair was very big. The idea to go red was Michelle [Ceglia], our amazing hair department head. You never get the opportunity to just go for it, so I thought it would be fun and that maybe people wouldn’t even know it’s me. Go big, or go home.
How did you view her friendship with Candy? What drew them together, and what made her stay so loyal?
RITTER: I think what originally draws them together is the gossip. Candy looks up to Sherry because she’s not just staying at home with the kids. She has her own business. She’s doing stuff without her husband. You never even see him with her on the show. And she gets the idea to start another business, Cover Girls, where they’re gonna redo people’s kitchens. She’s very proactive. I think that’s what Candy likes about Sherry. That’s what keeps them together. And Sherry stands by her. She’s loyal to her, and believes in her and loves her.
Do you think she ever had any fear in their friendship?
RITTER: There were definitely moments in the show where we played with the ambiguity of what she thought actually happened. And I would pick my moments, when I would sometimes look at her like, “You fucking did it.” We played with that. But ultimately, when you love your friend, you can’t wrap your head around something like that ever happening. She stands by her. She watches the kids when she goes to trial. She has her back. She fights off the reporter. She stands up for her in public.
Image via Max
Tom, do you think your character was ever worried about what would happen if he lost the case? Do you think he thought about that, at all?
PELPHREY: Oh, yeah. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on him, to win the case. I’m sure he felt that, just as somebody who didn’t like losing, but then also as somebody who considered Candy a friend. He was risking a lot, by even saying yes to this case, having zero experience doing what he signed up to do, which eventually becomes one of the biggest cases of the decade in Texas. Here we are, talking about it, 40 years later. So, yeah, I’m sure there was a lot of pressure.
That moment when Candy tells him that she did it, is a bit chilling and frightening to watch. What was that moment like to shoot with Elizabeth Olsen?
PELPHREY: It was nice. You film things out of order, and Don is such a larger than life, bombastic character, but in that scene, you get to see a slightly different side of him, where he was one hundred percent convinced she hasn’t done it and that she’s covering up for somebody else. He comes in as her friend, to reassure her and make her feel safe, so that she can tell him the truth. And then, she does and he’s shocked. It’s also nice to see somebody like Don caught off guard.
And then, there’s that moment when he tries to problem-solve her, telling her to change her appearance and even her weight.
PELPHREY: Don was a personal injury lawyer, so those are the tactics he would use, as a lawyer with his clients. He’d be like, “Wait, you fell and hurt your knee? When you show up to the courtroom, I want you on crutches. I want you to bring your five-year-old daughter with you to the courtroom. They’ll see that you’re missing work and that you have a child.” It’s all about storytelling and presentation. That’s a crazy thing that Don got to use in this trial with Candy because there was so much media involved. If she had a lawyer who was used to trying murder cases, they might not have been as good as him.
Image via Max
When you guys do a project like this, where it feels like the biggest question that keeps coming up is, “Why?,” do you try to answer that for yourself, or is it just the exploration of something that feels unanswerable that’s what’s fun for an actor?
PELPHREY: For me, the only good explanation of why is the explanation that is reached in the show, which is that it’s not a premeditated why. There was no reason to do that. It’s an unfortunate result of what can happen sometimes, in very intense and violent situations where things get out of control very quickly. I would bet good money on the fact that everybody involved wouldn’t be able to tell you why. Even the actual people involved couldn’t tell you why.
RITTER: For me, personally, this was a specific character who served a purpose in the story, so I stayed in my lane and just tried to play my character truthfully, serve my purpose in the larger good, and support Lizzie. I was so thrilled to work with this A-team of actors and producers. It was a really fun experience. It was a giant budget show. We showed up and I was like, “Holy crap, look at this thing.” It had trailers for days, and the food was good. We had a fun experience in Austin, Texas. It was one of those really elevated, cool projects to be a part of.
I loved the set decoration, throughout this production. It’s just so good.
RITTER: Yeah, the sets were so beautiful. All the details were there. Early on, when I saw Lesli Linka Glatter’s mood board, I knew she had a real take on this, and that was exciting. And then, for the wardrobe, we were even wearing period bras and stockings, and all of those things.
PELPHREY: I was wearing tighty-whities as Don. When you would go into the kitchen, they had the right Tupperware. They have like the perfect glasses from 1978, with that brownish green tint, so that you could drink water out of it.
RITTER: And there were the fabrics, like the polyesters and the nylons. Everyone was sweating. All of that was really authentic. Any time all of the department heads and artists come together to make a show like this, they’re doing exciting work. That doesn’t happen every day, so it’s a cool thing to be a part of. You always want to be a part of something that’s a little bit elevated or has a specific look.
Love & Death is available to stream at Max.
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