When approaching a true crime story like that of suburban housewife Candy Montgomery — who killed friend Betty Gore with an ax in 1980 after having an affair with her husband Allan, and was acquitted — you have to accept that there are some things you’ll never know about how it all went down. In the case of new Hulu series Candy, starring Jessica Biel as Candy and Melanie Lynskey as Betty, it’s almost entirely up to the leads’ performances to add untold layers as the events of the days and weeks leading up to the murder are reviewed with a clinical eye. The show knows that Candy Montgomery’s testimony about the murder may be unreliable, and doesn’t entirely ask us to accept her version of events as reality. But nonetheless, the show is interested in telling her story. While star Jessica Biel assures me that she doesn’t relate to Candy’s “wild act of violence” against Betty, she’s keenly interested in her story too — and doesn’t condemn quite as many aspects of her character Candy’s behavior as you might think.
“There were actually a lot of things I could relate to about Candy,” Biel tells me. “She’s kind of a people pleaser, kind of a perfectionist, you know, someone who has been taught and told to make it happy, make it look good — Everything’s fine. Repress all the stuff. Be grateful. Be thankful. Be cheery. Be social. All those types of things… I do some of those things too.”
“I understand sometimes feeling that same way of, wow, I haven’t been telling the truth about my real feelings and that’s coming up in these weird ways,” she elaborates. “I do understand those feelings of putting yourself at the bottom of the totem pole and making it look a certain way. I am guilty of that for sure.”
If what Biel is describing sounds a lot like quintessential mom life, that’s no coincidence. Biel shares two kids, sons Silas (age 7) and Phineas (age 2), with husband Justin Timberlake; her character Candy is also a mom of two young kids when she embarks on her affair with Allan Gore, after — as the Hulu series tells it — she attempts to revive the spark in her own marriage multiple times without success.
“On some level, I’m proud of Candy for stepping into something, doing something for herself that she needed to do,” Biel says of her character’s affair. “I don’t agree with that choice particularly, but, you know, she took the reins and said, I need something else and I’m going to go get it. And there’s something empowering about that.”
“It’s very out of character for somebody like that, at that time, in that community, in a marriage. I’m not condoning the behavior. I’m just — I was interested in that.”
Co-star Melanie Lynskey can attest that Biel’s interest in that side of Candy comes through in her performance, a slow thawing of wants and desires long put on ice.
“One of my favorite things about the show is just watching Jess playing Candy. You see it sort of rise up in her, her desire,” Lynskey says. “And then it gets to a point where it’s overwhelming and it’s all that she thinks about or wants…I just thought you did such a beautiful job of showing the repression but also the wants that she had.”
As Biel said, we don’t relate to Candy’s violence — but the desperate action of a woman whose desire has been too long deferred? Candy Montgomery’s wish to feel wanted, to experience sexual pleasure despite her marriage, unfulfilling in that regard, is all too understandable. If only it had stopped there.
The first episode of Candy comes out on Hulu on May 9.