It seems as though Jessica Biel often garners unfair scrutiny for her work with many taking jabs at her acting ability. She proves her critics wrong in Hulu’s true-crime drama Candy with a brilliant, award-worthy performance as Candy Montgomery.
The five-part limited series, which premiered this week, has a stellar cast led by Biel (The Sinner) and Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets) as Betty Gore (also extraordinary). They star alongside Pablo Schreiber as Betty’s husband Allan Gore, Timothy Simons as Candy’s husband Pat Montgomery and Raúl Esparza as Candy’s lawyer and fellow churchgoer, Don Crowder.
The two suburban housewives and mothers lived in Texas and were caught up in a deadly love triangle that culminated on Friday, June 13, 1980. It was yet another busy day for Candy; she had a long list of things to do and errands to run. She stopped by Betty’s home for what was supposed to be a quick visit to pick up a swimsuit for Betty’s daughter who was spending the day with her and her children. The visit took a dark and bloody turn when, as Candy claims, Betty confronted her about an affair she had with her husband, Allan. The two women got into a violent struggle involving an ax and the main question was who yielded the weapon first. We only know Candy’s side of the story. Betty’s chopped-up body was discovered that night by neighbors in a blood-soaked utility room.
Biel, who acted with her husband Justin Timberlake for the very first time for this one, said in a recent interview how intrigued she was by the many faces of Candy. “Outwardly, she’s very opposite from Betty. She’s very social and has a big community of friends. She’s kind of a leader in the church community and is this fast-talking, loud and somewhat obnoxious person at times. She’s also fun and outgoing.”
Biel concludes that there were many layers to Candy that added to the experience of portraying her. “She has this duality to her. There’s this outward forward-facing, people-pleasing thing against all of this inner turmoil she had going on.”
And, says Biel, she was able to relate to the Candy that those in her social circle saw before Betty’s death. “I am kind of like her in that I can be very social and I can hide some of my true feelings.”
There was also a sense that Candy and Betty had a lot more in common than either realized. “What I started to understand was that there were so many things they had in common. Both felt very alone and felt regretful about certain decisions they had made in their lives.”
Biel also explains that at the time, these were women who felt they should just be grateful to be married. “It’s like, ‘I have this great life. This is the dream.’ For Candy, she seemed to just not feel very fulfilled inside and like, ‘Is this it?’ Is this enough for me to be happy?”
When asked what she thinks happened on that tragic day, Biel struggles to answer. “I remember when we were shooting the scene of that horrible fight and I would just go back and forth all the time. One day I felt like I believed her and then the next day I wouldn’t know. It was like this just doesn’t make any sense.”
Not all of Candy’s explanations added up and Biel says she still has some doubts. For example, a lens from Candy’s sunglasses was left on the floor of the garage near the area the ax had been stored. The main question in the case was who grabbed that ax first so if it was Betty, nothing of Candy’s should have ended up there. Candy claimed she never entered the garage.
“When we shot that scene, I looked at Melanie and I was like, ‘The lens is in the garage and there is no blood in the garage! She’s totally full of s**t!’ I had this moment of, ‘Oh my God, maybe!’ Maybe this whole thing is a story and I’ve been believing it! And then the next day, I’d be like there’s no way! The writing is so good that you’re on one side and then you’re on another side. I still don’t know how I feel about it.”
Roughly 13 days after the murder, Candy turned herself in and was held under a $100,000 bond. Four months later there was a trial and Candy testified that it was self-defense and that it was Betty who first grabbed the ax from the garage and threatened her with it. Her lawyer brought a Houston psychiatrist in as a witness to explain that Candy suffered from a dissociative reaction and wasn’t aware of how many times she struck Betty with the ax. A jury acquitted her of murder charges on Oct. 29, 1980, despite the fact there were 41 chop wounds on Betty’s body, 4o of which occurred while her heart was still beating.
Candy comes from creators and showrunners Robin Veith (Mad Men, The Act) and Nick Antosca (The Act, Brand New Cherry Flavor). Veith wrote the pilot and executive produced alongside Antosca under his banner Eat the Cat along with Alex Hedlund. Biel and Michelle Purple (The Sinner, Cruel Summer) also executive produced for Iron Ocean. Michael Uppendahl (Fargo, American Crime Story: Impeachment) directed the pilot and executive produced with Jim Atkinson and John Bloom serving as consulting producers.
In addition to Hulu’s Candy, HBO Max is also premiering its version of the story later this year with a limited series entitled Love and Death starring Elizabeth Olsen, Lily Rabe and Jesse Plemons.
It’s been 42 years and there are still so many questions that remain unanswered. Further adding to the mystery is curiosity about Candy’s current whereabouts. Following the trial, Candy changed her name and moved out of state, some say to Georgia, where she still lives and according to various reports, she works in the mental health field.