Candy Montgomery is a 1980 housewife and mother who did everything right—good husband, two kids, nice house, even the careful planning and execution of transgressions—but when the pressure of conformity builds within her, her actions scream for just a bit of freedom. With deadly results.
Candy delivers on all fronts of gruesome induced nail-biting as the show takes you on a deep dive into psychological character exploration. What's even more disturbing about the titular character isn't just what she did (and got away with it) but what present-day Candy Montgomery is up to professionally, which is a whole other can of putrid worms - but I digress. This true-crime mini-series is created by Robin Veith and Nick Antosca, whom I had the great pleasure of speaking with about their creative attraction to this true-crime story, what was behind the creative decision to tell this story in non-linear form, and their tenacity of research and respect to the material and those living and dead.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: What attracted you to this story and really this character that is Candy Montgomery?
Robin Veith: Well, Nick actually introduced me to this story. We've known each for about 10 years and just love working with each other. We just finished working with each other on The Act, and he's like, ‘Hey, check this out.’ And so I started doing my research on the story, and I just was so compelled by the examination of like pent-up rage, and specifically female rage. It was 2019 when MeToo happened, and now women are able to start voicing these things that we've just been bottling up for so long. And I told Nick, ‘This feels like the most Mad Men ax murderer I've ever heard of.’ And then we started working on it; we got into 2020 and lockdown and I was like, ‘OK, now this story is universal. Now everyone can identify with being contained and not allowed to do anything.’ And having so many expectations put on you for the good of yourself, for the good of society. And of course, ‘We're gonna do it, we're gonna do it. But you ask me to do one more goddamn thing, I swear to God.’ [laughs] And then you just hope that you're not that person who then picks up an ax, you know? And hopefully, most people don't. [laughs]
Sadie: Yeah, hopefully, that hardware store is not within walking distance. And for you and Nick, when came across this story what was that initial reaction for you?
Nick Antosca: I had read the story 20 years ago, probably in college, and had thought about it frequently since then. And when we decided to do it, Robin got hooked into it and was like, ‘Yeah, I want to write this and showrun it,’ and we just kind of got deeper and deeper into the psychology of Candy Montgomery, which is incredibly fascinating. And that's what made me so interested in the story from the beginning. Like, how is there something inside somebody who's so seemingly normal, that they can pick up an ax and chop up their friend from church? And then of course, what happens after that is so startling and raises questions about community and about human nature. And what really kind of came out as we started working and the room got into conversations about it is there's so much room for interpretation and for curiosity in this story, do we believe Candy? Do we believe her story about what happened in there? And how do we feel about everybody else's reaction to it? I am compelled by true-life stories that make you go, ‘How could this have happened? And what did it feel like when it happened?’ And things that seem really sort of incomprehensible, are very exciting creatively to dramatize and to see dramatized.
Sadie: The exploration of these characters and their mindset and everything above it's a writer's dream to dive into. And you could have gone in so many directions creatively with the show either as a movie or expanded it into multiple seasons. What was that creative choice behind telling the story in a nonlinear form?
Robin: One of the many fascinating things about this story is there are 1,000 ways to tell it, and that's what happens when the core of your story is, ‘Two women walk into a room, one walks out. And that's the one who gets to tell the story.’ But it just became essential to us in the pilot, just completely immerse you in this world and these people, and there just didn't seem a better way of doing that, than to literally spend a day in the life with them, so to speak. So, we do one day in the life of these people in this town, and it's a day that changed everything forever. And so that became our intro to the story, and then the whole episode, because we just wanted you to take a beat, a breath after that. And so, in episodes two, and three, we take you back, and it's only two years, we go back to find out like, ‘Oh, you thought you knew all these relationships or these people? Here's where it all started. Here's how we ended up here.’ And so that once we introduce you to the backstory and further fill out their lives and their personas, by the last few episodes, we just like smack you in the face from the moment we left off in the pilot, and here's what happened to these people. [laughs]
Sadie: It's not a very gentle slap either. Nick, since you’ve been living with this material for 20 years, how far down that research rabbit hole did you go down for both Betty and Candy?
Nick: Well, it was Robin and the writer’s room who really did the research and our researchers. I just read what was published about the story. And then once the show was in development, and we had a writer’s room started and Robin was diving in, and Robin wrote the pilot - we worked on the story together - but I didn't do the writing of the scripts. Robin, what did we do? We got the court transcripts and --
Robin: We started with Jim Atkinson, who he and his partner John Bloom were producers on the show. We've spent hours and hours and hours talking to Jim Atkinson, who, at the time, spent hours and hours and hours talking to Candy to Allan to Pat, like literally in person he experienced this firsthand. And then after that, we were able to find all the court records, which is like, 1,000s of pages of paper that we just obsessively pored through. And then you know, with these kids today and their internet, it's just fascinating, we were able to track down Robert Udashen, who was one of Candy's attorneys. And so, we spoke to him for a good number of hours. And then we were also able to track the deputy who showed up to the crime scene. And we spoke to him for hours and hours. You're just amassing all these opinions from different sides of the story. And they're all even like 41 years later now deeply entrenched in their feelings about it. So, we would have these intense conversations with these people, and then talk as a writer’s room after they're like, ‘Oh my God.’ [laughs] You're constantly trying to analyze what we're hearing and how to make them all comport and also remembering that memory is a tricky thing. And this is forty years ago, and I think people have a subconscious drive to present themselves in a positive way. So, even though you're hearing firsthand accounts you have to remember to take it with a little bit of salt as well.
Sadie: Did you ever think about contacting Candy?
Robin: No, we did not, because Robert, her lawyer has said that she has moved on and just wants to live her life. And I respect that. The story ended the way that it did, and we're never going to know. So, if that's what she wants, then I totally respect that. And that's the thing about doing stories with real people involved is that there's a great responsibility that comes in being respectful and you kind of have to draw your own lines. It was made clear to us that she doesn't want involvement in anything like this.
Sadie: That's fair. The two of you have worked on other projects together before, what was the collaboration process like for the two of you on this one and tackling this story?
Robin: Nick, and I love working together because we both have a sort of frantic energy about us. [laughs] But I think we bring an incredible balance to each other, because while I can sometimes get mired in obsession over minutiae, I think Nick can pull me out of that. And if Nick, I love you, Nick, but forgive me, but if Nick is going way too crazy with like the horror, the blood, everything, I'm just like, ‘Let's bring it down a notch.’ [laughs] I think we're an incredible balance for each other.
Nick: I agree. There's a reason that Robin just seemed like the dream person to write this. And I’ve been an admirer of her writing for many years. And I know what a pro she is. I was saying recently when we met, it was on a show that was really early in my TV writing career and Robin gave me some great advice and it was a great mentorship, and she said, ‘The best situation you can be in, in this industry is to be telling stories that you are deeply invested in with people who you're friends with.’ And so, I had the opportunity to do that here with Robin. And I appreciate the advice. But once we had kind of the initial creative conversations and development, my job on a show where I'm an executive producer, but not a writer, is to move heaven and earth to help it get made and overcome all the challenges that stand in the way of a showrunner and a director - kind of just getting their creative vision on the screen.
Sadie: When you got both Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey on board, in these roles, how much did they help you further develop their characters?
Robin: Well, when we first met Jessica, she just immediately got into the story. We bonded over the fact that she's a weirdo like me and that we'll listen to podcasts about serial murderers to fall asleep, it’s like a bedtime story. [laughs] She's incredibly smart about her craft and also the business. She's an incredibly savvy producer, but her take on Candy when we first were talking to her was just that, she just thought Candy was one of these people who just like shoots positive energy out of her constantly and that's what the kind of Venus Flytrap aspect of her that just draws people in. And I was fascinated by that because it does the same thing which was sort of operating my dark little mind from the East Coast of just like I just thought she was just possibly a malignant narcissist. [laughs] And then once you get Melanie Lynskey on the roster, it's like 80% of your job is done because nobody carries vulnerability and power at the same time like Melanie Lynskey, and she's done it her entire career. And is absolutely riveting to watch.
Nick: You have actors where you watch them perform and go, ‘Wow, that is just what we wanted. That's exactly what we imagined.’ Then you have actors who come in you're like, ‘Oh my God, that's better. How did they elevate that?’ They brought something special Melanie and Jessica, Tim, Pablo and Raúl, and some of our other people who I don't want to name yet, but all do that and really bring a tremendous generous spirit and creative energy to the characters, and you just feel very lucky when you get to work on a show where that happens.
Robin: It was fascinating to speak to and watch Pablo at work because he said he always wanted to play this character that just sort of is one of these guys who disappears into the wallpaper and I was like, ‘I would really like to see you do that six-eight Pablo Schreiber.’ [laughs] But he does it! This man has just this insane control over his instrument - body, and soul as an actor. It's just incredible to watch.
Sadie: For writers diving into adapting a true crime story, what is something they should be aware of either in terms of research or maybe something to completely avoid?
Nick: I think you have to remember to hold on to the big picture rather than getting stuck in the minutiae. And to me, it goes back to that question of, what did it feel like when it happened? What did it feel like and how can you try and capture that while synthesizing the complexity and hugeness and have an overwhelming amount of detail?
Robin: I would say the biggest thing for me about working in true crime or anything that involves real people is that there's a responsibility that comes with that. And you have to be prepared to carry that. And take it very seriously because you have to think about what you're saying about real people. It's not that you shouldn't do it, just it's something that should forever be in the back of your mind.
Candy premieres Monday, May 9 on Hulu.