For Jessica Biel, nailing down the specific look of Candy Montgomery, a real-life 1980s Texas housewife that is not all she seems to be, “was my most important thing.”
She told IndieWire in a recent Zoom interview that her and creators Robin Veith and Nick Antosca went into production on the new Hulu limited series event “Candy” trying to make sure their titular character would not be perceived as a caricature, “but when we tried on the wigs, we thought, ‘Oh, you know what, this actually is going to work.’ And then we put the glasses on and we all went, ‘Oh my God, this is going to work!’”
Biel recalled that her daily transformation into Montgomery was “Wig, costume, and then I’d step on set, glasses, and that was the linchpin of the look. That was the last thing that always went on.” Though it was only a half hour endeavor, involving very little makeup, it was a vital process. “You just don’t feel like you, and that, for this particular project, was just very important because the things that happen, and the acts of violence that she does are so out of normal life, that feeling out of my own body and feeling out of my normal life was helpful,” said Biel, giving the audience a better idea of what horrors are in store with her latest role.
It doesn’t take long for the show, which premiered on Monday, to show viewers why Montgomery lives in infamy. Rather than a classic whodunnit, the story is more about why someone so seemingly together would commit such brutality. “I am really intrigued by: We know the outcome, we know what happened, why did it happen? And now let’s devolve that, and sort of strip it down to its rawest, purest, flawed humanness,” said Biel, who has explored similar territory with her USA Network anthology series “The Sinner.” She added, “That’s what’s interesting from an actor standpoint I think, and also from a producing standpoint. I want to watch that on TV. I want to watch why human beings do what human beings do. It’s endlessly fascinating.”
In the over two decades since she broke out on “7th Heaven,” The WB’s longest running series, Biel found work in a multitude of genres, but has really seemed to have found her niche as a producer in recent years. In addition to “The Sinner,” which netted her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie in 2018, Biel executive produced and starred in the well-received Facebook Watch thriller “Limetown,” and also produces the buzzy teen mystery “Cruel Summer,” which airs on Freeform. The extra work has been a formative experience.
“Anytime you’re sort of putting on a new hat and exploring your business from a different outlook, there’s so much to learn, and there’s just so much more you can get out of it. Which is why I love it when directors say that they’ve taken an acting class, or actors will write as well. I love it when everyone is doing multiple jobs,” said Biel. “What I’ve learned from a technical standpoint is I really understand how challenging it is to create the schedule, and as an actor, if you’re looking at your week or your day, and you’re like ‘What? This doesn’t make any sense. Why? Why do I have to do this scene, and then I have to change looks, and then I have to go back? This doesn’t make sense.’ But from the producers’ standpoint you’re like, ‘Well, there’s a location issue, and here’s the deal with the locations,’ or, ‘An actor has a personal thing they need to get out of,’ or whatever it may be.”
Having a full picture of what goes into making the projects she stars in happen, “I’m so much more patient with our [Assistant Director] team, and with the schedule. When I’m looking at something and I don’t understand why we’re doing it this way. There has to be a reason. And there always is a reason.” She explained, “One positive thing that has helped me as an actor is to take a breath and know that they’re not trying to make it more challenging for me, they’re just trying to work around so many things.”
Another thing that came as a relief with “Candy” was knowing the scene partners she had would be bringing their A game. The show also stars Timothy Simons, Pablo Schreiber, Jessie Mueller, and Raúl Esparza, but it’s her dynamic with Melanie Lynskey, who plays Betty Gore, that Biel feels “is one of the most complicated, intriguing female relationships I’ve ever read on paper before. It was really fun to find the path through, especially because we’re going in these non-linear storytelling formats.”
Biel welcomes anyone going into the show blind to the specifics of Montgomery’s arc. “That’s just a gift, to not have any idea of the story, and to not really know until you watch the first episode what you’re going to be getting into,” said the actress. “I just sort of assumed at this point most people probably have heard about the story because now we’re talking about it pretty openly.”
That said, Biel feels it can still be “satisfying and nourishing” to watch true-crime stories knowing how they end. “I’m loving watching ‘The Dropout.’ I know that story. I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen finally at the end, nobody does yet, but I don’t mind knowing what happened, and I’m still so much enjoying Amanda [Seyfried]’s work, and everybody’s work throughout that process, so I think it would still be fun.”
The actress even brought up the other upcoming TV project about Candy Montgomery, the HBO Max limited series “Love and Death” starring Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons, in a point about how interesting it can be to already know the story going into watching a show. “I actually think it’s an exciting, positive thing when there are two projects about the same thing. It drives viewers from one to the other. If you like this story and you’re interested and intrigued, check out this other version.” She added, “My hope would be that they’re so different that it’s so fun to see two different versions of all these characters. How cool is that? And I’m a huge fan of that other cast, especially Lizzie and Jesse, and so I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do.”
Biel ultimately feels very secure with how “Candy” approaches the Candy Montgomery story. “We are definitely doing a very specific tone, specific type of show. I have no idea what the other show is, or what it will feel like or look like. And we really can’t worry about it.”
“Candy” benefits from a unique distribution strategy as well, airing across five nights, with the finale premiering on Friday, May 13. “By the time you get to the end, you’re really looking at this puzzle going, ‘Ok, I have all the pieces and now it’s up to me as the viewer to decide what I believe,’” said Biel, “which is what we were trying to do with this show, is really say, ‘Here’s one side of the story and you’re the jury. So you make the choice.’”
Hulu will premiere a new episode of “Candy” once daily between May 9 and May 13.