"Ms. Montgomery, did you kill Betty Gore?"
It's the question that everyone watching "Candy" wants answered by the Texas housewife, played by Jessica Biel. And it's finally asked by Steve Deffibaugh, a no-nonsense crime scene investigator played — surprise! — by Biel's real-life husband, Justin Timberlake. The Hulu miniseries is the first scripted project in which the performers are also each other's acting partners.
"We've never shared a scene before," Biel tells The Times. "It was easier than I thought it would be."
The first three episodes dramatize the events around the alleged 1980 ax murder from the perspectives of its key players: the accused killer, Candy; the victim, her best friend, Betty (Melanie Lynskey); and Betty's husband, Allan (Pablo Schreiber), with whom Candy was having an affair. The fourth episode introduces Deffibaugh as an outsider unfazed by Candy's beloved status in her small town and focused on the unsettling sights in the Gore household.
"In reality, Candy's the only one who got to tell her side of the story because she's the only one who walked out of that room," says series co-creator Robin Veith. "But the real Steve Deffibaugh, whom we interviewed numerous times, pretty much figured that she did it. He had a compelling story to tell and was basically arguing for Betty because she never got a chance to speak for herself. It became a very important way for us to give Betty's side as much weight as Candy's."
So how did Timberlake end up in the key (albeit uncredited) role? "We always read each other's material — Justin reads stuff we're doing, and we read things he's considering doing," says Biel's producing partner Michelle Purple. "He called me, said how much he liked the show and asked me about the character of Deffi. He said, 'I see a way in. I think I can play him.' And I was like, 'Whatever. Sure you do.'" (Timberlake was unavailable for comment.)
The idea intrigued Veith, especially since the story's other law enforcement character is played by Lynskey's real-life husband, Jason Ritter. "It became a wildly wonderful thing to me, how meta it was getting," she says. "I thought, we can subconsciously remind the audience, 'Don't take what we're saying here as fact; this is not a docuseries.'"
Biel was the one who needed the most convincing. "I never would have approached him for the part, simply because I didn't think it was big enough for him," she says. "I told him, 'I cannot pay you much of anything. Are you sure?' He's like, 'I don't care. All I want is a prosthetic belly, a wig and a mustache.' And I was like, 'That we can do.'"
Biel, Purple and Timberlake decided early on to keep Timberlake's appearance a surprise until the episode's airing. According to Biel, Timberlake prepared for the role by speaking with Deffibaugh and "just fell in love with him." The married couple ran lines together at home, complete with their characters' Texas accents. "I was nervous that he was going to judge my accent," she says of Timberlake, a Tennessee native.
"Justin has this authentic Southern accent that he can pull out of nowhere and this ability to cultivate the Southern man who you might think maybe isn't intellectual because of his thick accent, which is a terrible mistake that people make all the time," she continues. "Deffi, this guy is so smart and super sharp. And to this day, Candy's story just doesn't add up for him."