A brightly-colored illustration of a woman wearing a dark blazer

Illustration by Jan Feindt

An axe murder lured Lesli Linka Glatter back to Texas. The Emmy-nominated director behind shows like Mad Men, Homeland, Freaks and Geeks, and Gilmore Girls grew up in Dallas, but she left home for New York as a teenager to pursue her original passion of dance. Glatter’s father worked for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and her mother was a founding chair of SMU’s dance department. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Glatter danced and choreographed in Europe, Japan, and New York before she realized her true calling and switched to directing. Her first film, Tales of Meeting and Parting, received an Oscar nomination for Short Film (Live Action).

“Nobody’s path is the same in the film business,” Glatter says. “Everyone has a different story.”

Years later, Glatter’s agent sent her the 1984 Texas Monthly story “Love and Death in Silicon Prairie” by Jim Atkinson and John Bloom. The true account of Candy Montgomery, a suburban housewife in Wylie who brutally murdered her friend Betty Gore, was a tale she had to tell—and it brought her back to her home state for an extended stay.

In the fall of 2021, Glatter landed in Central Texas to shoot the Max miniseries Love & Death, about the crime that turned Montgomery into North Texas’ most notorious killer housewife. Emmy-winning producer David E. Kelley wrote the script, Elizabeth Olsen played Montgomery, and Texas native Jesse Plemons played the frumpy object of her extramarital lust.

Glatter recently paused the filming of her latest project, the Netflix political thriller Zero Day, because of the writer’s strike. Until there’s a resolution, the high-profile series starring Robert De Niro, Angela Bassett, Joan Allen, Connie Britton, Lizzy Caplan, and Plemons will have to wait. Meanwhile, Glatter will do what she can to advance Hollywood negotiations as newly reelected president of the Directors Guild of America.

TH: You were raised by creative, liberal East Coast parents who moved to Dallas and raised you with views that were different from most of your neighbors.
LLG: We were kind of aliens in Texas, but Texas has a big, soft-hearted space in my psyche. Some things about it were difficult, but it also always felt like the land of possibility and big sky, big land, big dreams. Anything is possible—that’s kind of in our DNA in some way.

TH: What prompted you to leave?
LLG: Culturally, for me, I needed to get out of there. I went to high school in New York, and we traveled extensively, so I felt the pull of the outside world.

TH: You’ve said that a chance encounter with a man in a Japanese coffee shop changed the course of your life.
LLG: I was a modern dancer for 10 years and worked in Paris, London, and Tokyo teaching and choreographing. I was in a busy area in Tokyo called Shibuya and I wanted coffee. I saw two coffee shops and arbitrarily went into the one on the right, which was packed. This older man waved me over and told me his life story [the inspiration for Tales of Meeting and Parting]. He’d been a war correspondent and a Buddhist monk, and we became friends for years. I knew I had to pass on his stories, and that it wouldn’t be through dance.

TH: Does dance inform your directing?
LLG: It’s a great background to come from. You can’t cheat in dance. Your leg goes up or it doesn’t. I love being a storyteller, and I love doing it in this crazy way with a huge amount of people. When you’re directing, you’re moving people through space.

TH: You’ve directed a diverse array of shows. What drew you to Candy Montgomery’s story?
LLG: I’m interested in complicated, layered, complex characters who are not what they appear to be on the surface, and that’s what Love & Death was about. One of the things I loved about telling this story in that time period is that it’s about women primarily—but also men who did it all right. They got married, they had the two kids, they had a wonderful, supportive community in the suburbs, and they had the church that gave their lives meaning. So, why is it that you feel this huge hole inside your heart and psyche? Why is there this emptiness you can’t seem to fill?

TH: What made you cast Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons?
LLG: I first met David E. Kelley via Zoom, and we shared the same point of view about how to tell the story. When we talked about casting, the first person I brought up was Elizabeth Olsen. I thought she would be an amazing Candy because she has this ability to let you in deep behind her eyes, and she’s complicated and accessible. And I love Jesse. He transforms every character from the inside out. He’s really in touch with his Texas roots.

TH: You decided to shoot in Texas with local crews. Why did you end up shooting in and around Austin instead of near Wylie, where the events happened?
LLG: I thought we’d shoot around Dallas, but those small town communities have changed so drastically since the story happened that it was impossible to shoot there. We were based in Austin, so we had more access to small towns that have been frozen in time.

TH: You shot at a few locations in Hutto, where I live.
LLG: We shot at a beautiful, small, perfect-looking church in Hutto.

TH: Did you get to do much exploring when you weren’t shooting?
LLG: We were still shooting under COVID protocols, and I directed five of the seven hours and produced all of it. So, if I got sick, the production would shut down. I lived in Travis Heights and went on bike rides all over the city and around Lake Travis, and we looked at every small town for 100 miles around Austin. I went to Willie Nelson’s ranch. I had lots of amazing meals sitting outside at Clark’s Oyster Bar, Loro, Justine’s, and Fresa’s.

TH: You have family ties to Austin City Limits, right?
LLG: My stepfather, Paul Bosner, named Austin City Limits. He worked at the local PBS station and was one of the founding producers of [the TV show]. He would drive to Dallas to visit my mother and would always pass the “Austin City Limit” sign.

TH: What was it like being back after so many years away?
LLG: I feel like Texas has changed. I’ve changed, so I don’t know if it’s a combo plate, but I think it’s coming of age culturally. And Austin has always been the city that allowed for all kinds of thinking and exploration.

TH: Did growing up in Texas influence you?
LLG: It goes back to that sense of possibility. The film business is a crazy business. When I started directing, there were so few women. You had to have something deep inside that made you realize you could do it or see that you could do it. That was baked into my DNA from being a Texan.

TH: What do you love most about what you do?
LLG: Even at 2 in the morning during a bad night on set, when the crane breaks and it’s raining and you’re eating a soggy, grilled cheese, I still am reminded how grateful I am to be a storyteller. Every time I start something new, it’s terrifying—and I love that.

Stream season one of Love & Death on Max. Find Glatter on Instagram @leslilinka.

From the October 2023 issue

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