Everyday we travel to far-flung places through our television screens, all thanks to the directors, location scouts, camera crews, and more who skillfully capture—or create—entire worlds for us to get lost in. One of those people is Lesli Linka Glatter, the award-winning director behind shows like Twin Peaks, Homeland, and Mad Men. Lale sits down with her to find out about how she bought to life 1970s Texas in the new HBO Max show Love & Death, what it's like to travel the world with a film crew in tow, and the time she took a life-changing trip to Tokyo.
Lale Arikoglu: Hi, I'm Lale Arikoglu, and this is Women Who Travel. Do you turn to movies and television to transport you to new places when you aren't traveling? Well, then today we have a treat. Film and TV director, Lesli Linka Glatter, has spent the past three decades not just bringing some of the most successful TV series to our screens, but creating the iconic worlds they are known for. Shows like Twin Peaks, Homeland, Mad Men, and many, many more. And later this month, her newest project comes out on HBO Max, Love & Death, a drama set in Texas, Lesli's home state. It's the true story of housewife and accused axe murderer, Candy Montgomery. Lesli worked on the show with writer, David E. Kelley.
Thank you so much for joining and for making this work, because I feel like you have a very hectic schedule at the moment with Love & Death about to hit our screens in a few weeks. So congratulations on that.
Lesli Linka Glatter: Thank you. I'm so excited that it's about to go into the world. And nervous, and anxious, and all of those good things that go with having something, you know, actually out there.
LA: You've worked on a ream of successful shows, I think both for HBO and other networks over the last few decades. How do you know a good show to pick? How do you know a compelling story?
LLG: For me, I read something, and if I connect to it, I start to see it, I can start to imagine it visually. It's all about story. Story is everything. And deep, complicated, layered characters. There are certain themes that I'm always pulled to. I love stories that things are not what they appear to be and you have to look deeper and dig deeper to see what's really going on. Love and Death had that in spades. Uh, it, on the surface, is a very beautiful and bucolic world. And underneath, it's much darker. And that juxtaposition always interests me.
As well as the idea of people put in extraordinary circumstances, where they're forced to deal with who they really are. And this takes place in a small town in Texas. I happen to be born in Texas. Grew up in New York City and in Dallas, Texas. And this is a story that took place in 1978 in Wylie, Texas, which is right outside of Dallas. And we shot it in... not in that town because that town has grown so much since this story was set that we were based in Austin. So it was amazing to actually shoot a Texas story in Texas.
LA: I want to get a little bit into what it takes to build a world. But before I ask how you do that... Sure it's easy.
LA: [laughs] You know, you said you were from Texas, you know Texas and you got to have the joy of making it in Texas, but did you feel a pressure to stay true to the state that you're from? Did it feel like the stakes were higher?
LLG: I think the stakes are always really high. Certainly when you're telling a true story. Because you want to have incredible empathy for the fact that these are real, real humans that you're telling a story about. And, you know, Texas is the land of wide open spaces and big dreams and big possibilities. And I wanted to show the beauty of that and the small town. And also, that things were not what they appear to be.
The original stories, which were from Texas Monthly, two Texas Monthly stories, and a non-fiction book called Evidence of Love. And as I was reading, I was like, "I, I, I can't believe this is true." I mean, even, you know... This is, to me, a story about... this is a group of families and I think it addresses women of that time. Also the men, but primarily the women who married young. These characters are all, like, 28 years old. They did everything right. They had the kids, the women stayed home, they made the meals, they went to church. They did it all right. Why is there a hole inside their hearts and souls that is a mile wide that just can't be filled?
Speaker 3: Are you sure this is really about Allan Gore and not about you wanting to be reckless?
Speaker 4: Maybe a little both. But also, men, they get to go to their jobs and live in their careers. And we just stay home and [inaudible 00:05:27] that's supposed to be enough. Look our kids right now on that jungle gym. It is human nature to take risks, to go for something with a little thrill at the risk of falling.
LLG: And, you know, this wasn't a time where you go to your therapist and talk it out and try to figure out what's going on. I worked with the extraordinary David E. Kelley, who wrote Big Little Lies, and The Undoing, and countless other amazing shows. And all these years of being a storyteller, which I absolutely love doing, I had never worked with David. We can't believe it. Between the two of us, we probably have 60 years of storytelling history and we have never worked together.
Our lead character, played by Lizzie Olsen, Candy Montgomery, picks a really bad choice to fill that empty void in her. But it was that kind of... It's an American tragedy, to me, this story. And that's what I wanted to explore. That kind of hole in the psyche of so many men and women of that time, without the tools to move past it in a healthier way. It is a true crime story, but it's not just that. It is kind of the dark side of the American dream. And of course, we have this unbelievable cast. Elizabeth Olsen, and Jesse Plemons, and Lily Rabe, and Patrick Fugit, and Krysten Ritter. It's, like... It was a dream cast. And they inhabited those characters so completely.
LA: Sorry, I got sucked i-... sucked into you describing the, the cast then. I feel like before I even knew we were going to be chatting, I'd seen the trailer, and was... it was just, like, one after the next, like, someone popped up on the screen and I was just like, "Okay, I'm sold." Soon as I saw Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons, I was like, "I'm done."
LLG: They are both truly extraordinary. I mean, Lizzie, she... they both just go incredibly deep into who their characters are and make it so assessable to us as an audience.
LA: How do go about creating this world? And how do you find locations? I mean, obviously you have a whole team of location scouts, but, you know, how do you create it? What's the kernel of a picture in your head that it starts from?
LLG: When I'm building a team, I want the best people I can possibly have around me to start to create this world. And I start visualizing immediately. Like, right when I read the stories, I started to see it. You know, I pull from painting and photography and other films, and I try to be inspired by everything around. And then, I start adding in the amazing team. And this is separate from the cast. This is the crew. The heads of department. Suzuki Ingerslev, who w-... Yes, that is her real name. But again, you're talking to someone named Lesli Linka Glatter, and that is my real name. So, Suzuki, who is a German woman, was the production designer. And she's an incredible designer. So we got together, as well as Audrey Fisher, who was our costume designer, and we started talking about the look and feel of the show with our location manager Ryan Smith. And so, we knew we had to find this world.
A lot of 1978 does not exist anymore. And if it does, it's older and falling apart. And, you know, we were constantly looking for things that were intact. But oftentimes, again, we had a lot of work to do. Like, finding those motels, the first motel it was three different locations because that motel, which looked like the real one they went to, The Continental, it was in the process of getting renovated to become, like, a hip apartment living complex. And then, the Como, which is from that era, was in horrible shape. I don't even remember how many gallons of paint were needed to repaint the whole thing so it looked new in 1978 and not falling apart.
There's this beautiful, picturesque, small, you know, white clapboard church. But in the story, the congregation comes together and they build a new church. But new is 1978, not new 2023. And so we had to find a new 1978 church and then put it in across from our charming clapboard church. Now, that never existed in real life.
In the beginning, there are many things that are kind of fun, but it was based on circumstance, not ever making fun of the characters. Like, Candy and Allan, they talk about having an affair for months. It is the most unsexy beginning of any affair. There's nothing spontaneous about this. They're talking about it all the time. But that was the truth. I would never have made that up.
Speaker 5: I will never be able to forgive myself if Betty ever found out. That would just be devastating to her.
Speaker 4: I feel the same. We would have to be so careful that no one would ever know except us.
Speaker 5: That's right. I've been thinking a lot about what you said about just wanting to go to bed and not getting too emotionally involved and so forth. That would be very important to me.
Speaker 4: Me too, [inaudible 00:11:52]. God, I just wanna enjoy myself without hurting myself or anyone else.
Speaker 5: Well, I think we should think about it some more. Think about the hazards and decide whether or not we're willing to take the risk.
Speaker 4: Fine. Yeah, I think we should. So that's the plan then? To think about it some more?
LLG: That is the real story. They did get together over lunch, over lasagna, her famous lasagna, and made on butcher paper a dos and don't list of what they had to be careful of to not harm their families. And they were very rigorous about it. That is totally from the true story.
In the second episode, Betty and Allan go to Methodist Marriage Encounter, which is an actually amazing thing. If you had never gone to therapy, if that's not an option, this is kind of like couples therapy under the guise of the church. And it really brings people back together. In real life, it was set in a place called Dunfies... I think it was Dunfies Royal Inn. So it's been torn down. It was on North Central Expressway in Dallas. But it was a hotel that looked like a medieval castle. And I set it there. That's where it was really set. But I would never had done that if that wasn't true because I wouldn't wanna look like it was making fun of that process at all because I actually took it very seriously.
LA: After the break, what it took to bring to life Homeland's many international locations. If you're enjoying this episode of Women who Travel, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. We love to hear from you.
The espionage thriller Homeland ran for eight seasons, starring Claire Danes, Damien Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin. It was known as much for its locations as its cast, with the plot line shot everywhere from North Carolina and Puerto Rico, to Berlin and Cape Town.
LLG: One of the fun things is... maybe fun is not the right word, but one of the most exciting things is creating the world. Like, on Homeland, every year we moved to a new country and reset the series. So, to me, creating the world that your characters are going to live in and interact in is so essential. And I want everything to be cinematic and feel like, you know... We're telling visual stories, and you have to feel the world you're in.
LA: Tell me about Cape Town.
LLG: Fell in love with Cape Town. One of the most beautiful cities on the planet. Complicated city, of course, in terms of the politics there, but the most amazing crew base. Loved our South African crew. And again, it was the same heads of department. There were, like, 15 of us who traveled around the world together. And we knew the story we were telling. You know, every year on Homeland, myself, Clare Danes, Mandy Patinkin, and Alex Gansa, who created the show, and Howard Gordon, and the writers, would all go to D.C. and meet with the heads of the CIA, NSA, DNI, State Department. All of the people surrounding intelligence. And basically ask the question, "What are you biggest fears for America and the world? What keeps you up at night?" And that's where the season would come from.
So, when we went to Cape Town, we were actually... I know it sounds insane. We were shooting Cape Town for Islamabad, Pakistan. And I know it sounds crazy, but it has been done many times. There are certain areas of Cape Town that look a lot like Islamabad, so that's where we shot that season. We were going to go to India, but it was rainy season and we could not go. So, the minute we dropped into Cape Town, we started to put our team together. We got in the scout van. I spend so many hours in a van looking for locations. And that's what we did for several weeks, of, like, going around, "How can we put this world together of the story we're telling? How is this gonna work? What is it gonna look like?" And of course, there are only certain areas that look like Pakistan, so, you know, you're gonna look this way and it's gonna be Pakistan. But if you turn that way, it's Africa. So, it was a fascinating process of, like, learning how to see and create what we needed to see to tell that particular story.
LA: Is the only way you're seeing these places through the scouting van? Or are you getting to explore South Africa or Cape Town as Cape Town, rather than as Islamabad?
LLG: I think you're getting some of both. Like, the big focus in the beginning is finding how we're gonna tell our story here.
LA: I'm very lucky in that I am an editor at Condé Nast Traveler, so I get to do some incredible work travel. And every time I come back from an assignment, I come back having fallen in love with the place, fallen in love with the people who've shown me it, and feeling a certain level of grief for the fact that it's over. And I'm usually only there for, like, a week. What's the transition like back to America after you've had one of these extraordinary stints?
LLG: I feel the same way with leaving. I mean, after nine months in a country where you've really made close friends and people that you wanna keep in your life forever, it's hard. I always loved travel. I love the adventure of it. I love the newness. I like being put in situations that I kind of had to figure out how to move. And everything was... I, I just... I felt like I was always being filled up. There was so much input. So much that I had never seen or experienced. And I loved it. I loved it. Couldn't get enough of it. I mean, I spent almost 11 years overseas. Uh, and in a certain way, the biggest risk for me was coming back to America and finding that kind of excitement in the country I grew up in, which I definitely have. But when I was young and, you know, traveling so much in that way.
Now I do it in a different way. Now, I go and spend nine months in Cape Town, South Africa on Homeland or the... you know, Berlin, or Austin, Texas. And it is... I feel like we're all kind of in the traveling circus in film, you know? And there's something amazing about that. I've worked with a lot of the same people over and over. And then there are people that are not available when you, you know... when you're starting up. And then someone else comes into your world and life and that's exciting. And there's this feeling of like, "Okay, it's not a goodbye, but I'll see you down the road."
LA: I love that description of traveling circus. And, you know, not many people get to travel that way.
Coming up, I fangirl a little bit to Lesli over Twin Peaks. And she tells me about how a visit to Tokyo led her on the path to becoming the award-winning director she is today.
You worked on a show that was very formative for me in my-
LA: ... college years. And I think a lot of people probably say this to you, that it was Twin Peaks. Which-
LLG: Oh, wow. Really?
LA: Yes. I really tired out my Twin Peaks DVD when I was in college. I just think it is the most beautiful, and weird, and strange, and cool TV show that's ever been made. And, you know, it's so atmospheric and it is so visual. I mean, it's so David Lynch. But I just wanna know how... like, what was your experience working on it and creating the world of Twin Peaks, which is kind of one of the weirdest worlds there is in television?
LLG: Well, first of all, I love that you love that show. Working with David Lynch, you know, I feel like I was so fortunate to see brilliant directors working when I was still a young director and see what their process was. Because what you learn is you have to find your own process. But to be around people who are so committed to telling the story well was inspiring to me. And in fact, in the beginning... So, I directed four Twin Peaks. And I think it was the same amount that David Lynch directed. I can tell you, when I saw that pilot, I was blown away and I knew that somehow I had to work on that show. It was so unique. It was so visionary. It was characters that you... They were... I, I, I don't wanna call them odd, because they weren't odd. They were incredibly human. But they were unique, let's put it that way. And, again, looking at a small town. I fell in love with the town. I fell in love with the characters.
So, when I was just getting to know David... I had been hired to direct an episode, they were all numbers. I think I directed episode five in the first season, which was about the Icelanders coming to town and Agent Cooper couldn't fall asleep. I was on the set with David a lot. I wanted to just kind of soak in the environment. And I asked him about a scene that was in, actually, the first episode. This was a real learning moment for me. And it was a scene where Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Ontkean are in a bank vault and there was a moose head sitting in the table. No one ever talks about the moose head at all. They open a safety deposit box, they have a whole scene, and there's a moose head sitting there. And it's amazing.
So when I get to know David, I ask him, "David, how did you get the idea to put the moose head on the table?" And he looked at me and he said, "It was there." And I'm like, "Well, what do you mean it was there?" He said, "The set decorator was gonna hang the moose head on the wall, but he saw it lying on the table and he said, 'Leave the moose head.'" And something, like, cracked open for me. Yes, know what you want. Plan everything. But be sure you're open to the moose head on the table. Be sure you're open to life and you don't miss the opportunity that life can bring you. And it was such a profound thing to learn as a new director.
LA: God, that's a... You can just sort of apply that motto to everything.
LLG: I think I try to apply it every single day. But it was a great directing lesson of, yes, do your homework, but don't be so closed that you don't see what's in front of you.
LA: It would seem that Leslie made the most of every opportunity and chance encounter. A good rule of thumb for any travel experience.
LLG: Before I was a director, I was a modern dancer and a choreographer. And I lived 10 years overseas. So, I spent a combo of, like, five to almost six years in Paris and London. And then I got a grant to teach, choreograph, and perform throughout the Far East, so I was actually based in Tokyo and would go and spend three months at the Peking Opera School and then three months at the Balinese Dance Academy. And it was life-changing. It changed my life completely, living in Japan.
And when I first got there, I thought I had been dropped on another planet. There was nothing that felt familiar to me. And yet, I was totally excited and intrigued by it. But it did really feel it was the most, in a certain way, foreign place I had been. Because at that point, there was nothing in English [inaudible 00:24:48]. There were no street signs in English. There was nothing. You really felt like, "Oh my God, I am a stranger in a strange land." I had to really get my bearings there to figure out how to move through it. And it is the place that changed my life and set me on a completely different path. I loved the aesthetic, the Japanese aesthetic. I was sent there, I was working with extraordinary Japanese artists. I studied Japanese classical dance and taught modern dance.
I was choreographing, I was performing. I was working with cutting-edge dancers and theater directors. And it opened my mind completely [inaudible 00:25:40]. And you really feel what is essentially and quintessentially human and what is all those things that are so different culturally that make us all excited. So, it was a both about the similarity and differences simultaneously.
I was in Shibuya and I wanted a cup of coffee. And there were two coffee shops right in front of me, one on the right and one on the left. Arbitrarily, I picked the one on the right. And it was packed. There was one seat left with an older Japanese man. I was, like, 25. He was, like, 75. And he waved me over. A little unusual. I sat down with him. He turned out to be one of the truly profound people that I've ever met. And he spoke 12 languages, perfect King's English. He had been the top foreign war correspondent, so he had traveled all over the world. And had been a Buddhist monk. And was head of cultural affairs for The Asahi Shimbun, the largest newspaper in Japan, which is where cultural affairs, you know, actually happens in Japan. And this is a guy I'm meeting by chance in a coffee shop.
And eventually he and his wife kinda became my surrogate Japanese parents. And eventually, he told me a series of stories that all happened on Christmas Eve. Again, he was Buddhist, so it was not a religious thing. All during different wars and about human connection. And that's what I made my first film about. I knew when he told me those stories that I had to pass it on and I knew it wasn't dance. So, had I walked in the coffee shop on the left, I would never have directed. So, Japan changed my life because that was my first film.
LA: What was your first film called?
LLG: Tales of Meeting and Parting. It was a 30-minute short narrative fiction film that I made through the directing workshop for women at AFI. And it was nominated for an Academy Award for Short Film. And I hadn't met anyone in the film business. I didn't know anyone. I was definitely not a nepo baby. And that opened the door. And, you know, knock on wood, I've been working ever since.
It's so great to talk to you. And it makes me wanna get on a plane and go to some extraordinary place and open myself to learning more about the world and life.
LA: Oh, my God, well, all I can say is you have to... you, you have to keep doing it.
Love and Death will be streamed on HBO Max on April 27th. Next week, we honor Earth Day by chatting with South African free diver, Zandile Ndhlovu, about exploring the depths of our oceans, going face to face with a shark, and we discover how oyster reefs are being regrown in a slightly surprising location, New York City. Thanks for listening.
I'm Lale Arikoglu, and you can find me, as always, on Instagram @lalehannah. And follow along with Women Who Travel on Instagram @womenwhotravel. You can also join the conversation in our Facebook group. Allison Leyton-Brown is our composer, Jennifer Nulsen is our engineer, Jude Kampfner from Corporation for Independent Media is our producer.