Awards Daily talks to Elizabeth Marvel about her work on HBO Max’s true-crime series Love & Death and Peacock’s sci-fi fantasy Mrs. Davis and what she looks for in characters.
Does it feel like Elizabeth Marvel is popping up everywhere lately? Between her stellar turn as Elizabeth Holmes’s mother in 2022’s The Dropout and this year’s high-profile work in HBO Max’s Love & Death and Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, it’s hard not to have a Marvel sighting.
“It’s the post-pandemic backlog!” says Marvel with a laugh. “I came out of the Great Pause with a lot of energy!”
Marvel calls this sudden deluge of work kismet and describes herself as “an old hippie” who’s never plotting around career choices. When she came out of Julliard, she spent many years on stage, sometimes doing two plays at a time and “living on chili,” when television started to transform.
“Now I’m at a time where these long-form narratives are happening, and it’s such a wonderful time to be my age and to be a character actor because there’s a need for people to carry long-form narratives. It’s a different kind of discipline than other forms, and I really love it.”
Marvel enjoys using different colors of paint when it comes to her characters, and her two most recent roles, as the security-obsessed Celeste on Mrs. Davis and the free-spirited Jackie on Love & Death, are prime examples of this palette range.
“Celeste on Mrs. Davis, she’s a puzzle. She’s an enigma, and she’s very powerful. She’s also weirdly, profoundly loving. Then Jackie Ponder for Love & Death to me is just the essence of spiritual love and acceptance and the heart of this community. That’s what I enjoy, to be able to move between different dynamics of a person.”
Pastor Jackie and Intergenerational Friendship
Marvel applauds showrunner David E. Kelly for writing such a beautiful friendship between two women on Love & Death. After all, Jackie isn’t just the pastor; she’s also Candy’s (Elizabeth Olsen) best friend and moral compass who keeps the fantasist “tethered to the earth.” Marvel also loves the intergenerational representation of this connection.
“Generationally, they’re different, and I love that because I have people in my life [like that]. I’m 53, and I have people in their 20s who are best friends of mine, and I also have a best friend who’s 80. It’s so underrepresented in film and television, those cross-generational relationships. They’re so profound for community, to tell those stories, so I love that David did that. That’s significant for Candy because I am an older woman reporting back to her further down the road. Candy feels very little judgment from Jackie, and I think that’s important for her.”
For Betty Gore, played by Lily Rabe, Jackie represents something entirely different.
“We have those people in our lives who are teachers, helpers, and friends, but they’re also the glue to keep us all together. And yet we all have the mutual love and trust and need of the consistency of that figure. I think that’s what Jackie does in this community.”
Marvel says that’s another beautiful thing about Love & Death, this depiction of community.
“Yes, it’s about murder, but it’s also really an examination of a community and communal dynamics. I feel like in this moment in America, communities are really breaking down and getting really dysfunctional. It’s something really beautiful about American culture, that we’ve been able to maintain for so long, is our faith and love and trust with community, and we really need to reengage with it.”
‘If Monty Python and Ordinary People Collided’
Marvel’s other high-profile role this season is on Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, where she plays Simone’s (Betty Gilpin) former magician-turned-security-expert mother Celeste, whose office crossbow trap accidentally impales her daughter as an adolescent (yes, really).
“It’s so audacious. There are so many multi-colored threads in it that just tracking it was a bit of an exercise. My first impression after reading the first three scripts, and this is going to sound zany, it was as if Monty Python and Ordinary People collided. It was bananas. I loved that within this swirling Python-esque, Dr. Who melange, there was this really heartfelt hero’s journey of this woman, and this very dysfunctional family struggle.”
Celeste’s guilt over the crossbow incident is one of the main driving principles behind this character.
“Guilt has driven Celeste to create the empire of security she has built. I think she’s overwhelmed by guilt by what happened to her daughter. The great issue is, of course, the crossbow is intended to keep Monty (her ex-husband, played by David Arquette) at bay. It would take something extreme to get through to him. He’s a man of extremes, and she knows that.”
As part of this tenuous mother-daughter dynamic, Celeste believes that Simone helped Monty fake his own death, which Simone denies. Does Celeste think Simone is trying to get back at her?
“What happens to us as children creates the foundation for the rest of our lives, no matter how much therapy we do,” she says with a laugh. “She knows that Monty has imprinted this on her daughter and that Simone will always want to please him. It’s just how she was made; it’s how he formed her. She wants to please her father. The three of them are very close in their own dysfunctional way.”
Love & Death is streaming on Max; Mrs. Davis is streaming on Peacock.