This Sunday, Lifetime, the network known for putting its own soapy spin on real-life sagas, is taking on the case of Lyle and Erik Menendez, the wealthy Beverly Hills brothers who notoriously murdered their parents back in 1989. During their first of two criminal trials that ensued, Lyle and Erik claimed that they suffered longterm psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of their controlling father, Jose—and that their mother had known yet looked the other way for years. In Menendez: Blood Brothers, Lifetime takes the siblings at their word and depicts them in a more sympathetic light when compared to past pop culture portrayals. It also stars Courtney Love as the boys’ mother, Mary “Kitty” Menendez, and if that’s not enough of a reason to tune in, we don’t know what is.
Earlier this week, we caught up with Love and her cast-mate, Younger star Nico Tortorella, who plays Lyle in the TV movie. In addition to revealing her plans to land more acting roles in the future, Love explained that curating Kitty’s onscreen wardrobe became quite the passion (and Pinterest) project. Meanwhile, Tortorella dished on what it was like to portray an infamous killer at the center of one of the most high-profile cases of the century. Check out our full chat with the stars below, and tune in for the premiere on June 11 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.
What initially drew each of you to this project?
Courtney Love: I met with [the directors] Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, and they were just so warm. After I read the script, I decided, you know, this is worth doing. I really wanted to do it and I liked the cast a lot, so it was a no-brainer. I want to act more, and this is a bigger role than I’ve done previously. I did an arc on Empire and I did Sons of Anarchy, but those just were getting my feet wet again because I had a hiatus. So this was more responsibility and a bigger role. I really wanted to do it, and I loved the story.
Nico Tortorella: Honestly, when I first saw the breakdown, I saw Courtney Love’s name and I was like, Yeah, I think I’m definitely going to do this movie. Then I saw Randy and Fenton, who I have known at [production company] World of Wonder for a while. I did my research on the case and the story that we were telling, and just really fell in love with the script. It’s a completely different challenge playing somebody who really exists in the world, playing a real-life human—especially with a story like this.
Nico, what was it like to have Courtney play your mom?
NT: I mean, I don’t feel like we’re actually that far apart in age that she’s like a mother figure in real life. So it was actually weird having her play my mom, just in terms of, like, on an energetic level outside of the characters we were playing. I was just happy to work with her in any capacity that I could.
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Courtney, did you follow this story in the news when it first made headlines?
CL: Unfortunately…I was aware of it, but it was ’91, ’92. I was in Seattle and I didn’t have a TV. So I knew about, but I didn’t follow it obsessively. I know it was the first big case on Court TV. I did a lot of research preparing for the role, as much as I could. We had to kind of make Kitty up from whole cloth because there’s like three pictures and one-half a video of her. So I was thinking St. John’s knits and Escada for her, and then I even made a Pinterest board that was all, like, Dynasty. I thought, Do I want to go Krystle Carrington with this? But that wasn’t very Kitty, you know, that glam kind of ‘80s thing. She was a Beverly Hills housewife. Still, I always find that in acting, I get my character from my wardrobe—really, that’s my key. So we were on a rampant search for St. John’s knits and Escada and designers of the time. Then for “ghost Kitty,” I really wanted an early Armani palette with shoulder pads. Man, shoulder pads for days. It’s a greyish-green pant and a cream silk top that’s supposed to look like early Armani. It’s supposed to make Kitty look like the mother that Erik always wanted, whereas living Kitty wears more jewel tones and like red bugle beads. The clothes were hilarious. Nico wears some hilarious pastels, as well.
NT: For sure, lots of baby pinks and light blues. But what’s really interesting about playing Lyle is that not a lot of people know he was wearing a hairpiece during the entire trial. He started balding at a really young age, and god knows he got the most expensive hairpiece that money could buy at the time. We had a big discussion about what we were going to do with my hair, which was very long when I showed up to work. It was like, ‘Okay, am I gonna do a bald cap the whole time and wear a rug, or are we gonna chop my hair to make it look like I’m wearing a hair piece?’ We went with the latter—and let me tell you, it was the greatest haircut I have ever had in my life.
Grooming aside, what else did you do to get in Lyle’s mindset?
NT: There’s no lack of information and perspective on these two men. This was one of the first televised court cases and they were so, so overexposed at the time. I did as much research as I could, short of going and meeting him in prison, which was actually on my mind. As an actor, that’s the first thing my mind jumped to and then I had to be like Okay, that’s a little ridiculous—take a step back, Nico. But I think that in playing someone who has a story like this and who murdered his parents—which is in no way shape or form, under any circumstances, excusable—it’s my job as an actor to treat him like a real human being that has flaws and is multi-layered, and to really sympathize with his human condition. And that’s what I did. I think we are telling a very specific viewpoint of this story. We are going with, ‘f everything that they said in the trial, if all the abuse actually existed—emotional, physical, sexual—if all that was real, what did it look like? If they didn’t kill their parents for the money, why did they kill their parents? That’s the story we told, and that’s the character I had to play.
Courtney, for you, what was the hardest part of playing Kitty?
CL: Well, the part of the movie where she’s alive was tougher than the part where she was dead. I feel like—as I said, the wardrobe was really kind of comical to me, almost—but I think Nico and Myko [Olivier, who plays Erik] and Benito Martinez [who plays Jose] were so good, you know? It was just like playing an unhappy woman who drinks a lot, which she allegedly did. That was tough. I had to go into the inner depths to get to that.
Of course, there’s a pretty intense murder scene. Nico, what was it like to film that?
NT: You know, it’s definitely heavy. It was a quick shoot—we shot the whole movie in seventeen days, so we shot that scene in less than a full day. But we all have our own stories and past demons when it comes to murder and death, so it’s a really sensitive topic for anybody that’s making a movie like this—and especially the people that were involved in doing the scene. You just have to approach it like it’s anything else. It’s a job; we’re actors that are playing roles. It’s my job to bring as much truth and vulnerability to it as I possibly can and to really empathize with the person that I’m playing.
Was it hard to kind of turn off and get out of your character’s headspace at the end of the day, after filming such heavy material?
CL: Well there were a ton of other shows shooting [at the same time in British Columbia], I mean from Deadpool to whatever. So, the bar at the hotel we were staying at was kind of like the Chateau Marmont Pacific Northwest. It was kind of funny that way, it was like, you’d just run into people—you’d think you were at an agency or something. It was funny. So I would just tear off my costumes and go hang out with people that I know. Nico and I would go on adventures, and we went to yoga a few times. It wasn’t that hard, really.
While you were learning more about the Menendez brothers’ case, did anything really surprise you?
NT: This case was a very long and strung-out process. It lasted seven years and it was split into two different trials. In the first trial, the jury was split. So it moved to a second trial, and the judge—Judge Weisberg—had just judged over the Rodney King beating at the time, which, obviously turned out to be a ‘not guilty’ verdict. He was really reaching, and he needed a guilty verdict next. He wound up dropping all of the abuse ‘excuses’ because he and the jury believed that sexual abuse had to be between a man and a woman—it couldn’t be between two men. So the guys weren’t even able to tell their side of the story in the second trial. We know so much more about sexual abuse today than we did in the early ‘90s, and just the amount of extreme homophobia that existed in this case is preposterous to me. I think that’s really the story we’re telling here: how could this even be possible in a trial? How could that idea even exist? It’s wild. Even when I start talking about it now, I still get heated.
Understandably so. People are really obsessed with true crime shows these days. Are there any series along those lines that you like to binge-watch?
CL: Yeah, I binge-watch Law and Order: SVU all the time.
NT: Honestly, it’s not really my genre. I like to—
CL: Do you even have a TV, Nico?!
NT: Right now, I am more interested in like, extraterrestrial true crime, to be honest (laughs).