The Lizzie Borden Chronicles debuted on April 5th, 2015, on Lifetime, as a continuation of the Lifetime movie, Lizzie Borden Took An Ax. It tells the fictionalized story of what life was like for the Borden sisters, Lizzie and Emma (Christina Ricci and Clea DuVall), after the sensational trial of the murder of their parents, of which Lizzie was acquitted. As can be expected, life in Fall River was not ponies and rainbows, but chock full of more death and tons of blood.
Geeks of Doom got the chance to speak with 3 of the writers (Part 2 with David Simkins posts Monday) of this campy series (think 1890s Evil Dead-y), and while they didn’t give us spoilers, they did give us some insight into the story process, Christina Ricci’s dynamite input, and how lucky they were with the fantastic casting.
I got to speak with Greg Small and Rich Blaney together, and it was less like an interview and more of a conversation about good television, which I am always down for. The only thing that would have made it more perfect, was if we coulda had a couple of beers while we talked. Alas… we were on opposite coasts. We spoke right after episode 3 aired.
GoD: So… how did you start?
Rich Blaney: We took the Lizzie Borden iconic character and kinda went from there. After reading a lot about Fall River and that time period and the people that were in her life, we kinda built out of that. It just kinda grew into ok, Lizzie could have had other victims, why not?
GoD: I’ve only seen up to episode 3 so far, but do you ever address, when Lizzie supposedly confesses to Emma (in Lizzie Borden Took An Ax)? She whispers in her ear, and they show the flashes. We just found out she hired Siringo to find the vindication for Lizzie. Do you ever address that? Because I have a theory, because you know, whatever, that’s what we do – I love LOST, so I make theories.
Greg Small: Well, I mean – the facts as we imagine them, do become more and more known as the story goes on. That is to say, between the two sisters. Is there ever really a moment where Lizzie says out loud anything? Well… I’m not going to say. (Laughs)
Rich Blaney: For me, that had to happen in very different ways and very surprising ways. Lizzie does her best and is clever at hiding things. But there’s always a loose thread here and there. Without giving anything away, there’s a lot of twists that are coming up in some of these later episodes that I don’t think any of the characters and hopefully not the audience will be able to predict.
GoD Oh. I can’t wait!
Greg Small: We really had a wonderfully blank slate with which to play. I mean, the only thing that we tried to tie ourselves to other than endeavor to be smart and kinda campy and fun… was occasionally, we did bring in real historical figures, but then we completely ignored the history and just did what we wanted.
Rich Blaney: There was a real character, Nance O’Neill, who actually made an appearance in the movie, and her fate in real life was so different from we did with our Nance O’Neill character that we changed her name to Nance O’Keefe (Jessy Schram) just to kinda be able to sleep at night.
Greg Small: Otherwise, you probably know that William Almy who was played by John Heard was in fact Lizzie Borden’s business partner. There were rumors of this illegitimate brother, William Borden (played by Andrew Howard), and in fact he was supposed to have hanged himself. Obviously Emma, Rufus Hilliard the marshall, was a real character. Charlie Siringo was a real character. We don’t think he ever went to Fall River… So that was the kind of thing we did play with. And when we first dreamed up the approach, we spoke to Christina Ricci, who was at that point newly committed, and she really helped, also, kinda define the direction of how to sorta take the personality of the show, because she had a sense of it too, and that was very helpful. So it really became, you know all these things are evolutionary, and this was certainly no different. But as soon as we honed in, we tried to stick with the approach. I dont know if what I said made sense. (Everyone laughs).
Rich Blaney: You can chalk that up any way you want.
GoD: Don’t worry. That was great. So my theory is… that Emma is not really trying to vindicate her. I mean, she does love her, but she wants to know one way or the other. So even though she says she wants the evidence to not point to Lizzie, if it does, then that’s fine. Like, she’s definitely suspicious. So that was my theory. That maybe she’s looking for the opposite of what she’s said she’s looking for. So… I don’t know.
Greg Small: I think in a way, to know that answer, you’d almost have to get into the head of Emma further than we got, but I would say this – in a way Emma is Lizzie’s surrogate mother. She was in fact 9 years older, and was really as a teenager responsible for Lizzie’s upbringing after their real mother, Sarah, died when Lizzie was 5.
Rich Blaney: I think that character-wise, Emma doesn’t really want to know the truth. She really wants to believe that Lizzie is not a monster, which everybody in town thinks she is. In fact, everybody across America – Lizzie was big news back then. But Emma is also a very complex character, I think, as we kinda drew her. Because she was Lizzie’s surrogate mother, if Lizzie is this monster, and Charlie Siringo kinda suggested this in the last episode (3), what responsibility would Emma have to take in that? If Lizzie is this monster, what does that say about the woman who raised her? And does maybe Emma have some other dimensions that we haven’t seen yet?
Greg Small: And that’s what I was getting at with the surrogate mother is that, you know, I have kids, my wife and I certainly wanna believe everything good we can about our children, but the fact is there’s a point when they do something bad, you have to face that too. And I think that Emma is at that interesting struggle. What Rich alludes to nicely is that there’s more to be revealed about Emma as well as things move forward, because she’s like, well, all of us. Hopefully we rendered a complex character. She’s great fun. There was a scene with Adele (Kimberly-Sue Murray), the streetwalker, where Adele is kinda complimenting her. And at this point she only knew about Lizzie the good, and she was complimenting Emma for having raised such a compassionate person. You can see on Emma’s face that oooh… that kinda cuts both ways. She has, exactly as you say, apprehensions about what the real truth is. She’s certainly holding a mask up to protect herself, in a way, just one of those psychological things that we all do. Hopefully, not too many of us have sisters who are serial killers.
GoD: Hopefully. I have two sisters. So hopefully, they’re not. The next thing I wanted to ask you, because I did look on IMDB a bit, was did you guys write or participate in all 8 episodes, or just some of them? How does your writing thing work?
Rich Blaney: When it originally came to us, it was going to be a six episode mini and Greg and I were going to write them all. But when Christina signed on, we were faced with a bit of a time problem, so we had to bring in other writers. David Simkins who ended up kinda running the writers room, Barbara Nance and Jason Grote, all have experience in TV so we divvy’d it up. But I think Greg and I, I’m pretty sure we had at least a scene or two in every one of the episodes we didn’t write, just because some things had to be filled out. Questions had to be answered. I can think of a couple of scenes, at least one scene in the upcoming episode (4) that we wrote, but we are not credited for.
Greg Small: We are credited for 4 of the 8. As Rich said, they originally came to us with an idea. We had done a movie for them, The Jodi Arias Story, and that had done well and we had a really good relationship with Lifetime and they were pleased with us. One of the VPs there on Lifetime, came to us with a general idea. “We wanna do…”
Rich Blaney: “the Lizzie Borden TV show.”
Greg Small: We kinda went, “Wow what the heck does that mean?” And then we kinda started to think about it. They were kind of all over the map with the possibilities. We just felt there was enough great character stuff, that we could stay in Fall River. Kinda play this Adams Family-esque. We were the ones who came up with the idea that we needed a nemesis, in the form of Charlie Siringo (played by Cole Hauser). We were just looking around for somebody who would be out of place. We found him and were like, “Let’s use him.” And we pitched it to those guys, and they loved it. So we were up and running. We wrote “the bible” of how the thing would flow. We just didn’t have the time to write it all, and other writers needed to be involved. And then we get into a room with three other writers, all of whom who were terrific and smart and creative, and good people. It was a really great team. Things change. And so some of what we originally conceived, certainly most of the characters are. I mean like Skipjack (Bradley Stryker), one of Mr. Flowers henchman, I was looking at a can of tuna… you know – that kind of stuff. We were also trying to think of… because we were on the coast, and there was sort of a fishing industry, and thinking maybe a fish name would work. It became a very much of a group effort. We physically wrote 1 and 2, and then 7 and 8.
GoD: Oh. Well, you got the good ones!
Greg Small: When it was going to be originally 1-6, We were gonna do 1 and 2, Barbara was gonna do 3, Jason would do 4, Jason and Barbara would do 5, and then David would do 6. I think that’s how it fell out. And then 7 and 8 popped up, and we were like, “Whoa!”
Rich Blaney: That was pretty much left for Greg and I to do.
Greg Small: With David supervising.
GoD: You guys didn’t write anything like the 6 and then they were like, “Hey, we need 2 more.” Was it like, you had the idea and then Christina came on and then…
Rich Blaney: Are you talking about the addition of the final two episodes? I don’t think the first 6 were finished yet, when they came up with that idea. They came to us in September, I think it was, and said, “We wanna do another 2.” You know, we kinda looked at each other like, “Alright, well.” When you’re told to do 6 episodes you have an arc.
God: Did you move stuff over?
Rich Blaney: We did a little of that as well. When a story ends, it never really ends. I was saying to Greg earlier, Rocky Balboa wins the fight, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t wake up the next morning. So we kinda looked at where we were at, and realized that there were some really tremendously interesting opportunities, that we were glad to have the opportunity to take advantage of, and to loop the story into a whole different arena than we started with.
Greg Small: In a way, there is definitely a finale to 6, as we will see, but 7 and 8 are a kind of mini sequel. And if we’re lucky enough to do more down the road, who knows? There’s always things you can pick up on and play with. 7 and 8, I think are gonna be really fun. It’s a whole new thing – a whole new venue. Everything’s sorta shifts a little bit. And we kinda get the sense of where it could go now. In and of themselves, they too have a wholeness – a mini movie almost.
God: Oh my god. I can’t wait to watch it.
Greg Small: And Clea DuVall who plays Emma, has said in various press interviews, that she was really most pleased with 7 and 8. Which was nice to hear because not only were they our babies, but we just thought of how we were at first, when we were looking at each other like, What the heck are we gonna do now?” Like a lot of those situations, turn out to be an opportunity to get the creative juices going. We really look forward to seeing the audience and really getting rewarded.
God: By the way, I know you don’t do the hiring but I’m so glad about Clea DuVall being in this. When I shared on Facebook about this show, I wrote, “You should just be watching because of these two faces.” And it was a picture of her and Christina. And people were like, “Yeah. That’s why I’m watching it. Just for those faces.”
Rich Blaney: Well, they’re the show. Talk about being the glue that binds together, but we really we couldn’t have hoped for better actresses, and Clea DuVall, she really turned out to be kinda surprising to us, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing…
GoD: Well she was known as a teen actress. She was in Buffy and that party film, that’s where she was from – those kinda movies and now she’s the serious one in the campy series.
Rich Blaney: Right. I guess what I’m saying is that we’re really glad we had these two actresses to flesh it out. You know when you’re in a room and you’re writing something. You have an idea of how it might play out. Then they do a twist on it that makes it even better. It’s kind of thrilling.
Greg Small: These two actresses just transcend our words – just a joy. You’re kinda sitting there and you do the scene.
Rich Blaney: Playing it out in your head.
Greg Small: Or even out loud.
GoD: And it sound like you – not them.
Greg Small: Right. In episode 2, where Lizzie comes to Emma, and she’s brushing her hair… and it’s a soft moment. Emma admits that she knows the name of her fantasy husband. You know, that was a scene that we wrote, and we could really see it in our heads. We just thought it was touching. And it’s the kinda thing in the series that deepens it and makes you care. And when we saw the dailies on that… jaw dropping. They did such a spectacular job. It was just emblematic of what terrific actresses the two of them are. And again, it’s a thrill when your words get translated by people who can really do it. Clea’s got such depth. As does Christina, even though she gets the little wink and the nod. And it’s just layer after layer after layer. Likewise, when you see someone like Jonathan Banks do the scene where he puts the hoodlum’s face into the picture, I mean, that scene… we knew what it could be. Again, when we see it, it’s better than we thought it could be.
GoD: That’s awesome.
Rich Blaney: Not to mention what a thrill it was for us that they got Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Wiseguy) to play that role. We did not picture that. We just didn’t think we were gonna get somebody of that quality for the role.
GoD: He was great. I wanted him to be Lizzie’s person for a little while longer, but that scene shocked me, so that was great too.
Greg Small: Yeah. That was a good catch. You don’t expect him to get it. Of all the actors they were able to secure, we would like to think it was because they read the script and said, “Hey!” I mean Jonathan said in the press thing, “This is good! This is way better than you think.” You just hope it works. You try to have as good a time as you can with it, cause that makes the material better. And then you just have to kinda hand it off, and sometimes it’s fantastic and sometimes it’s less than fantastic. This one is really impressive to see.
GoD: It’s great so far. It is. And when you used to think of Lifetime, you used to think Hallmark-y type of movies and now it’s turning dark.
Greg Small: Absolutely. As they’ve grown and they’ve expanded, they’re still gonna give to that core audience, but there’s no reason not to reach out further.
Rich Blaney: We were surprised too, at how they were not shy when we did the Jodi Arias movie. We had our preconceived notions about Lifetime too, so we were surprised when they said not to shy away from the violence, blood, and guts. That wasn’t what we were expecting. They are definitely branching out in different areas.
Greg Small: Actually, when I first mentioned this to a friend of mine, an independent producer, she said, “Oh my god! That’s a great idea! Lifetime’s Breaking Bad.” Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not gonna compare this to Breaking Bad or Vince Gilligan or something.
Rich Blaney: But we did get Jonathan Banks.
Greg Small: Her point was that we were reaching high. And we delivered. At least we think we did. We’ve been very pleased so far.
GoD: I’ve been very pleased so far too.
The Lizzie Borden Chronicles delivers an intense and fictionalized account of actual events and people surrounding Lizzie’s life after her controversial acquittal of the horrific double murder of her father and stepmother in 1892, when the exonerated figure lives a life awash in newfound celebrity. But when numerous people close to Lizzie – ranging from her half-brother to Broadway luminaries and the head of the criminal underworld — start to mysteriously die under brutal and strange circumstances, legendary Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo (Cole Hauser, Good Will Hunting) becomes determined to prove her involvement in their ultimate demise. Emmy nominee John Heard (The Sopranos) will portray William Almy, the business partner of Lizzie’s murdered father Andrew, while Lizzie’s half-brother William will be played by Andrew Howard (Hatfields & McCoys).
Official Trailer: The Lizzie Borden Chronicles
Christina Ricci reprises her role as the notorious murder suspect Lizzie Borden in Lifetime’s new series, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. Premieres Sunday, April 5 at 10/9c on Lifetime. Video