Lifetime’s new limited series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles premieres Sunday, April 5 at 10/9CT.
In January 2014, Lifetime took a proverbial whack at bringing the sordid tale of Lizzie Borden to a new generation of horror fans with its original film Lizzie Borden Took an Ax. Starring Christina Ricci as the parent-dispatching Lizzie and Argo’s Clea DuVall as her obedient sister Emma, Lizzie was a bloody good time and a ratings killer, luring 4.4 million viewers on its way to becoming cable’s second-most-watched original film of the year.
A few months later, the network approached Ricci with another idea — reuniting with DuVall and director Stephen Kay for a limited series that takes Borden’s macabre appeal and the film’s campy nature to a bold new level.
Debuting this month, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles blends fact, fiction and more inventively bloody fun into a boisterous account of Borden’s life after her controversial acquittal left her emboldened and a local celebrity, for better or worse. Ricci says that while Chronicles’ wry, daring tone held appeal from the start, she most relished being able to expand the Borden sisters’ bond with DuVall.
“Ultimately, in the last two episodes, it becomes clear that this is about the sister relationship — and there aren’t very many television shows that are about two sisters,” Ricci says. “Plus, this is a show that’s edgy and dark and about the twisted facets of their relationship, but it’s a completely desexualized world — which, for two women on TV, is almost unheard of. We both love that we get to inhabit roles that would really be written more for men.”
The series picks up four months after Borden’s trial, and DuVall’s tormented Emma has elected to accept the verdict as fact and move on as her sister’s keeper — even though the toll on her own personal life is almost unbearably high. “Being able to have her believe, at least on some level, that Lizzie is innocent allows her to really be Lizzie’s big sister and protect her,” says DuVall. “I think there are things we are unwilling to see because we think if we do see them, then we will die — and that is definitely true with Emma. That struggle of just clinging to what life she has left because all she has known is loss and the idea of losing her sister, too, is so horrific that she’d rather live in this fantasy of who her sister is than confront the truth.”
The women welcomed the addition of Cole Hauser’s Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo as a cagey foe for master manipulator Lizzie. “It allows us to explore her history as he investigates her and finds things out,” Ricci smiles. “It really gives us as an audience a chance to see behind the curtain a little bit more.”
“He never actually really went to Massachusetts, but if you read about him in his books, he’s a pretty accomplished Pinkerton,” says Hauser of Siringo, who worked for the Chicago detective agency from 1886-1907 and tracked a number of famous outlaws including Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch before he retired to write books about his experiences full time. “It was an honor to play him.”
The series is also peppered with other actual relatives, associates and luminaries who entered the sisters’ lives and rarely made it out with their own — including Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star Jonathan Banks as Mr. Flowers, Lizzie’s bad-guy business partner.
“This is a rollicking, arch, good-natured-but-dark horror show,” Ricci says. “In order to support that, you have to have smart writing and complex relationships. All the work we do in supporting these great, sort of macabre scenes with lots of blood and irony — it’s an interesting thing to pull off. I think Stephen does a really great job in grounding it in reality — and grounding it in something that is very modern.”
The Lizzie Borden Chronicles airs Sundays at 10/9CT beginning April 5 on Lifetime.