Another week, another murder mystery. But before you dismiss “Mommy Dead and Dearest” as just another entry in the crowded field of true-crime documentaries, consider its promising young director.
Erin Lee Carr is the Minnesota-raised daughter of the late David Carr, former editor of the Twin Cities Reader who went on to become a near-mythical figure at the New York Times, first as a media reporter, then with a breakout performance in the 2011 film “Page One” and a brutally honest memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” that’s in development as an AMC miniseries with Bob Odenkirk as executive producer and star.
Carr, 29, clearly has inherited both her father’s ability to get subjects to open up, and his instinct for a juicy story. In “Mommy,” premiering Monday on HBO, it’s the brutal slaying of Dee Dee Blanchard, masterminded by her daughter, Gypsy Lee. The young woman was perceived by others as a sweet child suffering from mental illness and physical disabilities.
That image was manufactured. It didn’t take long for authorities to realize Gypsy Lee was actually a victim of systematic abuse — a foil in her mother’s sick desire to be an eternal, beloved caretaker.
Carr, who now lives in New York City, talked by phone this week about her father’s legacy and the desire to build one of her own.
Q: I must admit, I was a little hesitant about watching yet another documentary about a bizarre murder. There have been so many of them lately. Did you worry about getting lost in the shuffle?
A: If you spend a year and a half on something, you want to make sure you can break through the noise. But I’d be cold-pitching this and always get this crazy reaction, so I knew I’d be fine.
Q: One of the reasons the film is so compelling is the access and openness you get from the family, particularly Gypsy Lee. How did you pull that off?
A: I almost didn’t get to interview Gypsy in prison. The access is a magic trick I can’t take credit for. The family was reluctant. Rod [Gypsy’s father] just doesn’t like cameras. This was completely foreign to him. When I first went to visit his house, we wouldn’t bring cameras in right away. I wanted him to be comfortable with me first and how I would tell the story. I’ve seen production companies immediately want people to sign the paperwork. I think that’s disgusting.
Q: Sounds like you picked up some lessons from your dad.
A: I definitely inherited this wealth of information on how to talk to people, how to listen, how not to be nervous. He always told my sisters and I that we were unstoppable. But I do consider the work I’m doing to be different than what he did. I’m adding music. The material is edited in a certain way. I have to be careful about calling myself a journalist.
Q: This is your second feature-length documentary. Were you interested in docs while growing up in the Twin Cities?
A: I would say films in general were a giant part of my life. I was a compulsive reader of Entertainment Weekly because I wanted to know what movies were doing really well. When I was 15, I created an Excel spreadsheet full of films I wanted to see. Like a goody-two-shoes, I went to my dad to get his permission on the ones that were rated R. Of course, he marked most of them yes. I would watch on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because we weren’t allowed to watch movies during the week.
Q: How many were documentaries?
A: Maybe 20 percent. I was just obsessed with “Capturing the Friedmans.” And “American Movie.” I couldn’t believe those were real people.
Q: Then, of course, your dad became a documentary star. Why do you think the filmmakers gravitated to him?
A: It’s funny, because the director of “Page One,” Andrew Rossi, is my executive producer. I always knew my dad to be this incredibly funny, acerbic person and now there was this vehicle for the people outside of Minneapolis and the New York Times to get the magic of David Carr.
Q: His book was pretty raw, especially about his drug use. How did you feel about him being so open?
A: He gave us a manuscript when my sister and I were seniors in high school and asked us to look it over and let him know if there was anything that made us uncomfortable. I mean, are you kidding? I received it like it was a hot potato and wanted to throw it on the bed. There was discomfort in reading about his super-graphic, intense life, but the beauty of the book took over.
Q: And now you’re working on your own book about your relationship with David. What can you share about it?
A: My dad was a really, really busy guy, a workaholic, so we would correspond a lot by e-mails. He sent over 1,900, some of which were filled with amazing wisdom. After he died [in 2015] I found myself searching through those e-mails for answers. I’ve got to be totally honest as I’m going through it. There could be conflict when he would be aggressive in making his point known. It’s hard to write anything critical about him, but you sort of have to.
Mommy Dead and Dearest
Premieres: 9 p.m. Mon.