Chris Messina Explains Why His 'Sharp Objects' Character Is Not Good At His Job, Either

Viewers have criticized Amy Adams' Camille for being a bad reporter, but Messina thinks his character is a bad detective.
HBO

[This story contains spoilers through episode four of HBO's Sharp Objects.]

There has been plenty of Twitter chatter about whether Sharp Objects' protagonist, journalist Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), is any good at her reporting job. She doesn't take notes, she gets too close to her sources, she writes story drafts in Gmail like a psycho. But Chris Messina, who plays a big-city detective stationed in the small town of Wind Gap, Miss., to investigate the murder of two teen girls, has wondered the same thing about his character.

In the fourth episode of the limited series, "Ripe," Detective Richard Willis and Camille play a game of cat and mouse as she takes him on a tour of Wind Gap's crime scenes (the spot in the woods where two girls were found with their wrists slashed; the creepy hunting shed in the woods where murder victims Ann and Natalie used to play and where Camille was raped as a teen). In return, he answers questions for her latest story — on the record. They culminate their flirty adventure with an ethically questionable sex act (there's no way a cop should become involved with a journalist investigating his case, and journalists generally shouldn't sleep with their sources).

"He's making mistakes. Like, you're not supposed to be cozying up with a reporter and sharing this kind of information. I mean, I think it's kind of 101, but he can't help himself," Messina tells The Hollywood Reporter. "That, I find interesting."

Messina and Adams have worked together before — as husband and wife in Nora Ephron's 2009 film Julie and Julia — and their families are friends. But Messina said he respects her even more after Sharp Objects because he saw her work so hard as an executive producer as well.

"I feel very proud of the project as a whole, and to support this particular project and these particular women in this particular time feels really good," he says. "I've been really lucky. Mindy [Kaling, in The Mindy Project], and Nora [Ephron], and Jane [Fonda, in The Newsroom], and Amy, and Patti [Clarkson], and my family, my upbringing. I've been around strong, smart, powerful women my whole life, and it feels really good."

Below, Messina discusses the chemistry between Richard and Camille, their awkward sex scene and working with director Jean-Marc Vallee.

Did Richard and Camille automatically have an attraction?

Yeah, I think so. She's obviously beautiful. He's obviously lonely. No one in the town wants to talk to him. No one wants him there. I do believe there's a backstory, which I really didn't share with anybody, of a guy that has his own baggage, his own heartbreak. This is an opportunity not only for shared information, but also connection.

Although Camille is from Wind Gap, she's also a bit of an outsider.

She's made herself an outsider. I always think of them as two sides of the same coin. Obviously, she takes it to extremes, her pain. But I do believe he's a lot like her in ways.

You've said that when working with these women on the show, you shut up and let them take the lead. That's what Richard does when he's with Camille, too.

When you're surrounded by greatness, whether that be a man or a woman, that's always been my go-to, certainly as an actor, to say, "Hey, what's Amy doing in this scene? What's Patti doing in this scene? And I'm just gonna kind of survive here by listening to them and trying to respond as best as possible." But you're right. Richard does that. I think Richard does that in a way because he's holding his cards close to his vest. Part of his investigation is to listen and to observe not only what she's saying, but body language and trying to find what the hell is going on in this town.

In this episode, he and Camille are both doing that as she takes him on this tour of crime scenes where they each reveal information the other wants — and they're flirting as they're doing it.

It's an interesting episode, because it's half date, half tour of crime scenes. This whole character was interesting — of the lines that blur. What's professional and what's not? And I've said this before that I watched Chinatown a lot because he's investigating [a crime], but then he starts investigating her, Faye Dunaway's character. And I felt like that was a great go-to for me while we were shooting this, because when does he stop investigating the crime and start investigating her? And just having those blurry lines of what's professional and what's not.

What was it like filming the scenes in the woods?

We shot them very fast. It was 10 or 15 pages of dialogue, and Jean-Marc knows what he wants. When he sees that he's got it, he moves on. And we moved very fast through that. Of course, the camera is always on someone's shoulder. There's no rehearsal; there's no marks on the ground. He's just kind of moving around. By that point, and because Amy and I have a friendship and we worked together before, we would just float through it. Really, working with her is a dream, because also she's not only a fantastic actress, but she's a great person and has become a great friend. In this one she's also a producer, so she's taken off her hat after playing this incredibly painful scene, and then talking about schedule or scripts, or getting the cast and crew an ice cream truck, you know, these things. And then putting the hat back on and doing another incredibly hard scene.

There's also an interesting sex scene between them. One thing about the sex scenes on this show is that they're not really shot through the male gaze.

It's always strange doing any of that stuff, which I'm sure you've heard so many times, because you turn off to the side and there's 40 people watching. That particular one there were a bunch of people in the woods and at the monitors. Amy and I are friends, and our families are friends, so there's a trust there. I think you laugh at it, and we laugh at each other and make fun of each other, then you move on. I like the sex scenes in this piece, because they have less to do with sex and more to do with intimacy and vulnerability and seeing somebody or not seeing somebody. All the sex in this piece is character driven. It's not gratuitous; it's not just to show a naked body. It's really character development. And they were written like that.

Sharp Objects airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.