'Sharp Objects' Team on Book's 12-Year Journey to the Screen: "An Emotional Marathon"
After premiering on HBO last year, Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Marti Noxon, Jean-Marc Vallée and Gillian Flynn are still reeling from the impact of the haunting drama: "I would wake up in a sweat and panic."
It's been nearly a year since Sharp Objects made its summer 2018 debut, but the stars and producers of the HBO miniseries are still reeling from the emotional impact of the haunting drama. "Ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to do this as an actress and come out of it in a healthy place," says star and executive producer Amy Adams, who took a break from her packed film schedule to play the troubled reporter at the center of the TV adaptation of Gillian Flynn's 2006 novel. The eight-episode series, which is equal parts psychological thriller and murder mystery, also left an indelible mark on critics, with The Hollywood Reporter's own calling it "riveting prestige-pulp." Adams, in conversation with co-star Patricia Clarkson, writer and executive producer Flynn, showrunner and executive producer Marti Noxon, and director and executive producer Jean-Marc Vallée, spoke with THR about the book's 12-year journey to the screen, beating Reese Witherspoon to the punch and spending hours nearly naked in the makeup trailer. Jokes Adams, "I definitely have my limit of standing up with my arms to the side in a G-string."
Gillian, you wrote your novel Sharp Objects when you were still working at Entertainment Weekly. What made you want to write a story of a journalist haunted by her past?
GILLIAN FLYNN That's simple. I was a troubled journalist haunted by my past. (Laughs.) So, write what you know. I knew I wanted to write about female rage and self-harm, how that looks generationally and what we do to each other in the cycles of violence. Basically, what men have written about for the entire history of writing.
Amy, this was your first big TV role. Did you have any hesitation?
AMY ADAMS I was a little nervous about the schedule and especially diving into this character. I remember Jean-Marc being like, "I mean, are you sure? Like, you really want to do this?" (Laughs.)
PATRICIA CLARKSON And you had all those days with the scars …
ADAMS Yeah, but for me the physical work wasn't as grueling as the emotional work on this character. Sure, there was a lot of physicality in the application of the scars and being in the heat when it was super hot and she was always in long sleeves — but it was really the emotional tool that I had to work through and pace myself to understand. That was more of what I was scared of than it being television or film. It was just a huge commitment to an emotionally troubled character — and I didn't take that lightly.
What did you learn from playing this character over eight episodes instead of a two-hour movie?
ADAMS I learned to let stuff go at the end of the day. I had already been working on that with some other characters I played, and it's something I am moving toward, especially as I have a young daughter. Whether it was a glass of wine, going for a run or going out to dinner, I had to do something meaningful to let go of Camille and get back into myself.
CLARKSON I never ever brought Adora into my apartment in New York.
ADAMS It was an emotional marathon. Camille would sneak up on me in the middle of the night. I told people I would wake up in a sweat and panic, and I would try to understand, "Wait, is this anxiety? Is this depression mine or does this belong to the character?" And that was the big struggle I had: What belongs to me and what belongs to my character? Luckily, it belonged to her. Mostly. (Laughs.)
Jean-Marc, you'd just come off Big Little Lies when you started on Sharp Objects. Was that stressful?
FLYNN I cannot believe you went straight from Big Little Lies into this.
JEAN-MARC VALLÉE Yeah, it was two marathons. Amy got this offer to do her first TV series and it was actually going to be my first TV series because Big Little Lies didn't exist in my mind then.
ADAMS See, I got the idea before Reese.
VALLÉE She did! And I was attached [to this] before Big Little Lies and so I told Reese, "Maybe I can do one [episode], just the beginning." I started to do one and then the more I was getting involved and casting the kids and meeting people, you go, "I can't let you down. I can't." So I thought, "Let's hope I can survive two." And I'm still here.
Marti, you read the book and immediately you knew it needed to be a TV series, not a film. Why?
MARTI NOXON At the time I read the book they were planning on making it into a movie, and I told [producer] Jason [Blum] I felt very strongly that it would fail as a film because features don't seem to tolerate really complicated female characters as well. I mean, there are certain exceptions, but I said to him, "I am afraid this will be made for a price and it will just disappear." And then Dark Places [another Flynn adaptation] starring Charlize Theron came out and sort of disappeared and I was like, "See?!" And then they called and said, "Maybe this is a TV show." (Laughs.)
Gillian, you've said it took 12 years to get this book adapted. Why do you think it was such a hard sell?
FLYNN Well, it had been a hard sell even to get it sold as a book, and when we were shopping it around, we were told quite a bit by people that men don't want to read about women and women don't want to read about heroines that they can't root for. And that's inherently wrong. Of course, we did get it sold — but there was still constantly that hesitancy.
What female tropes did you try to avoid as you were telling the story?
NOXON Camille does all these things that you see male leads do all the time — but usually there is a consequence that's much more about their femaleness. They get judged in a way. But Camille is so competent. And she drinks like a fish and she has casual sex and does all these things.
ADAMS Whenever I am playing a troubled character, I don't want them to present themselves as victims. That's one of the things I loved about Camille: Even though she was victimized by her past and by her mother and by herself to some degree, she always had hope. She kept going. So I try not to judge my characters. And I try not to let them be victims.
CLARKSON I think it's deadly for us to judge the characters. That's for other people to do.
ADAMS I will say I did judge Camille for one thing. And that is her drunk driving.
NOXON Well, it is the South.
Patricia, how much research you did into Munchausen Syndrome by proxy when you were taking on this role?
CLARKSON I oddly had an interest in it long before this project. It fascinated me. There was a women that went to the White House long ago and I remember seeing her on the news. She was brought to the White House as part of a healthcare debate, and I remember seeing the child in a wheelchair and I said, "Something is wrong." And six months later, the woman was in jail. So I have been fascinated with it and I’ve known quite a bit about it. You are the destructor and the savior all in one.
Amy, had you ever spent so many hours in a makeup trailer?
ADAMS I am trying to think — at that point, had I? I don't think so.
FLYNN Because it took hours.
ADAMS It actually prepped me because I ended up in the makeup trailer a lot on Vice. But I had never been quite so exposed for that period of time in a makeup trailer. So that took a different muscle. I definitely have my limit of standing up with my arms to the side in a G-string. (Laughter.) I learned my boundaries.
Marti, you've teased a potential second season. There's obviously no formal plan yet, but is it a possibility?
NOXON That got blown out of proportion, as things on the internet are wont to do. What I said was that when we first went out with it, we had talked about ideas for more. And that I wouldn't mind revisiting Wind Gap. But nothing other than that.
VALLÉE Well, I said I thought there would never be another Big Little Lies, and now they are doing it. So never say never.
Anyone else down for season two?
ADAMS As long as I am fully clothed, I am game.
This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.