How Amy Adams and Gillian Flynn faced their own fears to bring Sharp Objects to small-screen life
Amy Adams hasn’t been on a TV series since 2006. Fear kept her away, thanks to a graveyard of canceled work. “I was really scared to come back,” the five-time Oscar nominee admits. “I’ve had some interesting relationships with TV.”
But the idea of playing Camille Preaker — the antiheroine of HBO’s Jean-Marc Vallée-directed adaptation of Gone Girl author (and former EW critic) Gillian Flynn’s disturbing first novel, Sharp Objects — scared her even more. Camille is a hard-drinking journalist with a painful past, a toxic relationship with her emotionally abusive mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), and a tendency to self-harm as a coping mechanism. Though she’s escaped her suffocating hometown, she’s forced to return after landing an assignment about a series of child murders.
Adams, 43, couldn’t resist the part — and Flynn is beyond grateful. “I really trusted Camille with her,” the author, 47, says. That trust was evident when the pair sat down to chat with EW.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Amy, you were wary of doing TV. What about Sharp Objects made it the right project?
AMY ADAMS: I’ve always been a fan of her work. [Gestures toward Flynn] I read all of her books before they even approached me about being in it.
GILLIAN FLYNN: She was a little bit of a stalker. [Laughs]
ADAMS: [In a high-pitched voice] I, like, followed her online! Sent her a lot of letters! Clippings of my toenails! [Laughs] No, I’m kidding. So weird.
FLYNN: [Laughs] That’s what sealed the deal for me!
ADAMS: No, I was a big admirer of her work and the way that she examined female characters. So this was a wonderful opportunity to explore one of Gillian’s beautiful, non-heroic heroines. Sometimes we only play women as heroic, and it’s nice to see somebody who’s heroic but completely flawed and imperfect. It has to be strange [turns to Flynn] — I know you’ve adapted your books [for film], but doing it in television, did it feel different?
FLYNN: Yeah, even though it was the smallest of my novels, what I worried about, with doing it as a film, was losing that character study. To me, Sharp Objects was a character study hidden inside of a mystery. It was as much of a who-is-she as a whodunit.
So, who is she?
FLYNN: When I was writing Camille, I poured a lot of my emotions into her. I think all women carry with them a propensity for self-destruction, and I certainly did, particularly when I was writing it. She has a line: “I don’t want to be here, and it’s not even enough that I don’t want to be here, I want to not have ever existed.” Knowing what that felt like and what that does to people, I was able to tap into that piece of Camille’s demons. But also, the other parts of Camille — the resiliency, the ability to bounce back…those were all character traits that I keyed into when I was writing Camille. That girl with grit.
ADAMS: I like that word. I watched a TED Talk recently where they were talking about how you can’t teach grit, and it’s the one thing that separated people who are able to achieve.
FLYNN: Really! I want to watch that. Will you send that to me?
ADAMS: Yeah, I’ll find it for you.
FLYNN: That’s one of the qualities I admire most. That grit, that’s what Camille’s got. [To Adams] And how about you? What did you find in her that let you build her?
ADAMS: It’s that exact same thing. That line [you mentioned] always gets me, and when her boss says she’s a “soft touch.” That even with all her sadness, her darkness, her pain, there’s something in her heart that still is soft and available.
FLYNN: She’s the ultimate empath.
ADAMS: I loved the idea of familial violence, and how we pass down, intentionally or not, dysfunction and sadness and issues. Being a mom, that was something I’ve really, truly explored, like, “What am I unintentionally passing to my daughter? What have I taught her about her role in the world as a woman, just based on my own experiences?” But I’m very different from Adora, so I’m not worried about that particular thing.
FLYNN: [Laughs] Yeah, I wrote that before I had kids, and now, reading it again is especially affecting. It’s like this dark valentine I sent to myself in the future from when I was, like, 30.
ADAMS: I know this is weird, and it’s a line that I never thought I’d say to you ever, but there was this episode of Dr. Phil on — I get insomnia and I watch Dr. Phil — and there was a woman that was like, “I hated my daughter.” It was the darkest, and I was like, “Oh my goodness. They exist.” [Laughs]
Flynn: I wanna see that. When I have insomnia, I read books about string theory. [Laughs]
Adams: Do you really?!
Flynn: No. [Laughs] You need to send me TED and Phil. TED Talk. Phil, Doctor. [Laughs]
What was the biggest challenge to bringing Camille’s story to life?
ADAMS: There are scenes with Camille and Adora [in which] I’d often be left very nauseated. Like, I had a physical reaction to those scenes. [Pauses] It was a really strange feeling as an actress. You want to control your response, but Camille, in those moments, is so reactive because she doesn’t know how to be in control of the environment with her mother. So, to sit there and just be a receptacle…oof. It would leave me feeling really, really sad.
FLYNN: As an actor, do you have methods to pull out of that? I’m sure you do.
ADAMS: Usually. [Laughs] I always find that if I haven’t cried in a scene, and I leave and cry on my own, then I’ve done something right. Most of the time in life, people don’t do their crying in front of other people, you know what I mean? Sometimes I actually have to leave a scene and just cry for a little bit. [Laughs] Just to get it out. But yeah, Patricia’s very powerful in those scenes, and Camille keeps going to the well, hoping to pull up something other than poisoned water. It’s heartbreaking.
FLYNN: She can’t help herself.
ADAMS: And as a mom, I cry alone all the time. Don’t judge. [Laughs] You gotta get it out sometimes, but not in front of them. One time I was watching Kelly Clarkson’s “Piece by Piece” and I fully started ugly crying, and my daughter walks in the room, and she’s like, [aggressively] “What are you doing?”
FLYNN: [Laughs] “What is wrong with you?”
ADAMS: Anyway! [To Flynn] You?
FLYNN: I feel like I’m a method actor-writer. I have this basement office, and I realized that if I was writing a particularly draining [scene], I’d bring this black cloud up with me. So my friend had this plaque [made] that says “Leave the Crazy Downstairs,” which is a really useful plaque!
ADAMS: [Laughs] I like that.
FLYNN: So now, about 15 minutes before the end of my workday, I’ll do something. I’ll watch Donald O’Connor dance or put on Bruno Mars and “Uptown Funk,” which makes me happy. [Starts dancing] I’ve got some good moves to “Uptown Funk.”
ADAMS: Wow. [Mimics Flynn’s moves] We need to go dancing sometime.
Before you do, what makes this specific, dark story resonate?
FLYNN: I think right now, it’s important to talk about women and violence, women in anger — what it looks like, what it feels like. It’s important, and it hasn’t been talked about for a really long time.
ADAMS: Yeah, and from a female writer. Women’s stories told by women are so important. We have a female showrunner, three female leads. And Jean-Marc, [laughs] he’s not a woman…
FLYNN: [Nods solemnly] True.
ADAMS: He’s not, but he has a sensitivity that allows him to explore female characters in a way that is atypical for some male directors. He’s able to allow female characters to be truthful and honest and flawed, and yet vulnerable and beautiful.
FLYNN: When I sold this book in 2006, no one wanted it. They said men don’t like to read about women, and women don’t like to read about women like this woman. We’ve come a long way, but it’s important to have this vocabulary. It’s dangerous to pretend women don’t have anger.
Sharp Objects debuts July 8 on HBO.
Sharp Objects (TV series)