Recently I attended a special preview screening of the upcoming HBO series “Sharp Objects” presented by Filmspotting.
Based on the dark, thrilling novel by Gillian Flynn, the limited series stars Amy Adams as Camille Preaker, a Chicago journalist forced to return to her hometown in order to cover the murder of a young girl and the disappearance of another. The HBO production also features Patricia Clarkson as Camille’s mother and Chris Messina as the out-of-town detective assigned to the case. Hailing from the director of Big Little Lies (another gritty women-led HBO series), this show was absolutely phenomenal. The performances by each actor, led by the incomparable Amy Adams, were so nuanced and distinct, helping create a cast of characters that fit so seamlessly into Flynn’s dark and twisted world.
The writing was beyond the scope of most other shows on television currently, unsurprising considering Flynn’s knack for well-thought-out prose. The show also featured breathtaking cinematography that almost seemed to become a sort-of character on its own. I couldn’t help but hold my breath throughout the viewing as the tensions began to mount and the story took shape. If the rest of the series is anything like the first episode, this latest HBO outing is not one to miss. Fortunately for us, we were treated to a talkback with star Chris Messina after the screening where he talked strong women, preparation, and his friendship with Amy Adams. What follows are excerpts from that talkback.
MEDIATOR – This is [based on] a book by a very potent author, Ms. Flynn, you have Marty Knoxx—another powerhouse adapting it for this series [and then] you have Jean-Marc Vallee who’s a wonderful director. Do you feel a particular loyalty to over the other or do you listen to all three? What happens for you?
MESSINA – That’s a great question. Um, they all are super intelligent and they all offer so much to the piece. Ultimately, the director is the king or queen. They’re after like the daddy or the mommy that you’re trying to impress. They have the vision of the whole piece in this whole other way—‘cause it’s a gorgeous book, it’s super scary, it’s gothic thriller, it’s heartbreaking [and] there’s so much pain but then someone has to take that and make it cinematic. Gillian wrote on [the television adaptation] and Marty, they created this, but somebody’s ‘gotta take it and make it into moving pictures and that’s where Jean-Marc comes in and he’s incredible. He works in a very unique way. There’re no marks on the ground. There’s no rehearsal. There’s no lighting. It’s only a couple takes. It was very frustrating in the beginning to come to his philosophy but, once I did, I felt it was very freeing. There’s something he does that takes the “acting” away from the actors.
MEDIATOR – Do you look ahead? Did you read the book or do you try to go along on the journey with the detective as is.
MESSINA – I read the book several times. I love the preparation. I have like 16 acting coaches.
MEDIATOR – Getting this role, was this something [where] Amy Adams [said] I need me some Chris Messina or did you go in and audition?
MESSINA – All of the above. Amy and I did Julie and Julia together and we stayed friends. She called me and said read this book, we’re doing this show, Vallee doesn’t know who you are [and] would you be cool coming and reading. I was like of course. I love Amy and the idea of acting with her was exciting again and I was a real big fan of his. I think he was very much still on the fence after my reading, it wasn’t like a slam-dunk. Amy really pushed for me and somehow he went along with it, hopefully, he doesn’t regret that. (AUDIENCE LAUGHS) It’s too late now, he’s stuck.
MEDIATOR – I think you’re safe. We’ll take some audience questions now.
AUDIENCE MEMBER – When you were doing your prep work was there any particular part of the detective that was really hard for you to get into?
MESSINA – Good question. Well, the whole things hard because I’m a short guy, I’m not really that tough and you see what these detectives really do on the day to day. Just in general, just trying to convince myself that I could bust down a door and do all that stuff was tough.
MEDIATOR – Are you one of those actors who sits with it, who takes it home with you every day?
MESSINA – It’s not like I’m throwing my kids around or anything (AUDIENCE LAUGHTER) but yeah, it’s hard not to take any of it home. It kind of follows you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER – Do you feel like you have to wash it off at the end of the day? How do you relive the dark [subject matter of this show]?
MESSINA – Yeah I think it’s good to laugh, we laughed a lot [on set]. Amy’s really funny. She should do a broad slapstick comedy. We all kind of laughed our Asses off. I think you kind of had to [in order] to kind of Shake It Off.
MEDIATOR – You have worked with a number of powerful women, how is that different?
MESSINA – I’ve been lucky my whole life, from my mother to my sister to wife, to be surrounded by incredible women and that has carried on to my work—I feel extremely lucky that they’ve all taught me something different that I will take with me forever. I don’t think it’s any different. What’s different in all of these things is the [level of] collaboration, whether you’re a man or a woman. What I like is open [collaboration].
Sharp Objects debuts on HBO Sunday, July, 8th.