Near the end of a long day of interviews, Amy Adams asked me how I handle my anger.
This was within the context of “Sharp Objects,” the HBO limited series premiering this Sunday, which follows the story of Camille (Adams), a reporter sent from St. Louis to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to investigate the disappearance of a local girl. The mystery of the missing girl is almost an afterthought, though, to Camille’s incredibly complex psychology, which Adams felt had a universal connection to all women, these days.
“A lot of the female rage that Camille has, which is very common for women, is we turn inward and we sort of direct that rage inwardly. And that comes through self-destructive behaviors, be it cutting or drinking or hypersexualization,” she said. “A lot of those behaviors start to be inwardly directed, and I think that’s something that I understood about Camille… Camille is somebody who directs it inward, and I think that’s pretty common. We bottle it up, and it comes out somewhere, so you’re either somebody who explodes or implodes… Are you an exploder or an imploder?”
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The fact that Adams was interested in how others felt on the issue was almost as interesting as her own answer to the question: “I’m a little of both… But I sometimes feel,” she said, “if I implode anymore, I will cease to exist. I have got to explode now. Now is the time. I can’t take any more of this on. I can’t go any further in. There’s nothing left.”
It reflects the energy which surrounds “Sharp Objects,” a show which could have been just another murder mystery, except for the deep investment it has in the psychology of its characters, specifically its women.
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The main characters of “Sharp Objects,” from Camille to her mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) to her half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), keep the story centered on the depths of those feelings, which do not exist in a vacuum from the rest of the world. “It is a female-driven story, and I think that’s what’s great,” Clarkson said. “It’s about three generations of women, and it’s a story about very, very complex women. We don’t always have to tell stories of women who are heroes and do-gooders. We love that. We don’t always have to be warriors because I think our imperfections are also what make great stories, maybe the best stories, and we just need people to tell them.”
This was something which spoke directly to showrunner Marti Noxon, who led the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2006 novel. “I felt like one of the powerful things about the book, and then hopefully that we brought to the show, is looking at it a little bit closer. What is it that’s forbidden?” Noxon said. “We’ve been historically so denied those feelings.”
Yes, this message has an even greater resonance in the post-#MeToo era, especially when you consider that following the exposure of so much awfulness that women had been experiencing for decades, the question has become “What happens next?”
After all, there is still plenty of good reason to still be angry, as Clarkson noted. “We also have to remember that there were women in this business whose lives and careers were destroyed,” Clarkson said. “I think we can never forget the criminal behavior that also occurred. We must remember that, yes, we want things to be better for women in this industry, but we have to remember there were people whose lives were destroyed. So it’s a bittersweet rise because so many women had to suffer in order for us to get to this place. We just can’t forget that. As we celebrate, we must remember.”
Noxon said that for her entire life, she’d been living with a certain level of acceptance as to what women deal with on a regular basis, but that she’s noticing a change in herself. “The scales have fallen from my eyes. And then what?” Noxon said. “I think that one of the things that I’ve been aware of is that I lived the same way for a long time. There were things that I accepted as normal and now look at and go like, ‘Oh, that was wrong, or unfair,’ or, ‘I’m actually a human, I shouldn’t have put up with all that.’ Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what to do with the anger. No one ever taught me, you know, how to let it out.”
Adams noted that this inspiration came from Flynn, in words written and spoken. “Gillian was talking about it like maybe it is time to explore women’s rage, and how do women express anger, and how does that come across?” Adams said. “It’s not really encouraged.”
This concept of female rage was something Clarkson felt was “important and true and real and present. We so often have had to compromise in our lives, especially women at a certain age. We’ve often had to swallow. We’ve often had to compromise and make amends and sometimes we just rage against anything. And that it’s powerful. It’s a powerful side of us. I think it’s good for our rage to be on display.”
Adams agreed, going on to say that “I think that one of the things that’s so important is women helping women and women supporting women. So if I hear a woman say ‘This is bullshit,’ and I agree with her, I’m going to stand next to her. I’m going to say one person can be difficult, but five people with the same opinion are a voice, and you’re going to hear it, because it needs to be heard.”
As she added, “I think that’s what’s really important, for women to hear each other’s truths and to hear each other’s stories, to start listening, really understanding each other’s experiences. Not discounting them.”
It was a sentiment Clarkson echoed: “I think it’s important to remember that it’s glorious that women are rising and that it’s actually really, finally starting from the top down and that we won’t tolerate inequality or abuse or all of those things that we did. We did accept a lot of things in this industry that we no longer will ever again. And that’s very important and I think things are shifting. It’s a major shift that has taken place in our industry with the awakening. The curtain has been torn back.”
Adams, who was a producer on “Sharp Objects,” noted that she hopes to use her behind-the-scenes efforts to bring forward more stories that expose all the complexities of the female soul. “One of the things I’m looking for is to create atypical heroines, because I think it’s important,” she said. “I think women need to see themselves — we need to tell the stories of people who aren’t… photogenic, call it that. Exclusively photogenic.”
Which is to say, stories which let women reveal their ugly sides. Though there’s sometimes beauty to be found in our rage.