The first episode of Charlotte Stoudt’s new Netflix series, “Pieces of Her,” based on the novel of the same name by Karin Slaughter, contains an all-too familiar sequence. Laura Oliver (Toni Collette) and her daughter Andrea (Bella Heathcote) are out having a celebratory lunch at a local diner. As they’re enjoying their meal, a man with a gun opens fire, killing three people and setting his sights on Andrea.
It’s a moment that leaves an indelible image, not just throughout the series, but in the minds of American audiences compelled to consider the threat of an active shooter a part of their daily lives. Laura’s actions in the diner set off a chain of events that her daughter could never have foreseen.
Stoudt describes the diner scene as a “massive gift” to IndieWire via Zoom because “it’s the most cinematic thing ever.” It set a high bar for going forward with an adaptation as Stoudt had to, from there, work on reconfiguring elements of the novel that wouldn’t work for a television series, such as interior monologues. But the diner left Stoudt wondering if audiences, particularly in the United States, might have too hard a time watching it.
Because it launches Andrea on a journey to discover her identity, all those working with the scene, including actor Toni Collette, knew they had to make it perfect. “As Minkie [Spiro, the series director] always sa[id], if we didn’t nail that scene the show wasn’t gonna work,” said Stoudt. For the Oscar-nominated Collette, it was a “weird surprise” to see how intense the show was, especially as the moment at the diner culminates with her taking a knife through the hand and slitting a man’s throat. “I remember reading it thinking ‘Oh, all the youths will be doing all the heavy lifting here. I’m going to cruise through this one. And I was really wrong,” Collette said with a laugh.
Collette said the process of filming the tense moment was long. “It was a very involved scene. Everyone was bit nervous about it because it’s pretty intense and has to be done in a realistic way,” she said. Filming the series in Australia, Collette’s native country, aided in providing a level of comfort and familiarity during shooting. “They’re very logical, very capable. Just get it done,” she said.
Filming the moment in Australia also brought up a painful truth for both Collette and Stoudt: how frequently these shootings take place in the United States. “Australia has its problems, but they’ve solved their gun problem,” said Stoudt. “We all felt that rather poignantly on the set because this is something they don’t go through.”
Collette seconds this, “This is, sadly, reality that happens over and over again in America. I don’t know why the gun laws don’t get changed.”
But for all the fear and anxiety that comes from the series — that was also felt on-set — Stoudt wanted to make sure the mother-daughter relationship that develops throughout the season was evident in that scene. “There [is] a moment where Laura put[s] her hand over Andy’s face when they’re lying on the ground, and she [is] shielding her,” said Stoudt. “It’s not a scene about violence. It’s a scene about love…protect[ing] her daughter trumps any number of bullets that are being shot.”
“Pieces of Her” is available now on Netflix.