The Biggest Mystery From HBO’s Sharp Objects Is What Really Happened Behind The Scenes

HBO’s Sharp Objects has been captivating audiences everywhere. This mini-series is completely enthralling from beginning to end. If you love thrillers, mysteries, southern gothic stories, and really good endings, you’re definitely going to want to give this show a watch.

A lot of hard work went into creating this show, starting with Gillian Flynn’s original novel. Keep reading to find out how the novel is different from the series, how Eliza Scanlen was cast as Amma, and how long it took for the makeup department to apply all of Amy Adam’s scars.

A Famous Fan

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Before Gillian Flynn was a household name, before she even wrote Gone Girl and way before the success of the movie, author Stephen King said of Flynn’s first book Sharp Objects in 2006, “I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so, but was helpless to stop turning them.”

Stephen King knows a good book when he reads one. He’s the master of suspense, so a compliment like this from him is super high praise.

A Long Time Coming

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Gillian Flynn’s book Sharp Objects, on which this series is based, was written before Gone Girl and took 12 long years to be made into a mini-series.

Flynn has said that Sharp Objects is the book that most of her readers ask about at book signings and on social media. I’m so glad that this novel was made into a mini-series rather than a movie. I don’t think it would have been possible to cram the story into two hours.

A Rising Star

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Australian actress Eliza Scanlen makes her American debut as Amma, Camille’s half-sister. Eliza initially sent in an audition tape from her home town of Sydney. When casting directors saw the tape, they immediately flew Eliza to the U.S. to do a screen test with Amy Adams for director Jean-Marc Vallée.

Eliza said that Amy was really kind to her on set, explaining, “she really took me under her wing.” Eliza did a fantastic job on the show, and I can’t wait to see the roles she takes on next.

Darker And Deeper

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Amy Adams lowered the pitch and timbre of her voice while playing her character Camille because she didn’t want to sound like an earlier character, Giselle, just with a drinking problem.

It’s these kinds of decisions that make Amy Adams a world class actor. Of course, Camille would have a deeper voice than a Disney princess. That just makes sense. Even though Amy lowered her voice for the role, she still sounded like herself.

Rock To The Top

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When Camille leaves work, she plugs in her smartphone and starts listening to a Led Zeppelin song. Led Zeppelin doesn’t usually grant films or TV shows permission to use their songs, and when they do, those songs are usually very expensive.

Jean-Marc Vallée decided to pay the hefty price tag because he knew how important music would be for this production. Also, because not many other TV shows decide to pay more for Led Zeppelin’s music, Sharp Objects would stand out and have a sound all its own.

Mean, Green, TV Machine

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Sharp Objects employs a very clear and deliberate visual tone. Jean-Marc Vallée paid close attention to color while creating this masterpiece. In nearly every shot, there is at least one green object.

Not only does this technique link all eight episodes into a cohesive whole, but the color green has significance in the world of the series. Green is associated with both envy and poison. Around a century ago, green dye was so popular that it was used for everything from clothing to wallpaper. Unfortunately, the best green dye was made with arsenic, and it took a while to make the connection between that and the people slowly falling ill or going mad.

What Growing Up Looks Like

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Sophia Lillis, the actress who plays the young Amy Adams, also plays the young Beverly Marsh in the film adaptations of Stephen King’s IT by Andy Muschietti.

Fans of IT thought that Sophia looked so much like Amy Adams that they wanted Amy to play the adult Beverly Marsh in the IT sequel. Ultimately, Jessica Chastain was chosen for the role, but we do get to Sophia as a young Amy in Sharp Objects.

Quick Turnaround

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This mini-series is eight hours long, but it was only shot in 90 days. What’s even more impressive is that Amy Adams only had 65 days to shoot for the series because of a scheduling conflict. All of her scenes had to be shot first, and scenes with only Eliza and Patricia were shot later.

It’s amazing how quickly this show was able to come together, considering that the production value of the show is so high.

Friends Who Work Together, Stay Together

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Amy Adams and Chris Messina previously starred together in the 2009 film Julie & Julia, in which they played husband and wife. Adams suggested Messina for this role of Detective Richard Willis in Sharp Objects because she knew he’d be great for the role. Adams and Messina have remained friends since their Julie & Julia days.

Obviously, these two have great chemistry. Amy needed somebody she trusted to play the role of Detective Willis, and Messina was definitely the man for the job.

What’s In A Name?

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Patricia Clarkson’s character’s name, “Adora,” means “adore” in Spanish, and her daughter’s name, “Amma,” is phonetically the word for “love” in Spanish. Amma is also an anagram of “mama,” a fact that gains greater significance once you know what happens at the end of the series.

Gillian Flynn plays with words and names a lot in this story. Camille’s name means “pure” or “unblemished,” which is ironic in one sense (Camille’s skin is definitely not unblemished), but true in another (you’re just going to have to watch the series to find out how it’s true).

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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Although Patricia Clarkson plays Amy Adams’s mother in Sharp Objects, the age gap between the two actresses is less than 15 years. Amy Adams was born in 1974, and Patricia Clarkson was born in 1959. While Adora was probably a young mother (at least the first time around), I don’t think she was that young of a mother.

That’s the way Hollywood works, I guess. I think I can suspend my disbelief because I can’t imagine anyone else playing Adora or Camille.

Hidden Messages

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If you pay close attention while you’re watching the series, you’ll notice that words seem to appear, disappear, and change from shot to shot. These word transformations aren’t super obvious, so you have to really pay attention to notice them.

In the episode “Closer,” the residents celebrate Calhoun Day. If you watch the banner that says “Calhoun Day” carefully, you’ll notice that just before the banner drops, the text changes to say “Shallow Day.”

Playing With Words

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In the episode called “Falling,” you can see a sign over a store that has black letters on a white background. Initially most of the word on the sign is cut off, but you can see that it begins with the letters “Engli-”

While Camille is on the phone with her boss, the sign changes to the word “queasy.” The word “queasy” reflects what Camille is feeling in that moment.

There Was Fighting On The Set

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Apparently, there was a fair amount of turmoil on the set of the series. Showrunner Marti Noxon described “toe-to-toe screaming matches” between producers and director Jean-Marc Vallée over Vallée’s refusal to adhere closely to the series’ scripts.

Noxon said that Vallée is “much more interested in imagery and telling stories through pictures, and he’s brilliant at that…but I love language…I studied theatre at Wesleyan before I became a writer, and the beauty of language, particularly in the Southern Gothic tradition, is so important to me.”

The Use Of Music

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While many shows choose one song to play over their title sequence, Sharp Objects does something quite different. Each episode features a title sequence with a different interpretation of the song “Dance and Angela” by Franz Waxman from the score of the 1951 film A Place in the Sun.

All of the music featured in the series is diegetic, which means that it comes from a source within the show, and the characters in the show can hear it.

The Real Wind Gap

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The setting of the series, Wind Gap, Missouri, isn’t actually a real place. The real town that stands in for the fictional Wind Gap is Barnesville, Georgia. The real-life Victorian mansion used for exterior shots is located in Ukiah, California.

The interior scenes were filmed in Los Angeles on soundstage sets designed by production designer John Paino. I know, I thought they looked real too. John Paino is one talented designer.

Calhoun Day Isn’t A Thing In The Book

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In the mini-series, Calhoun Day is the day the Preaker-Crellins family clearly looks forward to all year. The local high school kids put on a play in honor of the holiday, and Amma stars as a woman who is repeatedly sexually assaulted.

The whole thing is pretty disturbing, but then again, so is this whole series. Calhoun Day is not even mentioned in Gillian Flynn’s book. The holiday was created by the writers of the show.

The Episodes Are Named After Camille’s Scars

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We can look at each episode of Sharp Objects as a chapter in Camille’s saga. Each episode is given a one-word title, for example, the first episode is called “Vanish” and the second episode is called “Dirt.” The episodes are each named for one of Camille’s scars, which were created during her history of self-harm.

This explains the correlation between the title of the first episode, “Vanish,” and the scar that says “vanish” on Camille’s forearm.

Adora Really Affected Patricia Clarkson

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Adora is not an easy character to play. In a conversation with Finn Cohen, Patricia Clarkson how emotionally draining it was to inhabit Adora’s psyche. “I was in Los Angeles [on set] for five months,” she says, “and maybe this says it all: I had chunks of time off, but I could never come back to New York as Adora. For some reason, I couldn’t be home in my New York apartment as Adora.”

Clarkson continued, “Something took over me. I don’t want to sound like a ‘pretentious actor,’ but this character infiltrated me in a way that was very hard — by Episode 5, I could not extricate myself from the sheer brutality, and yet sadness and excruciating pain, that I felt sometimes physically.”

Why Are There So Many Fans?

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Jean-Marc Vallée discussed all of the fans in the series in an interview with Vulture. Vallée said, “The fans are everywhere because it’s the South. It’s hot.And we created this scene where we see a young Camille getting her finger closer and closer and closer to her fan. We said, Well, that’s probably the first time she cut. And then, this fan thing is becoming an obsession also in her head. They’re everywhere.”

Camille “remembers this moment when she was playing with her sister Marian in her mother’s room in front of that fan,” Vallée explained. “It became a visual element that was nice to use here and there, and the sound of it also was great. It’s a dangerous element. It’s a sharp object, these blades.”

There Isn’t Going To Be A Season 2

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Sharp Objects is based on a book, and the series took us to the end of the book, so it doesn’t look like there’s going to be another season. I think the series ended perfectly, so I don’t really need to see more.

Jean-Marc Vallée also directed Big Little Lies, which is another mini-series that’s based on a book. The first season of that show ended where the book ended, but we are getting a second season of that show (even though Jean-Marc Vallée isn’t directing it).

The Real Killer Wasn’t Even In The First Draft

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It took Gillian Flynn a long time to write Sharp Objects. The book went through many drafts and phases before it became the masterpiece that it is today.

In the original draft, the character Flynn would ultimately name as the killer didn’t even exist (I’m being as vague as possible to avoid spoiling the ending for you). Another character known to us only as “the cheerleader” was the killer in the first draft.

The Truth Behind The Scars

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Camille’s scars look scarily real in every episode of Sharp Objects. According to Amy Adams, the application of those scars took around four to five hours every day.

Adams told Entertainment Weekly, “And when you’re standing there, getting them put on, you have to be exposed. I think that was just the hardest part, just standing there, preserving some modesty but virtually naked just to get all the scars on. It sets you up for that vulnerability.”

The Design Of The Scars

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To make sure that the scars on Camille’s body looked realistic—as though Camille had carved them into her skin herself—makeup artist Adrien Morot had a model help simulate the effect.

She said, “with a water soluble Sharpie, I had that model take that list of words and write them on her body—because I didn’t want it to look like a makeup artist just conveniently wrote each word, and for them to be perfectly legible.”

How Amy Adams Looked So Tired All The Time

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For her role as Camille in Sharp Objects, Amy Adams had to transform from a bright and shiny Hollywood star into a constantly hungover victim of trauma. To achieve the look of the character, Adams consumed lots of salt and caffeine, she didn’t get enough sleep (partly because she was working so hard on the series), and she stopped exercising on purpose.

While Adams didn’t intentionally put on weight for the role, she did stop working out so she could look like a bloated alcoholic.

Elizabeth Perkins Added A Lot To Jackie

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Elizabeth Perkins told Elle magazine, “I always thought of Jackie as a ghost on Scooby Doo. She just weaves in and out in giant muumuus going, ‘Woooooo.’”

It was Perkins herself who made the decision to play Jackie as a constant drunk. Perkins said, “I made the decision that Jackie’s always medicated, always on an opiate or a benzo or a mixture. Alcohol and benzo is probably her game. And I love playing drunk and inebriated.”

Chris Messina Was Fully Nude In THAT Scene

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Chris Messina discussed showing the full monty on screen during the awkward sex scene between his character and Camille. Basically, he was thankful for the dim lighting. Messina said that going fully nude was the only way to do the scene.

He explained, “the way [director Jean-Marc Valée] shoots, you don’t know where he’s going to be. So, you know, you don’t want to ruin the shot by having that G-string on screen. [Laughs] But again, that sex scene is very telling.”

Eliza Scanlen Had To Learn How To Roller Skate

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Jean-Marc Vallée made the decision that Amma and her friends would roller blade throughout the series. That meant that Eliza Scanlen had to learn how to rollerblade.

Scanlen told IndieWire, “It was never common in Sydney, I mean, at this time. I used to ice skate at parties when I was eight, but that was sort of the extent of roller skating, ice skating, that kind of sport. So getting on roller skates was hard.”

Adams Was Jealous Of Scanlen’s Confidence

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While doing a screen test with Scanlen, Adams noticed how mature and confident the young actress was. Adams said, “She, in the room, wasn’t thrown by anything, and Jean-Marc works like… stepping on a set, it’s like you’re launched out of a cannon, and you just sort of fly through the day, and then you’re done, and you have to have a lot of confidence and a lot of maturity.

She continued, “Eliza just has that kind of maturity that completely doesn’t make sense for her age, which I’m always jealous of, because I’m a decade-plus older than her, and I’m still just developing that kind of self-assuredness.”

Scanlen Had To Look The Part

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While casting directors were sold on Scanlen’s performance during her audition, they were a bit worried that she didn’t look young enough to play the part. The production team decided to do a hair and makeup test to be sure that Scanlen could convincingly play Amma. Luckily, it all worked out in the end.

She also had to swap her native Australian accent for a very distinctive southern American one. Obviously, she did a fantastic job.