When uber-producer Marti Noxon read Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, “Sharp Objects,” she says she most admired the “incredible” and “unique” tale. But then she couldn’t shake it. The story — particularly its central figure, Camille, a troubled journalist who returned to her small hometown to investigate a series of brutal murders — stayed on Noxon’s mind, convincing her it was a project she should take on.
A Key Collaboration
Although the basic premise of the HBO limited series remained the same as the 2006 book, having eight episodes allowed for Noxon — and Flynn, who was part of the writing staff — to flesh out the story.
“One of the things we talked a lot about was sometimes you’re trying to re-create the feeling you get from the book and not the book itself,” Noxon says, adding that Flynn was always willing to hear her ideas for changes. “This was her first novel and I think she welcomed the opportunity to revisit and, in some cases, amend or expand ideas she had.”
Noxon points to the final moment of “Sharp Objects” as an essential tweak. In the HBO limited series, Camille (played by Amy Adams) realized that her sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), was the one who killed the young girls at the center of the mystery. But rather than go beyond that moment, like it does in the book, the show ended with Amma’s simple, “Don’t tell Mama.”
“I kept saying to Gillian, the book ended for me at that moment,” Noxon says. “You can barely keep in the information you get after that reveal. It floors you.”
The Last Supper
Prior to Camille learning the truth about her sister, though, she discovers something equally dark about her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson): that she poisoned her daughters, which resulted in both Camille and Eliza falling ill and proved fatal for their other sister Marian (Lulu Wilson). With Camille aware of this truth, she still reluctantly joined her family for a tense meal.
Crafting the pivotal “macabre” dinner confrontation was a big moment for Noxon and her team, who walked a careful line to make sure it never crossed over to camp.
“We always called it ‘the Last Supper,’” Noxon says. “It reminds me of a twisted Norman Rockwell painting. They’re having this civilized meal while they’re talking [around] the fact that [the] mom has murdered one of their sisters and she might try it again.”
In the adaptation, they made a number of small, but significant changes to the sequence. Camille’s stepfather, Alan (Henry Czerny), was the one to demand she sit down with the family, not Adora, and that allowed for more ambiguity about how much he knew of his wife’s actions. Additionally, Camille asked her mother to let Amma come stay with her. Noxon says that was done to make sure the audience was clear that Camille knew Adora was a danger and was taking a step to fix it.
But some things were too important to alter. Amma’s impaired speech in the finale was a priority for a Flynn, who, along with Nixon, co-wrote the episode (“Milk”) in which the scene takes place.
“Gillian always felt strongly about making sure we included the Persephone [comparison] and the fact that Amma had mythologized her own experience,” Noxon says.