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Gillian Flynn on ‘Sharp Objects,”Widows,’ and Writing Damaged Women

Gillian Flynn on ‘Sharp Objects,”Widows,’ and Writing Damaged Women

The Golden Globe Nominations were announced last week and the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards this morning. One of the shows that was showered with attention was the HBO show Sharp Objects, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. Sharp Objects follows Camille as she returns to her hometown for a story. Girls are disappearing, and she knows everyone in town. Who better to find the killer, right? But Camille ran far away from home for a reason and coming back shatters all of her defenses. Camille is one of Gillian Flynn’s strong, damaged, and complicated heroines.

And she’s only one of them introduced in 2018. Flynn co-wrote and produced the film Widows with director Steve McQueen, a story that features a group of complex, damaged, and sometimes dangerous women who must band together to pay off a debt left behind by their bank robbing husbands. Together with Camille’s story on the small screen, the women of Widows on the big screen — Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Errivo, and Elizabeth Debicki — Flynn’s women are the talk of the entertainment business.

Flynn’s Beautifully Damaged Women

So, where do they come from and why are they so exquisitely dysfunctional? BGN spoke with Gillian Flynn about her film Widows (in theaters everywhere now) and Sharp Objects, which has been nominated for three Golden Globes and a SAG Award.

We asked Flynn why her characters are so damaged but also the type of women with an “I’m going to get through this somehow” attitude. She surprised us by responding that is the type of women she is. “If you had to describe me, it would be damaged ‘but I’m going to get through it’…I admire those kinds of people. I admire people who are flawed and who get in their own way and who have really struggled but [also] put up a struggle. [People] who don’t see themselves as heroes of their own stories and who don’t always rise to the challenge but try.”

Camille, the Most Complex of All

Flynn went on to say that she has, “a lot of admiration and a lot of sympathy for those people.” Those are the characters that attract her attention. These types of people, “have a darkness in themselves and recognize that, and sometimes answer it but try not to.”  This complexity is exactly what Flynn had in mind when she created Camille for Sharp Objects. Amy Adams plays this character who is deeply damaged but has found a way to make it through her days. She is a reporter who is very good at her work. However, she does have dangerous darkness inside her that is brought out when she returns home to track a story.

Flynn says that Camille is, “one of the most sympathetic and ultimately admirable characters because, to me, sometimes just keeping your head above water is a really heroic thing…just getting through the day.” She told us that she empathizes with those people, yet they truly interest her. These complex personalities are “thrilling” to write.

The women of Widows are no less “thrilling” to Flynn. Although the original story is not hers, Flynn did adapt the characters for the big screen, injecting her own brand of character development that brings out all of those flaws she and her fans love to watch in Camille on Sharp Objects.

The Widows Women Turn Damage into Strength

She gives an example using Veronica, the character played by Viola Davis in the film. In [Widows], “I knew that she was starting the film already in mourning. That she was the type of woman who was never going to accept help of sympathy…She kind of wore this armor and was going to push back against almost anything or anyone. When Viola came aboard, [Veronica’s] voice came out even stronger in dialogue as I was writing.” She went on to say that she grew attached to each of the women of Widows as she created them and got a sense of where they were coming from in their lives.

This understanding also helped create a sense of how women’s relationships would affect the character’s development over the course of the film. Veronica becomes endeared to much younger Alice, who after years of abuse by first her mother and then her husband, takes charge of her life and body. Alice uses both to contribute to the heist in the best way she knows how and ends up getting them out of a few sticky situations while she is at it. Veronica’s steely resolve and no-nonsense work ethic push the younger woman to use wits she never knew she had in order to get her part done.

Empowerment through Bad Deeds

A great scene comes after Veronica gives Alice money to buy weapons and a getaway vehicle. Alice complains because she doesn’t even have a driver’s license and has never had to buy anything that wasn’t food or fashion. However, Veronica makes it clear that the Alice is on her own in getting these tasks done. Later, at an auto auction, she finds that her beauty has men willing to help her determine the best cars for the money. Then, with a little more confidence, she finds herself at a gun show where she has no clue what to buy. She sees a woman, profiles her quickly, and successfully wins the woman’s sympathy. The way she does it shows that Alice has a knack for “reading” people when she puts her mind to it.

The heist is empowering for Veronica as well. She finds herself breaking out of that emotionally walled space she built for herself after losing her family. The independent, self-sufficient woman finds that she can’t do everything alone — she needs the help of other women to get the biggest job of her life done. Furthermore, those women are people she would have deemed inferior before. But, the heist brings her to terms with the realities of class and how it has no bearing on how good a person is or how much of a friend she can be.

These complexities abound in all of Flynn’s work as she explores the different ways that women are empowered and that they empower each other. this remains true even if the deeds they perform are not so honorable. The circumstances differ, and the plot twists change everything, but those beautifully damaged women are always the heroines in the end.

Created to Fill a Need

Flynn told us that she began writing these women because that’s what she wanted to read, but the closest thing was “chick lit” that was so very popular. Her fans, I am sure, are happy that she started writing “something different.”

Widows is in theaters everywhere. Sharp Objects is available to stream on the HBO app and On Demand.

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