Patricia Clarkson, better known as Adora from the popular TV show Sharp Objects, speaks to Guardian 20 about her character in the American psychological thriller. The 58-year-old actress also sheds light on the importance of celebrating older actors in the industry.
Q. What led to your interest in the show Sharp Objects, and what led you to playing Adora, which must have been a challenging role to play? How did you prepare for it?
A. I’ve played Blanche DuBois’ character from the play A Streetcar Named Desire at the Kennedy Center, and this part brought me closest to that tone, that timbre, that voice, that excruciating emotional life than anything else ever has—there was no relief in sight playing this character [of Adora], especially for the last three episodes. And I stayed here for five months doing it. I had downtime you know. I’m not in every scene. But I couldn’t leave; I couldn’t go back to New York as Adora. I had these long talons, these crazy nails as Adora. I don’t know if you noticed, I had these— they’re nude. When I wasn’t shooting, I just had to sit down, and that was helpful, because it helped me think about what was coming, and where I was going.
Q. Q: Do you think you didn’t want to take her home with you?
A. I didn’t. I didn’t want Adora in my house. It’s bad enough that my dog had to deal with it and my dearest friends who came to visit me.
Q. She is an extraordinary character, though.
A. And Jean-Marc Vallee got her. He’s a stunning director and he has the pulse of every character in him. But Adora, he knew. This is a really dark show—dark is a mild word—but it’s a dark journey. These tragically damaged women that actually could have had this extraordinary life together, had they not needed… well, drugs or therapy.
Q. Did you know the book before you were approached for the role?
A. No. I’d only read Gone Girl[also by Gillian Flynn] and when I had my interview and when they offered me the part, I said, “Well, I want to talk to Gillian”. When I talked to Gillian, I said that I haven’t read the book, and she was like, “Good good good. Don’t, don’t…don’t, don’t, don’t.” She liked the idea that I had no preconceived notion of Adora, which everyone does if they have read the book. Then by the end of episode eight, there were times when I would look through the book or Amy [Adams] would say, “Have you seen this in the book?” But I was trying not to put the book up against this, because it’s troublesome at times, for writers to be competing against a finished work. So, there were a few moments we went back to the book, but I’ve thought about going back and reading the book now. I get people who stop me on the street and say, wait, “I saw you’re playing Adora in Sharp Objects?!” And I’m like, “Yes. Um, um, okay.” So, what was good is that I didn’t go into it defensive. I had absolutely no armour. I was defenceless. I just thought that she was beautiful and lovely, and swan-like—a beautiful mother who loved her children, maybe a little neurotic here and there, but at the end of the day, she’s the town lady and, you know, she’s got her own ways about her. I mean, I knew darker stuff was coming but I hadn’t seen it all, because I only saw three or four of the scripts before we started. So I didn’t have a visual. I had it aurally, but I took what I wanted from the conversation. As we often do, as humans. And it’s what keeps us alive.
Q. Was it a shock, when you read those final scripts?
A. Oh, yes. Once the real, deep darkness became apparent, I had to realise that I wasn’t playing the character I thought I was playing. I had to dive deep; I just had to go to places that are painful, very painful. And, I just thought, “Oh God.” But it’s a whole cast of really, really hurt, damaged people. So, I wasn’t alone in it—we were all on the journey to hell. And you’re also working with some of the best actors in this business, who have this remarkable director.
You have these great producers. We had amazing producers on this. And HBO is wonderful, in that they don’t step in and finesse and jiggle. I don’t like people jiggling me. I don’t like people fiddling. They trust—they hire you because they trust you. But there were days when Amy and I would look at each other, and we’d just go, oh my god [will it be in double quotes]. There were very few words needed. We just had to dive in. We just had to take our clothes off, in essence, and go out.
Q. You don’t get many characters like her, do you?
A. No. I mean, look, there’s a lot of bad mothers, and I’ve played a few already, but this is something different, and this [Adora] brought me back to Blanche Dubois. There’s a [Tennesse] Williams [writer of A Streetcar Named Desire] quality to everything, just everything about her, and that’s very hard to match; because once you’ve done Blanche, your whole life changes and forever. It’s hard to describe. But if you talk to anybody who’s played Blanche you’d know that once you’ve played Blanche, your life is never the same. It just shifts you.
It’s a visceral shift that happens in you as an actor, as a person, as a woman because you go to this place, for eight shows a week. And there are things you’ll never get back. I never really thought about doing Blanche and, at first I was like, “Nah, I don’t want to do this.” As a 42-year-old woman, I sat down and I hadn’t read it in years and I really read it and really looked at it. I read it out loud to myself and I realised this is ridiculous not to at least attempt. I don’t think you can ever fully get all of Blanche, it’s just too monumental. But Tennessee wrote the part in a way that I think you do kind of have a nervous breakdown in the middle of playing the part, which is what you do. You just do. And playing Adora, I was like, “I’m losing my mind”. You know, it brought me back to those fears. What am I doing? You start to question everything. I mean, it’s good. I’m 58, and it’s good that things are still shocking me. I’ve done so much and, there are still many things I want to do, but it takes a lot to pull me into the mud.
Q. Do you think being from the southern part of America really helped you with this, to really understand who these people, especially who these women are?
A. Yes, that town is just at the cusp of Midwestern and Southern. And I think Adora has a swing in her hips that I think is dictated by the place. It’s a swing that doesn’t exist everywhere.
Q. It almost seems as if the roles are getting juicier and juicier for you. Did you ever think you’d be getting a role like Adora at this point in your career?
A. I’m a late bloomer. I think I finally kind of came into everything later in life. And I think that’s also because I still look like myself, which helps. I think it’s a woman’s choice, it’s her prerogative to do whatever she wants to make her feel better. But I think it’s difficult, and it’s dangerous because it really can end up ruining your career if things don’t go well. And I just never wanted to take that gamble. But I also think people now realise that we’re interesting, and formidable and to be reckoned with, and that people want to see us. They do care about women over 40, 50—we have a very valid place in this world. We’re cool. Older women are cool now. People now want to celebrate us, and I’m like, okay. I like being attractive and sexual and sensual. We are vain as actors—oh my god, our egos are appalling. And so, that has to be fed. We like to feel beautiful and hot, and sexy.
Sharp Objects airs every Saturday at 11 p.m. on Star World Premiere HD