HBO’s Sharp Objects is a series made up of enigmas. There’s obviously a, well, sharpness hiding underneath the party-ready breakfast dresses of Preaker-Crellin matriarch Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson). We’re only able to understand anti-heroine Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) through her violent flashbacks, which bend reality to her traumatised perception.
But, at least we get a warped history lesson in Sharp Obejects’ leading lady. When it comes to Camille's inscrutable younger half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), viewers are gifted no such glimpse into the teen’s psyche. Instead we’re forced to piece together the puzzle of Amma through Camille’s jarring encounters with her sibling. Amma — who is peppered throughout series premiere “Vanish” in all her rebellious, emotional glory — is such a mystery that her true identity isn’t even revealed until the final moments of the miniseries’ debut, when she has returned to her ladylike “civies.” Daisy Duke denim shorts be damned.
In Sunday night’s episode, “Dirt,” Amma, sweet and volatile Amma, obedient and hard-drinking Amma, continues to be a funhouse mirror of a teenage girl. We don’t even know how old Camille's half-sister, with her ever-present roller skates and vodka hidden in Sprite bottles, is.
We called up the Sydney-born actress bringing Amma to life, 19-year-old Eliza Scanlen, to answer that question, along with the many others we have about the youngest Crellin girl. Keep reading to find out what Scanlen, an alum of the iconic Aussie soap Home And Away, revealed about her mystifying character, working with Amy Adams, and what’s next on Sharp Objects. Oh, and just how old Amma actually is (it’s different from the book).
Refinery29: We only get a few glimpses of Amma at the beginning of the season. So, what do viewers need to know about Amma to understand her?
Eliza Scanlen: “People attempt to stereotype her: duel personality, angel-devil type character. But I think it’s a lot deeper than that. You see the reasons as to why she acts a certain way as the story progresses.
“You’re confronted with your own assumptions and your own stereotypes and what you believe people to be on the surface. In a way, this version of public and private life itself is a recurring theme in the show, and maybe audiences should be aware of that. Aware of the duality of every character we see. It’s more intensified because [Amma’s] so young, and what she does is so extreme and unacceptable for the town she’s in.”
She’s kind of cipher for your own prejudices or ideas of what a teen girl is.
“Exactly. I think Amma probably gets some satisfaction out of those assumptions that people make in the town as well.”
I had to dig deeper and think about ‘Why is she doing the things she’s doing?’
Amma is obviously one of the scariest elements of Sharp Objects because she is both so sad and so volatile at the same time. How do you tap into that? Is it scary for you?
“Yeah, it was totally scary. I remember reading through one of the scripts for the first time and thinking, ‘How in the hell am I going to do this?’ That’s also what attracted me so much to the role — what she does is so far from who I am as a person."
Going off the idea of a safe space on set, next week’s episode, “Fix,” is the first time we realize how fierce Amma can be. Not to spoil anything, but what was it like filming such an aggressive moment?
“Along with the roller skating, it was quite physical … it was so fun, and I got a real kick out of doing it... It was a really empowering scene to shoot.”
I’m sure viewers are going to think it’s one of your best scenes with Amy Adams. What was it like working with powerhouses like her and Patricia Clarkson?
“I really value the relationships I’ve made with Patricia and Amy and the rest of the cast. Of course it was intimidating at first. But they were so welcoming, and it was always their priority to make me feel comfortable. We built this really strong sense of trust with one another.
“There’s [usually] such a pecking order with the acting industry, [but] when you’re working on such intense material, I think [it] really eradicates this sense of high status and low status.”
And after all of that work together, did you come to understand some things about Amma that you didn’t expect?
“For most people, she’s not a very likeable character at surface level. I had to dig deeper and think about ‘Why is she doing the things she’s doing?’ ‘What’s the motive behind this persona she puts on?’ I think the crux of it is something we’ve all experienced in our lives, and it’s being on that brink between childhood and adulthood and not wanting to let go of that sense of security, but also deeply being intrigued by this sense of freedom and independence that comes with adulthood.
“That’s something that takes a while for most people to move through. I think I’m still going through it now … I still want the comforts of being a kid and not having to pay rent or the phone bills or anything like that, but at the same time I want all of this independence. I think a lot of frustration can come out of that — and insecurity. That’s where Amma is coming from when she’s putting on these personas, and she’s trying to be the best version of herself for every situation."
How old is Amma? In the book she’s about 13.
“She’s 15 in the show.”
Your 'Incorrigible' line in the premiere was the breakout line last week, according to Google. When you filmed it, did you expect that line to be so powerful?
“Um, no. It’s a pretty precocious word for a 15-year-old, but no, not at all. I didn’t expect anything really, especially in the first episode. I kinda just slink around and show up at the end.”
Before Sharp Objects, you were best known for Home And Away, which obviously launched so many great careers (like those of Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, and two out of three Hemsworth Brothers). Are you hoping to follow in their footsteps?
“Yeah totally. Home And Away holds a very special place in my heart because it taught me a lot of great things about the business and just being on set in general. It really instilled in me a strong work ethic that’s required to do these projects. Especially with all I’ve learned working on Sharp Objects, [I hope] that I can continue this career and make it something I’m proud of and continue to share my voice and tell stories, which, in the end, is what we all love to do as actors.”
So what’s next?
“I don’t have anything that I can say at the moment. There’s definitely a few things I’m in the mix for, and hopefully I’ll hear some good news soon.”
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sharp Object is on Sky Atlantic in the UK