There are certain shows you put on while you're busy doing other things. There are laundry shows, nail-painting shows, getting ready to go out on a Friday night shows.
But HBO's eight-episode miniseries Sharp Objects, which premiered on July 8, is not one of those shows. Technically, Sharp Objects is set in the present day of Wind Gap, Missouri, a small town in the state's Southern-influenced Bootheel. Really, though, Sharp Objects is filtered through Camille's (Amy Adams) perspective, as each of Wind Gap's landmarks triggers a memory from her twisted youth growing up in town. Since Sharp Objects isn't based in hard reality, in Camille's mind, the town itself is a puzzle, littered with words and proof of her mental fixations. More crucially, as production designer John Paino revealed to Refinery29, the set is actually embedded with clues to uncovering the central mystery that Camille has arrived to solve: Who killed Ann Nash and Natalie Keene? Though Paino couldn't reveal where they are, he guaranteed they exist.
Essentially, to stay ahead of the curve in Sharp Objects, look away from your phone and keep your eyes fixed on the flashes of words and memories that Paino and his team painstakingly scattered throughout the show. They hold the key. We'll show you where to look.
Refinery29: Are there any small details on set we should be looking out for while watching Sharp Objects?
John Paino: "There’s a lot of voyeuristic glances that give you little details. There are words in the signs, like when Camille is leaving St. Louis [the signs says, 'Last Exit to Change Your Mind'). There are times you’re seeing Camille's point of view. You’ll think, ‘Was that what I thought it was?’ It’s so quick that it gives a level to the story because of her state of mind that draws you in and makes it interesting."
So we should really be be paying attention.
"Yes. Even the little things. Jean-Marc [Vallée, the director] did a great thing — he loves messing with stuff. He wrote 'dirt' on a car, which turns out to be something Camille had carved into her skin. That tells you about something. There’s a lot of that."
Camille spends so much time in her car, showing off the full expanse of Wind Gap. How did your team approach all the level of detail required to make Wind Gap, Wind Gap?
"A lot of it is just leaving details round for Jean-Marc or the actors to play with. Telling them this is something you can take advantage of. You wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t there. So part of our job is to make sure these things are there for people to take advantage of, and anticipating that. I know we did a lot about the opioid crisis, but I don’t know if they made it in. Sometimes Jean-Marc will think as he’s developing the story, 'That’s a theme I don’t want to follow as much.’ We make many themes for him to explore when we make the sets and interiors."
There are words all over Sharp Objects. Are there any placements that are particularly clever that you congratulated yourself on afterwards?
“I think my favorite was the ‘Don’t Be A Victim’ sign in the police station. Amy just decided to glance at it and stare at it. I knew she would be sitting there. So I purposefully placed the sign in the background. It’s a sign about spousal abuse — don’t be a victim; don’t let your spouse abuse you; don’t be abused by your parents. I knew she would be sitting there, waiting for the detective to show up. I put it there, a little above eye line, so that she’d see it and react to it. And she did. That was great."
Could you compare the experience of creating Monterey in Big Little Lies and creating Wind Gap in Sharp Objects?
"You don’t discover things visually in Big Little Lies. It's the acting and the writing. Monterey is just beautiful and the homes are glamorous and there’s no dirt there — their lives are dirtier and messier. What was more satisfying in Sharp Objects was it’s more on the surface. There’s a lot less told. In Sharp Objects, the dialogue is staccato. In Big Little Lies, it’s flourishing. People are constantly talking about how they feel. Camille is a closed book. The way you know her is about what’s written on her and how she writes on everything in a certain way."
Can you speak to how Wind Gap is almost its own character in the show?
"Jean-Marc really wanted Wind Gap to be its own character. We looked at a lot of places and did a lot of research about the iconography of that kind of place. Certain things stuck out. The idea of a past that had faded in time, kind of like Camille. That’s a big theme, through murals and the morass of the town. Making sure that it was humid all the time, that rooms were small, that things were greasy. We started from some basic concepts like that. I’m very interested in the color and torpidness of swampy places, places that are humid and dank. That comes across in the colors of the wallpaper and the mansion. The swampy blue-greens and greasy browns of the wallpaper. Decay, basically. Decay but also a lot of flowers. It’s like when flowers start to turn. They’re still colorful, but they start to have a putridness to them."
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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