Chris Messina Talks Sharp Objects Finale, Season 2 and Richard and Camille’s Relationship


At first, it might seem unclear why Chris Messina—beloved for playing characters like crotchety Staten Island OBGYN Danny Castellano on The Mindy Project, Claire’s Republican lawyer boyfriend Ted in Six Feet Under, Julie & Julia‘s present-day supportive husband Eric—might identify with Sharp Objects‘ outsider detective, Richard Willis, brought in to Wind Gap from Kansas City to investigate the murder of two young girls.

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“I know that feeling of not belonging. I guess we all do at some point in our life—not belonging or not being around your people. That’s what Richard’s up against,” he explains at ELLE.com’s offices. That might be what draws him to journalist Camille Preaker (Messina’s Julie & Julia co-star Amy Adams), a troubled former local who is also looking into the deaths. “He doesn’t fit in, they don’t want him there. So Camille resonates more for him, because she’s an outsider by choice.”

It’s not until much later, when Messina is describing how he got started in the industry that a nugget sheds some light on this. “I got beat up a lot [as a boy] because I danced,” he says. “I had a VHS tape of Grease that I watched over and over again. It was funny because in junior high people were like, ‘You dance?’ They were freaked out. It was like The Karate Kid meets Billy Elliot…without the karate and without the talent. But then in high school, girls were like, ‘So, I hear you dance.’” He finishes the anecdote with a quirk of his eyebrow.

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Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) and Richard Willis (Chris Messina)

HBO

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There’s no such levity even in the high-school halls of Sharp Objects; the series is based on Gillian Flynn’s 2006 novel, the first in an oeuvre featuring dark and damaged women. There are murders at the center of the narrative, but Camille’s experiences with sex, power, and consent offer up much of the tension. In one scene, Camille and Detective Willis verbally spar about Camille’s recollections of a sexual encounter, which he suggests could be considered rape. The #MeToo movement has undeniably imprinted itself on the show, and on the industry that produced it. When I ask Messina about being an actor in this new era, he’s circumspect. “I’m embarrassed to say I was stupid and naïve and blind to anything like that,” he says. “These people are heroes who have come out and said, ‘I’m not taking this shit anymore.’”

“As a man, I feel like our job is to shut up and listen.”

We continue to discuss Richard, Sharp Objects‘ telling sex scenes, and the possibility of a second season. But even in the short time we’ve spoken, it’s clear that Messina genuinely wants to engage. I don’t know if I answered your questions well enough,” he says, winding back to our discussion about #MeToo. “It’s an interesting topic to talk about as a man. I feel happy that people won’t take that shit or abuse or won’t hold everything in anymore. But as a man, I feel like our job is to shut up and listen. So it’s a hard topic for me to talk about. I’d rather hear you talk about it and for me to say, ‘I’m here to listen and to learn.’”

Beyond Richard’s attraction to Camille, why do you think he’s so invested in her? It seems like he’s paying less attention to the murders than to investigating her past.

I love that about the character, because he’s flawed. I think he wants to be a good detective. I think he came here on a mission and got sidetracked. His mission has become…he wants to solve her. Richard and Camille are very alike. I don’t think he’s as damaged as she is, or in as much pain. But he carries a certain amount of baggage. My thoughts are that he’s probably let himself go down roads like this before with women, where he falls hard and gets attached quickly. This might be a pattern of his.

What is his goal?

He is there to solve the case. It’s interesting—partly he’s manipulating Camille and partly he’s being manipulated by Camille. And partly his heart is getting involved.

Chris Messina

Tyler Joe

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Richard seems pretty aware of the power imbalances between men and women. In the sex scene between Richard and Camille, it felt like she held all the power…

I love the sex in the show because it’s not gratuitous. It’s all character driven. I’m drawn to the character study and the three generations of these women that have tons of skeletons in the closet, and tons of heartbreak and pain.

On the page [Camille and Richard] lacked intimacy. And the sex scenes all have to do with control, and what you can do and can’t do, and what you can’t see and can see. She won’t completely take off her clothes. When we choreographed it, it was a big discussion that Richard would have felt the scars. There’s so many of them. Even though she keeps most of her clothes on—as we discovered in the blocking of it, you can’t really have sex without…something has to come off. It was sad.

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I remember reading a profile on you with the headline “Chris Messina Is the Hardest Working Man in Hollywood.” Is that true?

No [laughs]. I think they probably said that because at that moment I was going from job to job to job. You’re lucky when you have that kind of flow. But no, I think everybody works really hard. I’m sure you work really hard. We all work really hard.

“Chris Messina is no longer the hardest working man In Hollywood.”

He is no longer the hardest working man in the business [laughs]. When you work with [director] Jean-Marc Vallée and Amy Adams, it’s hard to know what to do next because it’s really top-tier stuff. So I sit around waiting to be scared out of my mind, and then I’ll go back to work.

What were you afraid of going into Sharp Objects?

I was afraid that the actors are just so damn good that it’ll look like I’m in a pro-amateur event. I was afraid of Jean-Marc Vallée because I was a huge fan, and he has a very different style of working. He doesn’t rehearse and there’s no marks on the ground. You only get one or two takes, sometimes three. I like to do a lot and explore a lot. But when I got into it, it was really freeing. I think he made me a better actor. I think Amy and Patty made me a better actor. But I want to be scared shitless.

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Tyler Joe

Going forward into episode 7 and the finale, what can you tease about Richard’s investigation into Camille or the mystery?

I think it gets harder for Richard to keep focus as the show goes on. He is spending more time on [Camille] than the case and there’s an obsessiveness that continues and builds in him. The show obviously heats up, the investigation heats up…I’m trying to give you something good to tease.

We know right now there’s no plan for a second season. Would you want to do a season two if there was an opportunity?

I’d work with these people for the next 20 years. There was only one book, and no one ever expressed to me where it would go. But I would be open. I do like that it’s limited, that it’s [essentially] an eight-hour movie. Can you imagine if this was a two-hour movie? I would hardly be in it. So the fact that it’s eight hours and we can spend time roaming around…I’m kind of cool with that, to be honest with you.

So the story does feel like it comes to an end when the season finishes?

The story feels like it has an end. It’s a very complete, satisfying story. But the characters could live on. With the ramifications of the finale, there would be other things to tell. Gillian Flynn and [writer/showrunner] Marti Noxon are extremely talented, so I’m sure they would figure out some way to do it. It hasn’t been expressed to me, so I’m not sure. But this group, I would go with them forever. I’d follow them to the moon.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Sharp Objects airs Sundays at 9 P.M. EST on HBO.



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