To those who have been teased with an early release of “Sharp Objects,” and who are now on pins and needles waiting for the rest of the series to air, Eliza Scanlen feels your pain.
“I’ve only seen three, and the third episode is like, ‘holy s–t,’’ she says. “It’s insane.”
The 19-year-old was plucked out of Sydney and flown to an HBO set in Los Angeles to join the cast of “Sharp Objects,” the eight-part series based on the book by Gillian Flynn and produced and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée of “Big Little Lies.” Scanlen stars as Amma, the 15-year-old younger sister to Amy Adams and daughter of Patricia Clarkson, whose goody-two-shoes exterior gives way to a darker, mysterious side as the series develops.
“It’s a dark show, and Amma is such a complex character, and there’re a lot of fans of the show already, so you want to be able to do the role justice,” she says. “But it’s a challenge to believe that you can, all of the time.”
Scanlen tried her hand at acting when she was in high school, taking courses at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art. “I tried to do it professionally when I was around 13, 14 — for a whole year, I didn’t get any auditions sent through. Not one. So that didn’t really work out,” she says, smiling. “Pretty sure I was scammed.”
Booking the “Sharp Objects” role came at a time when she had all but decided to put acting on pause for the moment.
“I was doing my final year of high school…we have this program called the HSC, which is the higher school certificate. It’s really hard and there’s a lot of pressure that’s placed on students to do well, especially from my school,” she says. “I really wanted to focus on that and just do well — because there are always students who are considered really, really smart, but I’ve always just been a good student, nothing supernatural. So I really wanted to focus and see how well I could do, because you can only do high school once.”
On a whim she decided to pick up some auditions during the break between exam blocks, and that is when she encountered “Sharp Objects.”
“I had already read the book, and I already knew Gillian Flynn,” she says. “I knew already that it was going to be a dark, complex project. I mean, everyone’s into dark shows.”
“Sharp Objects” is very much her big break, and found her working in tandem with some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
“She has this very maternal instinct about her,” Scanlen says of costar Adams. “She made it her priority to make me feel comfortable, which I found so helpful, especially coming from Australia and being only 18 and still really homesick, and unsure about who I am and what I’m doing and where I’m supposed to be going. So it was nice to have her and a lot of the cast as my guiding light, I guess, in the show.”
What she will do with the “Sharp Objects” success remains to be seen; in the meantime, she’s enrolled in online courses through Macquarie University in Sydney, where she plans to pursue English.
“I’m pretty sure the first text we’re starting with is ‘Macbeth,’” she says. “I mean, I studied it in high school, but I’m excited to rehash that.”
As for roles, she’s back to the audition process — a status she’s very much OK with.
“I still am at a stage where most of the things that you receive, you audition for, and anything that you get to audition for is a blessing,” Scanlen says. “And you just feel lucky being considered.”
More from the Eye: