*Warning: the following article (and video interview) contains major spoilers for Tiny Beautiful Things.*
Hulu‘s Tiny Beautiful Things, adapted from Cheryl Strayed‘s collection of essays of the same name, is not easy to watch, particularly in how it deals with grief head-on. It isn’t afraid to showcase massive amounts of unprocessed trauma through its protagonist, Clare Pierce, both in the past and present-day settings of the show, respectively played by Sarah Pidgeon and Kathryn Hahn. Instead of showing Clare’s journey linearly, the show frequently cuts back to the past, where Clare deals with the loss of her mother (Merritt Wever), whilst the present-day Clare has troubles of her own with her husband (Quentin Plair) and daughter (Tanzyn Crawford).
While speaking to Awards Radar on Zoom, Sarah Pidgeon discussed how challenging it was to read such a complex script like Tiny Beautiful Things and try to unpeel all of the layers of Clare’s journey both in the past and the present:
“I think that Clare sometimes is like all of us. We do things, and we don’t know why we do them. I had told Cheryl I knew the magnitude of this loss, but I didn’t have the same story in the sense that I watched cancer take someone away. Why does she have affairs with people outside of her marriage? Why is she keeping secrets from her husband? Why is she failing school? Why is she doing so many things to distract herself from this insane loss? Cheryl said, “I had to blow up my life to show how much my mom mattered.” It didn’t necessarily need to be a calculating approach to why she did these things. This motor is within Clare, and I had to find that and let that be the fuel.”
In working with Kathryn Hahn, Piedgon discussed that the two had lots of conversations together and workshops that helped shape their respective versions of the same character:
“I think by having these individual unique experiences from our own lives and meeting these characters, we were able to approach this work with open-heartedness, and Kathryn and I found a physical vocabulary. But more than anything, the writing allowed this throughline of over 25 years. The things that made them tick were similar. It carried through, and how she related to her mother was consistent from the moment we see Kathryn in her storyline. I was lucky that Kathryn was open, kind, and willing to collaborate and communicate. It made me feel less fearful and more encouraged to dive into it and bring these rougher edges of myself in my own experience to this character. I think that’s also where many of our similarities are with the live wire that is Calre Kathryn and I brought what that meant to us, and it was able to exist in that commonality together.”
On working with Owen Painter (who portrays Clare’s brother Lucas in the past-day setting) and Merritt Wever, Pidegon talked about how easy it was because she “was given such incredible scene partners.
You look at Merritt Wever, and she radiates beautiful energy. How can you not fall in love with this person? The same thing goes for Owen Painter. I was gifted with such beautiful partners, who informed me so much about how Clare was mothered. It’s such an incredible mirror. As the story went on, and we see how Lucas distances himself from the diagnosis and Clare throws herself at it, I think that started forming an interesting dynamic of how two people that grew up in the same home with similar experiences dealing with the same problem so differently. With Frankie’s [Wever] storyline, there’s that similarity between getting married young and seeing how those two see their lives differently. We had a great script and an incredible cast. I don’t know if I did anything really conscious, but I relished in what was present on the day.”
Reflecting on the series, Pidgeon said, “Grief is something we all hold. It is something that I think most of us want to shy away from and not deal with head-on because it is so multifaceted. It brings up guilt, shame, joy, and sadness because you can no longer experience that joy with someone. So many different parts of it make it difficult to face. A lot of times, we pull ourselves away from it, but grief can be a very beautiful thing. I think that’s what this show is about. As ugly as it can be, it can cause some damage, depending on how you deal with or process it. The grief is damaging, but I hope that people watching this recognize ignoring their own grief doesn’t mean it’s not there. By getting familiar with it, it can be a beautiful thing.”
In the video interview below, you will also find out about Pidgeon’s collaboration with showrunner Liz Tigelaar, the challenges of balancing out the joyous side of Clare with scenes in which she has to process her mother’s death, and what were the most difficult scenes to film for the show.
You can check out the full interview below and see all episodes of Tiny Beautiful Things on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally:
[Some of the quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity]