Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn on Cool Girls and David Fincher

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Photo: Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

We will be discussing Gone Girl plot and twists. If you’ve read the book, you’re fine. If you haven’t and plan on seeing the movie unsullied, you might want to save this interview and read it afterwards.

Gillian Flynn, who wrote the novel Gone Girl, is also the scribe behind Gone Girl the movie, which, in some ways, is both the same and a very different entity. Even as intimately involved as she is with the both book and the film, Flynn has “trouble remembering” some of the details that belong to one and not the other. “The two have become one now,” she laughed. Here she talks about what it was like to adapt her book, how she feels about the infamous "Cool Girl" speech becoming a cultural touchstone, and why David Fincher made her story less bloody.

Are you in any way like Amy? In terms of being careful about research, not in terms of being a sociopath!
[Laughs.] Yes, I am. Absolutely. I have that OCD streak. Particularly with this. Good God, I tested everything, to be sure. I’m not much of a procedural person. That’s not what I’m interested in. The cop stuff is the least of my interests in writing these things, but I also knew to go to these far-out places that the story goes, you got to tap down everything, because if something unravels, that gives you a reason to start going, “I don’t buy it.” So I got very OCD. I had lists everywhere. I tested everything. And by the end, I was asking my editor, “Can we just do an addendum, where we pretend it’s by Amy, and I’ll answer all the other questions you have about how I did it but couldn’t fit in here?” For instance, I had done research on ink, in pens, if you can date ink. If they test the ink from the diary pages that were supposed to be written seven years ago, was that fine? I got a long, complicated answer to that — unless it predates 1975, and unless it was a certain type … Basically, the answer was that it was okay as long as she used pens from the past 15 years or so. I had done all those, I had done everything, and my editor was like, “Just give me the manuscript. Just give me the fucking manuscript. Stop thinking!”

But that did come in handy, because [director] David [Fincher] does like to poke at you and make sure you know what you’re talking about, and I already had all the answers. “Yep, that would happen. Yes, that’s how luminol would work. Yes, that’s exactly what would happen. Here’s the legal precedent for Nick getting out of jail. I got it. I got it, baby.”

Why did you change some of Amy’s methods, then? Such as the way she collects her own blood?
That was David. David just didn’t buy it. He was like, “She’s too careful.” And of course, being Mr. Smarty Pants, he was like, “Have you ever actually cut a jugular? Do you know anything about anatomy? You could very easily hurt yourself! It’s got to be more precise.” So he didn’t buy it.

But that’s the kind of thing I would think David Fincher would like …
Would like to see? Yeah, I agree. I was kind of surprised, too. David is very visual, but he’s also very, very much about the truth. Could this happen in the real world? When we were talking about Amazing Amy, the book series, he kept saying, “But what does it look like? What’s the character?” He asked me all these questions that I never had to answer before. I had to try to find a book artist and give him references for what I had pictured. I was like, “Look at the Ramona books, the Ramona Quimby books.” And he was like, “I just don’t know. They’re marrying off a character that they created when she was 7. What do I look for in the real world that’s that?” He always wants to know that something could have happened, kind of, and then I think he feels comfortable with playing around, but only if he’s comfortable first. I always found it interesting how much of a stickler he is about, “But would that happen? Has that really happened?” He really pushes you to road-test it. I could not sell on him on Amy’s blood. He was like, “No. 1, you could pass out. No. 2, it’s messy, and if she’s dripping somewhere else, she’s going to leave behind a trace. She’s got to do it a surgical way.”

Along the way, you lose a lot of the parent plots, as well as some of Amy’s past victims. No Hilary Handy …
It was a bummer to lose Hilary. She was in the first draft, because I liked to show that Amy’s skillset wasn’t just aimed at men, which is why I have her spit in Greta’s drink. She’s someone who upon a slight is going to take care of it. And Mama Maureen is such a huge character in the book, but we just didn’t have room in those flashbacks to fit her in there. I tried to make her omnipresent instead. Nick talks about her with Amy’s mom. Nick and Go talk about her, they wish she was there. And Nick says the reason they moved back was because of her, versus emphasizing being laid off. So you have this sense, even though she’s not there, that she is very much a presence. Desi’s mom, people loved Desi’s mom, but she was never in the first draft. I just knew we didn’t have room for her.

Even though it’s coming out of the mouth of a sociopath, the "Cool Girl" speech resonates with a lot of people. It’s kind of the heart of the book, but we only get a taste of it in the movie. How did it all come about in the first place?
It came about as a writing exercise. Whenever I kind of have writer’s block, I don’t let myself stop writing, but I’ll back away and kind of approach things differently, like these old-fashioned college-writing-class exercises. And so, at the time, Amy didn’t write quizzes. She wrote a column for a women’s magazine. And I thought, I’ll write a column from Amy’s point of view. And I wrote two or three columns, and I wrote the "Cool Girl" column when I was like in a fugue state, all in one afternoon. I never got up. I was just sweating over the keyboard, I was so into it. And I had never really articulated any of that before, and then I really liked it. One of my rules about writing exercises is you never are allowed to put them in your book because it’s just too tempting. You try to shoehorn things that don’t belong. So I didn’t put it in the book for a long time, but I just liked it so much, and it did feel like it came from Amy. It did feel like it had to do with personas and trying on things. It did resonate with what she had been doing. So I felt it was fair play to put that in there. And I’m so glad I did because that’s the one thing I hear about all the time from people.

I think it validates Amy a little bit. First of all, it explains where she’s coming from, but it also explains the tremendous pressure that’s on women, not in a boo-hoo, poor us kind of way, but acknowledging that idea that, good God, there’s something wrong with the fact that we’re constantly willing to make ourselves over for men, that we’re so interested in pleasing men in a way that men would never do for women. As she says, you don’t see men suddenly becoming experts on Jane Austen and joining knitting clubs the way women will teach themselves something. I’m not saying all women do this, or that just because a woman says she likes football means she’s faking it. I love video games. I’d be really pissed off if someone said I loved video games because I was trying to be a Cool Girl.

But I see so many couples where the woman goes out of her way to try to get why her boyfriend or husband likes certain things, and tries to get involved in it in a way that’s not often reciprocated. I think it’s a very female trait to want to please men, and to want to be considered the Cool Girl. And if you take that to the farthest reach where you’re actually selling yourself out, and degrading yourself by doing things you don’t actually want to do, only in order for this man to think that you do, that’s a very perverse thing. That’s like, “Yeah, you win! Larry, let’s tell her what she’s won. She’s won a lifetime of pretending to be someone that she’s not, and for someone to like her for the wrong reasons!” You know?

I like that it’s become kind of shorthand. We all know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Cool Girl. It’s the putting up with machismo bullshit, and smiling and nodding when you know better. That has a lot to do with it. There’s the pretending, the pretend aspect, but it’s also, “Sure, that’s great!” when it’s not. It’s pretty cool that it’s taken off. It’s a worthwhile conversation to have, and to continue having. There’s not a right answer to it, necessarily. And I don’t think to a certain extent that it’s a bad thing. I remember seeing There’s Something About Mary in the theaters when I was in my 20s, and there’s Cameron Diaz, who looks like Cameron Diaz, but she’s also a doctor, and she also loooves hamburgers, and she starts out playing golf in the morning, and all she wants from a man is a guy who wants to take her to a football game, and she wants to eat hot dogs and drink real beer. Real beer! And I thought, Wow, that’s a cool girl! And then I thought, Oh, right. She’s been invented by guys.

Part of it is because Amy's angry. But women sometimes don’t feel like they’re allowed to be angry. Not that we should need permission, but angry women are often dismissed.
I’ve so often said, when a woman is described as being angry, she’s “shrill,” or she’s “crazy,” or she’s “strident.” You know what? She may just be fucking angry. [Laughs.] It may just be that. And there’s this strange thing where it has to be a mockery of an angry woman, or a discounting of an angry woman.

Like when the New York Times called Shonda Rhimes an “angry black woman.” And she’s not even angry, so how would they characterize the women who are?
First of all, she’s got nothing, well, not nothing to be angry about, but she’s not angry! She’s got one of the most successful [shows]. It’s a way, as you said, a dismissive thing. It’s a way for people with power to tell people with less power, “Be a good girl and shut up.”

Dark Places should be done by now. Have you seen a rough cut?
I have! I’m really thrilled about it. It’s very moody. Very dark. And the performances are great, from Charlize [Theron], who is awesome, to Corey Stoll, playing her brother all grown up. The scenes between the two of them blew me away. I was crying!

Can’t wait. Same for Sharp Objects. I can’t wait to see how they do the scarring …
Me too! We haven’t even gotten far enough to have the discussion about how to play that. But visually, it should be mind-blowing. And very disturbing. [Laughs.]