Gillian Flynn on 30 Rock, Flowers in the Attic, and 19 Other Things That Have Influenced Her Work

On Friday, after months of rabid speculation over its ending, the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (read our review here) will be released in theaters. Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, spoke with Vulture about the movies, paintings and books that have influenced her career (and the ending of Gone Girl).

Tina Fey and 30 Rock
Having spent the last month with an infant attached to me at all times, I rewatched the entire seven seasons of 30 Rock. I came out convinced even more that it’s one of the truly all-time great comedies; it’s fast, it’s smart, ludicrous, and it’s really subversive and sly in its remarks on gender and feminism. I have so many people talk to me about the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl, and watching that now, as far as I’m concerned, Tina Fey was doing her own “cool girl” riff on 30 Rock every week.

Alice in Wonderland
I loved that she was so curious and so completely unflappable and so adventurous. She was kind of my gateway drug to other girl adventurers—everyone from Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time and Lucy from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and, one of my all-time favorites, Tabitha-Ruth Wexler from The Westing Game. I read all those stories to my son who’s four, because I think raising boys to appreciate stories about girls is a small but potent antidote to a lot of ills—and certainly to the number of men who come up to me at signings and say, “I don’t normally read stories about women.” [laughs] Let’s have some ambidextrous boys, for gender issues.

Arch Oboler and the Lights Out radio serials
I had this kind of 1930s childhood because my dad was really into radio serials, and my parents were also very, very anti-TV. Arch Oboler had a series called Lights Out. It started out with this haunting voice: “It is later than you think…[dooong sound]” They were very grim. I think people either like to be scared or don’t like to be scared. And from when I was a kid, I’ve [always] loved that sense of dread.

V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic
I had a dime store copy that had been passed around among my friends and then it stopped with me. I was like, “No, I will be keeping this.” I think anyone who reads Sharp Objects will certainly see a little of the Flowers influence in there. I still read it once a year or something, if I’m between books.

The Bad News Bears
I have an absolute distinct memory of seeing The Bad News Bears with my cousins — I looked at what year it was, I was five years old — and I remember the shock of the unhappy ending. I think that started my love of not giving people the ending that they really think that they want, but giving them the ending that probably is the most true and deserved.

Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World
I found it very disturbing, and ominous and eerie — what had happened in that house? And more importantly, what had happened in the barn, near the house. It also taught me never to learn too much about things that you love and how they were made. Because when I read the real story about it, I was like, Oh, that’s nothing as remotely awesome as what I’ve made up for this; this is much more calm and normal than the story I made up.

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood
Having grown up on the border of Kansas and being a weird and creepy kid, I had known the story of In Cold Blood from a pretty young age. And Capote’s incredibly stark language: I was inspired by that, and really how little the middle of the country is seen in a lot of literature.

I know all things Jaws. I love everything from the marriage in it, which I think grounds this whole weird movie. I love the moment when she sits down with them and hands them a brandy and says, Wanna get drunk and fool around? That’s a couple worth rooting for.

Ross Macdonald
One of the unsung, great, hard-boiled noir writers. I like that all his stuff tends to revolve around secrets within in a family, which always really appeals to me. I find the illnesses within a family to be much more frightening than the illnesses without.

The “Moses Supposes” scene from Singin’ in the Rain
When I was writing Gone Girl and spending a lot of time writing really nasty, toxic things about relationships and men and women in them, I caught myself bringing that nastiness upstairs and inflicting it on my husband. So I learned to disengage and give myself a feel-good shower before I went upstairs. One of them was the “Moses Supposes” number, and I dare you to not be happy after you watch that segment.

Any time I’m personally in a dark place — I’m depressed or just gloomy or whatever it is — I just crave Platoon. I guess it makes me happy that as bad as things are, I’m not on an early all-day platoon in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Ivan Albright’s That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do
It’s this door that looks almost human in a way, almost living, and also kind of like a coffin. I just think it’s this nice, mournful reminder of, Don’t get to the end of your life and wish you had done things differently. It’s an inspirational method that I like, I guess. Instead of the corporate portrait of success, I look at That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do.

Fiona Apple’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “I Want You”
I love Elvis Costello’s version, but she sings the female version, and it just gets so dark and fierce. I listened to that a lot when I was writing Gone Girl to kind of get into the head phase of love that had gone very, very, very wrong.

“Down in the Willow Garden”
I love old murder ballads. It has sort of a lullaby feel to it; it starts out very sweetly, but you listen closely and you realize that this guy is actually talking about how he murdered his lady love. Also, I think that Holly Hunter sings it to her baby in Raising Arizona.

Leave Her To Heaven
My favorite femme noire of all time, with the great, under-recognized Gene Tierney in it as Laura. I think the quote is, “There’s nothing wrong with Laura. She just loves too much.” And she does love too much.

Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song
My other comfort food; I read that one a couple times per year. It deals with every part of why we become fascinated with murder, which is that it deals with the people involved; it deals with the media and how it handles it and how certain personalities captured our interest. And that Garry Gilmore was a murderer for no good reason. He killed innocent people, and yet you find yourself inherently liking him and drawn to him because of his sheer charisma and personality. I like that cognitive dissonance that is involved with becoming fond of the cold-blooded killer.

Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy and Rosalind Russell
There was always a knowingness about them even when they were flipping over a chair or playing a slightly daffy heiress. Especially as I’ve started to write screenplays  — and even in Gone Girl, when Nick and ‘Go were talking to each other — I wanted my dialogue to have a little bit of that banter of a great 1930s film.

I had a crush on wacky Norman. It might have been my first crush. He’s my first bad boy.

Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”
To me, this is the perfect distillation of dread, which is one of my favorite emotions. I don’t know how she does it. I’ve decided to stop trying to dissect it and just enjoy it.

Harland William’s hitchhiker speech from There’s Something About Mary
I love the idea of a serial killer with seven-minute abs. And the great line ‘Seven little chipmunks sitting on a branch. Eating lots of sunflowers on my uncle’s ranch. You know that old children’s tale from the sea.’ [laughs]. It’s just so perfectly absurd, every moment of it. I know that I’ve found a fellow traveler if I they like it equally.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The reason the town in Gone Girl is named Carthage is because of the town in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and there’s a couple other little links to that play. Just the sense of game playing of two people who become viciously symbiotic where they can’t define themselves without rancor toward each other. It will not surprise anyone that I love that play.

21 Things That Influenced Gillian Flynn’s Books