Creating Clare – The Making of “Tiny Beautiful Things”

“This was a book, this was a podcast, this has been a play,” Tiny Beautiful Things showrunner and executive producer Liz Tigelaar explained during a TCA press conference. The new Hulu drama is adapted from the collection of essays by Cheryl Strayed, an autobiography told through a collection of advice columns she wrote under the alias “Sugar.” With the story already told in several mediums and less traditional source material, adapting it for episodic television brought new challenges. “This idea came about of, could we make this a nonlinear memoir and could we mine these stories of the past, not necessarily in order, but in a way to reveal more. And then, of course, the question came, okay, but what is the driver in the present story? It's the present story that's driving this whole thing. And how do we approach Clare? So, I started to think, well, what would it look like if Cheryl had never hiked the Pacific Crest Trail? What would it look like if Cheryl had never become the writer that she always hoped and believed, that her mother hoped and believed she could be? And that started the foundation for building Clare.”

(Stewart Cook/Hulu)

(Stewart Cook/Hulu)

“We knew that seminal experiences in Clare's past were so important that they did have to, in some ways, match my life,” explained Cheryl Strayed, the author of Tiny Beautiful Things who joins the series as an executive producer and helped define where Cheryl ends and Clare begins. “In Tiny Beautiful Things, the advice I give as Sugar, very often I tell stories from my life. So from the beginning, we knew, okay, Clare isn't going to be Cheryl, but many of her most important experiences — beautiful and ugly, painful and true — had to be mine. She had to have a mother who died young of cancer like I did. She had to have had gotten married scandalously young like I did. She had to have grown up poor and working class in the world environment like I did. Those are the things that made me. Those are the things that made Clare. And so that piece of it really did come from my life.”

Playing Clare is Kathryn Hahn, hot off the success of bringing Agatha Harkness from Marvel Comics to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in WandaVision and the upcoming series Agatha: Coven of Chaos. “I don't know a person on the planet that I particularly trust that says they have their [stuff] together,” Kathryn revealed about taking on the unique challenges of playing Clare. “It's an evolving process being a human being. I think we are always constantly trying to figure it out, and I think that that's the beauty of any of these roles I've been lucky enough to play is that it's that journey that we are all on… This is the sweet spot for me. The place that I love to be as an actor is that place between that catch in your throat of, like, ‘Is it going to be a laugh or a sob?’ That's my favorite place as a performer.”

Tiny Beautiful Things also follows Clare through flashbacks to her youth, where Kathryn Hahn shares the role with Sarah Pidgeon. “I was lucky to be able to go to set and see Kathryn embody Clare,” Sarah shared about the collaborative process of playing the same character at different stages of her life. “It was sort of like a cheat in so many ways, getting to see this incredible talent be this character. And we had a few workshops where we were able to find that tie, that heart, that beat within both of us and, through a lot of memory recall and just thinking about the character and where they are at in these different points in their life and how these experiences that you see Clare go through really stick with her. Kathryn was sure to encourage me that my heart is the same heart that beats within her and that as Clare together.”

“[We] really love each other off-screen,” revealed Quentin Plair, who plays Clare’s husband Danny as they navigate a rough patch in couple’s therapy, scenes that were particularly difficult to play. “I kept messing up a certain word and I got really embarrassed in real life with what [Kathryn] said. I think it was because I was already in such a vulnerable place, I personally haven't gone to a therapist. I haven't had that experience. And so going through that, bearing these things out that we've gone through in our marriage life, which I have, in some way, embodied in my real life, and then talking about that with a person I don't really know, it's vulnerable. So, then, add any little thing on top of that and real me got embarrassed and really got affected. But I just think we had this great familiarity between the two of us… All the things that you want to feel if you really are invested in this craft.”

“We really did have to, in the end, think really deeply about what was happening with these characters, what was happening with Clare and Danny, and was the column resonating with what we were seeing them do and say” Cheryl Strayed concluded about which columns from her novel made the transition to the series and which got left behind, potentially saved for future seasons. But like the novel based on her own life and work, at the center of Tiny Beautiful Things is Clare, who is a fusion of Cheryl Strayed, Liz Tigelaar, Kathryn Hahn, and Sarah Pidgeon.

Tiny Beautiful Things premieres Friday, April 7th, on Hulu.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).