This story about Hulu’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine and was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike.
The messiness of her Emmy-nominated role of Clare Pierce was part of what attracted Kathryn Hahn to “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the eight-episode drama series that was adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 novel based on her own experiences taking over an anonymous advice column in a literary magazine.
The series, created by Liz Tigelaar for ABC Signature, Hulu and Hello Sunshine, braids together Clare’s adult, teenage and childhood timelines, sketching a portrait of a woman in her 40s who is at loose ends after a painful divorce, but also flashing back to her younger self abandoning her dreams of becoming a writer in the aftermath of a traumatic childhood and the loss of her mother to cancer.
This fabric of memory is anchored mostly in the life of the full-grown Clare (Hahn), whom we meet when she’s drunkenly singing along to Nelly’s “Ride wit Me.” Is this confused person qualified to give other people advice? As Hahn plays her, it turns out that the answer is yes.
“She makes such questionable decisions right off the bat,” Hahn said. “You see this woman making bad decision after bad decision after bad decision, and that is always very interesting to me. We are all in that muck in the middle—we’re all the things all the time. I think the hardest part of it was living in this place of grief, either fresh grief or old grief.”
The only touches of levity, she said, came from some of the letters that Clare must answer in her job as advice columnist Dear Sugar: “Thank God for some of that lightness that those letters put in it, but it was a hard place to be.” Answering letters from people grappling with big questions, Hahn said, allows Clare to unpack emotions within herself.
“It really did feel like an act of service. Articulating for somebody else was the way that Clare was able to find a little bit of light in the darkness. As a person, sometimes moving towards someone else can be exactly the thing that we need to unlock whatever is stuck in us. That’s part of why this show is so connective. You do feel so less alone. It’s so refreshing and rare, especially in a post-pandemic world where we’re just staring at our phones. There’s something about lifting your eyes to the horizon and meeting someone else’s gaze that just feels like a balm.”
In flashback scenes, Clare’s mother, Frankie Pierce, is played by fellow Emmy nominee Merritt Wever. Clare’s unresolved struggles with her mother, who died just before Clare graduated from college, come back to the surface when the newly divorced Clare starts clashing with her teenage daughter, Rae (Tanzyn Crawford).
“(Clare) kind of froze emotionally at that age of 22,” Hahn said. “When your child is a teenager, their hormones are raging all over the place at the same time as yours are. You feel like you’re in a second adolescence yourself anyway. It does bring up so much of how you were parented or what you wish had happened or what you regret—all these things start to rise to the surface.”
One of Hahn’s favorite scenes involved Clare marching up a long staircase to deliver a cussing out to Rae’s on-and-off best friend, Montana (Aneasa Yacoub), whose brother films the exchange and puts it on TikTok. “It’s almost like Clare just had to put down her dukes and listen, and it’s really difficult once your defenses become well-oiled,” Hahn said. “To become a better parent, she has to let go of that idea of her mom—not let go of her completely, but allow her to die in her mind to finally let her go.”
Hahn shouted out to the show’s writers in her interview, which took place on the eve of the SAG-AFTRA strike. “This writers’ room that Liz put together… Especially in the middle of the (WGA) strike, I just want to give special thanks and gratitude,” she said. “A show like this is impossible without personal stories. This would be an impossibility to come up with (using) a robot. The show is made up of the guts and souls of those humans that were in that writers’ room for that long.”