'Pieces of Her' Showrunner Charlotte Stoudt Is Still Finding The 'Right Balance' In Her Work

'Pieces of Her' Showrunner Charlotte Stoudt Is Still Finding The 'Right Balance' In Her Work

03/25/2022

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When your résumé includes such credits as HomelandHouse of Cards, New Amsterdam and more, you’re bound to have a certain command and confidence of your job that’s wholly unmatched. For Charlotte Stoudt, the showrunner, executive producer, and creator of Netflix’s Pieces of Her, the industry veteran is still finding the right balance as a mentor and leader in a male-dominated profession. Pieces of Her stars Toni Collette and follows one young woman as she begins to piece together that her life, and everything her parents told her, are all lies — with potentially deadly consequences. SheKnows’ Reshma Gopaldas sat down with Stoudt for a candid conversation about her work, the people who guided her along the way, her upcoming stint as showrunner on The Morning Show, and how she’s using her position to foster the next generation of creative minds.

“I think the truth is, someone always helps you,” Stoudt shared with SheKnows. “I think so much of the industry is about stamina and hanging in there. If you do that, at some point, somebody will notice that you’re in it for the long run — and maybe they hold the door open a couple of inches.”

 

So, how is Stoudt developing her own range as an industry professional while also coming into her power? Well, it all has to do with setting an example for the next generation of creative minds. “As a showrunner, when that happens and you see younger people who are having the same struggles you had, it really brings out a kind of desire to protect them and encourage them and see — can they skip any of the steps that you had to take,” she told SheKnows.

“One of the nice things about running a show is that you now have some power to do that, actually,” she mused. “And it ends up being, frankly, one of the most satisfying things about the job — helping other people. You discover that’s a lot more fulfilling and perhaps easier to find satisfaction in than your own work because you’re your own work.”

Read on for our interview with Pieces of Her creator, Charlotte Stoudt.

SheKnows: You’ve worked on so many amazing shows, what brought you to this point in your career? Where did you first start off in this industry? 

Charlotte Stoudt: I think the truth is, someone always helps you. You write your first five terrible pilot scripts that nobody reads, you just keep trying to become a better writer. I think so much of the industry is about stamina and hanging in there. If you do that, at some point, somebody will notice that you’re in it for the long run — and maybe they hold the door open a couple of inches.

A couple of people did that for me and I’ve really tried to do the same for other people coming up. I got very lucky. The first person I worked for was this showrunner named David Manson. He just was willing to sort of pull back the curtain and show me how it all worked. I was able to learn just a lot about what it is to think about putting together a show and all the things you have to be to everyone. I’ve been really lucky with a few mentors.

SK: Describe Pieces of Her in 30 seconds, including why people should watch.

CS: Pieces of Her is a mother-daughter love story wrapped in the skin of a thriller, and the premise is something that I personally find irresistible. What if you suddenly found out that everything you knew about yourself and your family was actually a lie? And that everything you’ve been told about who your parents were, what they did, how you grew up was actually just a big cover story. What would you do and how far would you go to find the truth? 

SK: It’s like a DNA, 23andMe horror story.

CS: It is. It also has a little Patty Hearst thing going on. There’s an ’80s element when you find out some of the things that this mysterious mother, played by Toni Collette, was actually up to. I’ve always been super fascinated by the Patty Hearst thing because I think no one except Patty herself really knows how she felt about all of that.

SK: How did this idea come to you?

CS: It’s based on a fabulous book [of the same name] by Karin Slaughter
, and somebody at my agency sent me the galleys and I started reading it, and I just sat and read it in one sitting, which really told me something about how it’s kind of crawled inside me. And because I was also adopted — my parents told me as a child when I was about five. But I was really obsessed most of my life with who my birth parents were. I really understood Andy’s (Bella Heathcote) ferocious drive to kind of get to the truth. The central mystery of what your origins are and kind of discovering your origin story really spoke to me. 

SK: Did you have Toni Collette in mind when you were creating the series? How did she become part of the project?

CS: Partly through Bruna Papandrea, who is one of the key producers of [Pieces of Her] (of course, did Big Little Lies and a number of other things that everyone has binged several times). She just kind of had a deep connection to the Australian talent pool. But I always knew that I wanted this mother figure to be kind of a badass. And I love that this story is kind of a metaphor for everything mothers and daughters all go through.

But this mother is really tough and she’s a great liar and she does all these outrageous things. But it’s all in service of protecting her child. I just loved seeing a really down and dirty, tough mom. And we feel like Toni has all the colors. She can be funny, she can be scary, she can be sexy. She can do physical stuff. I loved the range of what she could bring to it. She has a kind of ferocity.

SK: What are some challenges you faced as a woman and as a showrunner? How are you ensuring those patterns don’t continue? 

CS: That’s such a good question. I think there’s still an expectation that women are really nice and diplomatic. It’s always an interesting line to walk — pushing for what you need in one kind of creative [sense] and also achieving consensus and making people feel appreciated. I still think I’m kind of finding the right balance of that. It really needs to be said that these are incredibly privileged jobs to just be able to do.

As a showrunner, when that happens and you see younger people who are having the same struggles you had, it really brings out a kind of desire to protect them and encourage them and see — can they skip any of the steps that you had to take? Can you shorten the journey to the first script for a writer? I kind of always look like, how can I do that for somebody or sort of push them forward?

One of the nice things about running a show is that you now have some power to do that, actually. And it ends up being, frankly, one of the most satisfying things about the job — helping other people. You discover that’s a lot more fulfilling and perhaps easier to find satisfaction in than your own work because you’re your own work. You’re always like, “Well, that could be a little better. I’d love another crack at that scene. Couldn’t we have added something to that script?” Your mind is always like, “just a little better.”

SK: It’s very interesting and great that you are looking out for that in this role. Sometimes, people are like, “Well, I had to go through the same hardships, other people should.” I think we can fix the system slowly.

CS: I really think that’s true. It is almost a little unsettling when you realize like, “Oh my god, I might be a model for [someone].” That’s a scary thought. But I think you’re right, it is all about trying to sort of remove a few barriers so that someone can move more quickly. I think it’s just a really exciting time because I think there is an appetite for a wider range of stories right now in Hollywood. And that’s good. I’m like, “I’ll move over here and you take it.”

SK: What is something that’s happened in your career that in the past you looked at as a failure, but you learned from it and realized that it was actually not a failure, after all? 

CS: I actually wasn’t getting any work and somebody asked me to write some prose for an animated movie script. It was like, a couple of turtles who go to an island with a volcano and the volcano erupts and they save some other animals, or something. I wrote all this stuff about the volcano erupting, and it was paid by the hour. And I was like, I don’t know, I’m not sure this is going to get me [where I want to go].

And that same person who I worked with for a couple of years, who was just very supportive and was basically, like, I’ll throw you some a few dollars here and there, he was the person who one day said, “You know, there’s a guy down the hall. His name is Alex Gansa, and his show just got picked up. It’s called Homeland. I think he’s looking for an assistant.”

If I hadn’t made that connection and spent the time with that person, doing something that I honestly wasn’t very good at…it was just that relationship and the fact that that person was like, “I’m going to help you, even though you might step away for me.” I was feeling like such a failure. But I think that is the biggest thing to tell people is you just have to keep going. You just have to keep going and you have to meet as many people as possible and just kind of know that something will happen. It’s just not the thing you expect or the way you expect.

SK: What do you love most about being a showrunner? What are the highs and the lows?

CS: The highs come with collaboration. You write something — six drafts, five-and-a-half of them are crap, and you finally get a scene and you’re like, “OK, so here we go.” Then when the actors come in, the director has a sense — she’s bouncing off the scene with it. I think there’s nothing more exciting than when you see a scene come alive in a way that you didn’t imagine.

Like, you wrote a certain version, but the actors and the director take it somewhere else or intensify it, or there’s an unexpected moment between the actors, or somebody ad-libs something. That’s really exciting because then the material feels like it’s alive. It has its own being separate from you, and all these people have done this brain-meld to tell this story. I think that’s the kind of feeling of the hive mind; it’s really exciting. And I think that’s what’s so cool about TV — people make your stuff better.

SK: What would you say is one of the tougher parts of being a showrunner?

CS: Sometimes you discover what the scene is after it’s shot. Or at the very end of the scene, you’re like, “Oh, those are the three lines that I should’ve had.” And you can’t go back. I find that very, very hard. You just want to say, “Can we just have these three little lines?” And they say, “No.” You just wish you could sometimes have another pass. That, I think and after a hundred days on set, you get slightly worn down.

SK: Do you see a second season for Pieces of Her? And if so, who are you dream-casting? 

CS: Yes, to season two! Please, please, Netflix! It’s all dependent on you. Somebody I really love is Ben Whishaw. And actually, Toni loves Ben Whishaw. We were talking on set one day and she said, “You know my two favorite actors are the guy from The Americans, Matthew Rhys, and Ben Whishaw,” and I was like, “That’s weird, those are two of my favorite actors.” And she was like, “Let’s get them on the show.” So, that’s a little bit of fantasy there. And I’d like to just give some of the actors who were in season one more to do.

SK: You’re going to be the showrunner for The Morning Show‘s third season. What are you excited about bringing to that show? And have you worked with Reese [Witherspoon] and Jennifer [Aniston] before?

CS: I have not worked with anybody on that show before. Obviously, the cast is insane. I’m a massive fan of Karen Pittman from the days of The Americans and her stage work. I think for me, Mia (Pittman) and Stella (Greta Lee) will have more stories. We’ll get a little deeper into their private lives, and the things that driving them and the things that might need to change in their lives.

I think there’s actually a tremendous amount to explore, even in the characters that have occupied a lot of screen time — Bradley (Witherspoon), Alex (Aniston), and Cory (Billy Crudup). I still think there’s a way to dig a little deeper. Alex’s past relationship with Chip, Bradley’s family, and I think Bradley is an interesting person because the country is polarized so much right now, and she kind of lives on that line. She’s from a kind of red state and she knows that world and what those people feel about how they’re being overlooked. But she’s also in this like very high-powered, liberal elite city. And she’s always torn as a person — who should I be and whose side I should be on? I think I want to explore that. We’re going to get people into serious trouble.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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