Badass Women of TNT: Eliza Clark – ‘Animal Kingdom’

Fans have made their voices heard, and the industry is taking serious notice. TNT has become the go-to destination for provocative, female-led storytelling. Over 14 million younger fans have discovered TNT, thanks to the unique, badass women in front of the camera, behind it and in the writer’s room. Check out what TNT has been up to:

With that passion, heart and authenticity in mind, we welcome you to the first installment of our month-long special feature, “Badass Women of TNT.” And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like – we talk to and about women who are kickin’ ass and takin’ names on some of your favorite TNT shows.

First up, Eliza Clark, writer/co-executive producer with TNT’s hit show “Animal Kingdom.” Eliza talks badassery, extremely vulnerable characters and knowing you belong. Oh, and don’t forget, season three of “Animal Kingdom” returns Tuesday, May 29, at 9/8C.

TURNER: Hi Eliza, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. For those who may not know, tell us what your role is with “Animal Kingdom?”
ELIZA CLARK: I've been a writer on the show since season one. Right now, I'm a co-executive producer, which means that I’m a leader in the writers' room, and I'm helping to produce the episodes that I write as well as the show in general.

T: The title of this series is “Badass Women of TNT.” You work with one of the most badass women of all, Ellen Barkin. What does she bring to the series, and how much fun is it to write for a character like Smurf?
EC: Ellen Barkin is obviously fiercely talented, and I think she gives Smurf a lot of humor, humanity, sharp edges and definitely badassery. I love writing for Smurf, because she's a bundle of contradictions. She's a narcissist and a con artist, but she's also a mother who really loves her kids and would do anything to protect them. At the same time, she can be cruel and cunning when she needs to be. She's sort of like the good guy and the bad guy, and it's fun to write for a character like that because she's unpredictable and wily, and you don't really see many women like that on screen.

I'm not interested in the woman who's amazing at her job, and is the best wife and mother and is so much of a perfect woman. I would rather see stories about women that I recognize – like Smurf, who is an extreme character, but she represents the many facets of what it's really like to be a human being.

“I love writing for Smurf, because she's a bundle of contradictions.”

T: With Smurf, Nicky and Lucy being the main female characters on the show, was it a challenge in any way to write for the many male characters?
EC: I think first I will say that there are a lot new female characters on the show this coming season that audiences are going to be excited about and fall in love with. But I love writing for the male characters on our show; and for me, “Animal Kingdom” at its best is about family. And though obviously this family is extreme, these are hopefully some of the dynamics that we can all recognize. So maybe you're not from a family of thieves with vaguely incestuous tendencies, but you can recognize what it feels like to be pigeonholed by your family, or how much your brother means to you or how your mom can get on your nerves but you love her anyway. I'm also excited about the ways that the show explores masculinity. I think that we do an interesting job with that on the show. These men are in lots of ways hyper-masculine people, but sometimes they can be incredibly vulnerable, emotional and scared. It's an amazing group of actors, so I love writing for everybody on the show.

T: How does it feel to know that other women could be inspired by what you’ve accomplished, and use that as motivation?
EC: Well, that's very cool! I hope that I can open as many doors for as many people as I can. Human beings are meaning makers. We tell stories to create meaning of our past and to work through our problems and to understand our world. I think when you have a diversity of creative voices collaborating with one another then the breadth of human experience is wider, and the stories that you tell can be personal and specific but to a greater number of people. That's why I believe in diversity on set and in the writers' room.

“I'm not interested in the woman who's amazing at her job and is the best wife and mother. I would rather see stories about women that I recognize.”

T: Who was one of your biggest supporters along the way, and what lessons did you learn from them? 
EC: I’ve been lucky enough to work for some incredible people. Jonathan Lisco, who created “Animal Kingdom,” and executive producer John Wells, who is obviously the man, are amazing and have been huge advocates of mine. My second job in television was on “The Killing” for AMC, and I worked for Veena Sud, the creator of that show. I was 24 or 25, and she is an incredible writer and an amazing boss. She really pushed me, challenged me and made me a better writer. She also had a writers' room half comprised of women, so there were other women in that room who mentored me. I learned a lot about what it's like to be a woman in power in this industry, and she was an excellent example of that. I really owe her a lot.

T: What advice would you give to other women who are entering the world of television writing and producing?
EC: I think that when you're a woman in this industry you have to work really hard and you have to know your worth and fight for it. You have to fight against the voice in your head that tells you that in order to be liked you have to make yourself smaller. When you're writing for TV, you're asking for a lot: asking to be trusted by people who are spending millions of dollars, trusted by the actors that you're writing for, and the audience as well. You're basically standing up and saying, “Listen to me.” And you have to be comfortable with that. After working in this industry for 10 years, I've learned that I need to be my own cheerleader and I need to be able to walk into a room and know that I belong there. So that's my advice. Know you belong there.

T: When you were young, did you envision yourself in this line of work?
EC: I definitely did. I've been writing my whole life. I was a child actor, I started writing when I was six years old, and I forced all my neighbors, my cousins and my brother to be in my plays, which I'm still doing. I don't know if you know this, but my brother plays Adrian on “Animal Kingdom.” So, I'm still doing it.

“When you're a woman in this industry you have to work really hard and know your worth and fight for it.”

T: Okay let’s talk about season three of “Animal Kingdom,” which is set to premiere May 29. Any tidbits you can throw our way leading up to the return?
EC: Well, at the end of season two, Baz gets shot and Smurf ends up in jail, so season three is about putting those pieces back together and what happens to an army when it's left leaderless. The guys are figuring out where each of them fit in the new paradigm, and J is flexing his power and making the mistakes that go along with that.

We also have a really exciting guest, Denis Leary, who plays Deran's father. We get to learn more about Smurf through him, and Deran is learning a little bit about where he came from and seeing what his life might have been like if he'd had a dad. And there are some new characters that you'll meet, some powerful, dangerous women.

T: Do you have a favorite episode or two that you wrote or had a hand in?
EC: I really like the episodes that I wrote this season, but you'll have to wait and see. I wrote episode 11 last year, which is the episode where Craig ends up with a kid in the trunk of his car and brings him to Deran, and they learn how dangerous Lucy really is.

It's also the episode where Smurf gets arrested, and the episode, this is the part that I love the most, where Pope confesses to Amy that he killed Catherine.

Shawn Hatosy is amazing, he’s such a joy to work for and to collaborate with because he is so game. In spite of his terrifying character he's a very kind and lovely human. He's just ready to try new things, and he's a really fun collaborator. The scene where he confesses to her and he's totally falling apart was really beautiful, and I really like watching him act. I like watching them all act of course, but that was a particularly fun episode to write.

T: Last question - what is your dream project?
EC: Oh man. I just really like to write things that are interesting to me with characters who surprise me and who are fascinating in some way. I have a play going up this fall that I'm excited about, which I have already written, but it's been a dream of mine to have a play go up in LA, which I haven't done yet. Most of my plays have been done elsewhere, so it's cool to have something that people who live in Los Angeles, who are the people who make up my life for the most part, can see.

T: Would you like to give a little shout out for your project?
EC: Sure. It's called “Quack.” It's going to be at the Kirk Douglas this fall with Center Theater Group. 

But as for dream projects, yeah, I mean I wish I had written “Fargo…”

Season three of “Animal Kingdom” returns to TNT Tuesday, May 29, at 9/8C