Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon on bringing the female-driven ‘Big Little Lies’ to life
She had learned not to get excited. Australian author Liane Moriarty had gone through the process of having a book optioned for a movie or TV series before and had endured the realities of it getting lost in Hollywood development purgatory.
“When I met with Nicole, she was like, ‘No, no, no. If we option it, get excited. We don’t option things just for the sake of it. We don’t have time for that,’ ” Moriarty said by phone when recalling her midmorning coffee meeting with Kidman in a Sydney suburb about 18 months ago.
“She kept her word.”
Moriarty’s 2014 bestseller “Big Little Lies” is now a seven-episode limited series on HBO. And it boasts the Oscar-winning actresses as leads and executive producers.
It continues in the HBO tradition of drawing marquee feature film stars to the small screen. And it serves as a bit of an antidote to the premium network’s recent tent-pole attraction, “Westworld,” and the unusual religious drama “The Young Pope.”
“Not since ‘Big Love’ have we had a drama that is this female-centric,” said Casey Bloys, HBO’s president of programming. “The issues they get into on the show are things people deal with in life, and it was nice to have this framework to put these stories forward.”
Laura Dern, left, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley in a scene from HBO’s all-star adaptation of the bestseller “Big Little Lies.” (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / HBO)
The drama, which debuts Sunday, features five women — Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz, in addition to Witherspoon and Kidman — as mothers of first-graders in a wealthy Northern California community. It’s a setting that lends itself to social satire, replete with fake smiles and a heavy helping of passive aggressiveness in the battle for power and status. There’s even a murder mystery that stitches the story together.
But underneath the melodrama and moments of acerbic humor are women dealing with private angst, running the gamut of adultery, divorce, volatile marriages, sexual assault and the stresses of motherhood. Beneath all that too is a sense of sisterhood when intense situations call for it.
“It really delved into a lot of issues that women are dealing with daily that we don’t often see on-screen in this way,” Witherspoon, 40, said on a recent weekday in Pasadena. “And it’s not black and white. These aren’t women who are good or bad. We wanted to show the rainbow of the female experience, which I think is sort of absent in Hollywood in a lot of ways.”
Kidman affirmed the dearth of nuanced roles for women and said it was symptomatic of a larger systemic issue.
“We need great roles,” the 49-year-old actress said. “Our stories are relevant; people do want to hear them. But our stories often get brushed off. Seeing five women front a project is not common — and it shouldn’t be that way.”
“We wanted to show the rainbow of the female experience, which I think is sort of absent in Hollywood in a lot of ways.” — Reese Witherspoon, who stars in and executive produced the new HBO series “Big Little Lies”
In recent years, Witherspoon and Kidman have been proponents of female-driven projects that redefine how women are portrayed through their respective production companies.
Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard, which she co-founded with Bruna Papandrea in 2012, has been behind such female-led movies as “Wild,” “Gone Girl” and “Hot Pursuit.” Kidman’s Blossom Films has spearheaded such films as the low-budget drama “Rabbit Hole,” the romantic comedy “Monte Carlo” and the family drama “The Family Fang.”
“These women are trailblazers,” Woodley, 25, said of her costars. “They made ‘Big Little Lies’ because they were sick of reading scripts that didn’t honor women and womanhood. That has been really inspirational for me. I kind of joke now, like, ‘If I don’t start a production company soon, man, I’m going to be throwing away all this beauty I’ve been given in the form of learning from Reese and Nicole.’”
“Big Little Lies” went from book club page-turner to star-studded TV series all because Witherspoon and Kidman had been looking for a project on which to collaborate. The actresses knew each other through Papandrea, who had known Kidman since the two were teenagers.