Q&A: Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern talk sex, ‘Lies’ and a second chapter for their HBO series
Many people thought they had “Big Little Lies” pegged after HBO aired the first episode of the limited series in February. Soapy whodunit. Bitchy behavior. Mommy wars. Privileged women. Impossibly gorgeous homes.
The series invited those judgments and then proceeded to methodically upend them, delivering a nuanced look at motherhood, domestic abuse and, yes, the ways that knee-jerk assumptions can be wrong, damaging and self-sabotaging. Ultimately, it’s about a group of women finding solace and strength in each other.
That dynamic played out among the cast, as we learn from a long conversation with “Big Little Lies” stars Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. In the series, Witherspoon plays Madeline, the community’s queen bee, who clashes with Dern’s steely career mom, Renata. Kidman plays Celeste, envied, elegant, but hiding a secret life of violent abuse.
These actresses adore one another and, in between Dern and Witherspoon planning a vacation together and stories of Dern’s dad, Bruce, visiting the set (“It was a scene with a lot of profanity,” Dern remembers, laughing, “and I think he brought out the best in us”), they spoke about what made the series so special and why they’re eager to bring it back for a second season.
People take this show to heart. They want to talk about it. Has that led to some interesting public encounters?
Kidman: I was on a plane coming out here last night and I had a guy stand up and go, “ ‘Big Little Lies’! Yes!” And I’m kind of embarrassed because of my character. I’m not quite sure how to communicate with people. Am I communicating on behalf of Celeste and saying, “I know”? It’s weird. And then the people sitting behind me told me, “We just really want a Season 2. That’s all we want to say.”
Dern: I think we all want a Season 2!
Nicole and Reese, you’re producers. You can make it happen.
Reese Witherspoon on Southern charm and ‘carrying the baton’
Reese Witherspoon ladled on her Southern charm to host a luncheon in L.A. with Porter magazine’s Lucy Yeomans on Tuesday to celebrate the launch of Draper James on the e-tailer. As Jennifer Garner, Molly Sims, Camilla Alves, Rachel Zoe, Ali Larter and more noshed on friend chicken, strawberry shortcake and sweet tea, the Oscar winner took five to chat with WWD about why Southern women look so good and her latest Hollywood projects.
WWD: Why was getting on Net-a-porter so important to you?
Reese Witherspoon: The global reach is so important. I believe the world is a small place now — we need to be reaching out to all our customers. I think everyone wants a story to be told. I’m telling a story about the American South, which is where I grew up, and the story of my grandmother, who taught me about fashion, getting your hair done and also presenting your best self to the world. We are out there to celebrate those moments that are maybe forgotten, like the baby shower, the wedding party, the garden party. Sometimes you just want to look pretty.
WWD: Why do Southern women always seem to go the extra distance?
R.W.: We’re taught from a very young age to do our hair. Also that color makes you happy. Putting your best self forward but also not taking yourself too seriously. Having fun with fashion. I love the idea that fashion doesn’t have to be about New York or Los Angeles. It’s this whole wide range of people all over our country that are just enjoying fashion and want to see themselves reflected in the media and in the fashion that’s created.
WWD: Even this beautiful house looks Southern.
R.W.: It belongs to my friend Benton Weinstock. She’s from Arkansas. I have my girls from the South who live in Los Angeles that I call my Southern mafia. We are always doing Kentucky Derby parties or having Christmas parties where we all sing carols. It’s really nice to have a bunch of friends here from the South. And it’s nice in the middle of the day, some lunch.
To promote the launch of the new Draper James collection for Net-A-Porter, Reese is on the cover of Net-A-Porter’s magazine The Edit; this is available as an online magazine and also a paper magazine. The spread features a casual yet really beautiful new photoshoot that showcases Reese’s natural beauty, and a really great new interview in which Reese talks about Big Little Lies, the way her career has progressed, her producing work, and Draper James. Be sure to read the interview below, and find the photoshoot in our Gallery. We’ll have scans asap!
She’s an Oscar winner, a producer and runs her own label, but Reese Witherspoon isn’t one to rest on her laurels. She tells Jennifer Dickinson about making Hollywood sit up and listen.
Let’s imagine for a moment what it would be like to be friends with Reese Witherspoon; an incredible multitasker who seems to live in a world where the days consist of 30 hours instead of 24. Firstly, she will look you straight in the eye, then you’ll get that grin, the one that should be an addendum to Maria von Trapp’s My Favorite Things, so great is its power to radiate warmth. You’ll chat over coffee (strong) and you’ll mention the novel you’re reading, leading to an inner-fire-starting discussion about female identity and culminating with Witherspoon ordering the book from Amazon (she’s a very good customer). Then there will be the invitation to the baby shower she’s throwing for a mutual friend, her supportive shout-out on social media when your project gets off the ground, and the late-night text checking your son’s hospital appointment went Ok. And, somehow, instead of making you feel less than, you won’t resent her in the slightest because she’s not perfect and nor does she want to be: she’s just as likely as you to be late for the school pick up, or order margaritas at 5pm after a trying day. She’s on your side and that makes you want to be on hers.
It’s a personality recipe – insight, ambition, diligence, charm – that has made Witherspoon, 41, one of Hollywood’s most successful stars. And, so far, 2017 has been a great year, even by her standards. She’s just wrapped filming on Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, directed by the ever-impressive Ava DuVernay; is celebrating her fashion line Draper James going global via its launch on Net-a-porter; and then there’s Big Little Lies, the Tv phenomenon that actually merited the phrase ‘everyone’s talking about it’ earlier this year.
Reese and 5 other women from this year’s most acclaimed TV series appear on the cover of the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter, as part of their regular ‘Roundtable’ series. The actresses discuss their recent work, their careers, and tackling social issues within their work. The entire interview is below for you to read, and we have the photoshoot images and magazine scans for you in our Gallery. Also within this post are some clips from the discussion; it sounds like the video of the whole interview will be available when its aired on SundanceTV later this month. Reese looks gorgeous in the new photos, and I love reading these interview where she talks about taking a more proactive role in developing quality projects.
Drama Actress Roundtable: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon on “Rage, Sorrow, Grief” and Sexism in Hollywood
Six complex women — also including Nicole Kidman, Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Moss and Chrissy Metz — debate the power and pain of strong females (onscreen and off-) amid a culture of discrimination in the industry and beyond: “I don’t think we’ve ever seen this much misogyny.”
When Oprah Winfrey decided to adapt The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for HBO, she had two actresses in mind to play the role of Lacks’ daughter Deborah. But HBO Films president Len Amato wasn’t interested in her casting ideas: He wanted the media tycoon to be involved onscreen as well as off-. And after some heavy arm-twisting and a little time to get comfortable with the idea, Winfrey, 63, agreed — in part because the role allowed her to showcase, as she puts it, “a whole range of craziness.” It’s the opportunity to explore those layers of character and emotion that has drawn her and five other stars — Nicole Kidman, 49; Reese Witherspoon, 41; Elisabeth Moss, 34; Jessica Lange, 68; and This Is Us breakout Chrissy Metz, 36 — to work on television, as they revealed during The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Drama Actress Roundtable discussion on a Hollywood soundstage in May. “We have the opportunity to show the entire spectrum of human emotion that women have,” says Witherspoon, who, like Kidman, is a producer and star of HBO’s Big Little Lies. “We aren’t just the wives and the girlfriends. We are actually living, breathing people who have insecurities.” During the course of an hour, the six spoke candidly about the unexpected rewards and residue that come with inhabiting complicated women.
You have tackled ageism, sexism, misogyny, depression, domestic abuse, adultery and rape. When was the last time you were genuinely nervous to tackle a storyline?
OPRAH WINFREY (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, HBO) I was genuinely nervous to take on the role of Deborah Lacks because look at this table. I come as the least experienced person at this table. I come as a person who has great respect for the craft of acting — and for years interviewing actresses and being inspired by actresses, but not developing the craft. I was really afraid to do that.
Afraid of what, exactly?
WINFREY I was afraid of making a fool of myself! (Laughter.)
NICOLE KIDMAN (Big Little Lies, HBO) That’s every day.
REESE WITHERSPOON (Big Little Lies, HBO) What are you talking about?! The Color Purple is so amazing.
WINFREY When was that? That was like 30 years ago now. And let me tell you what actually made me even more intimidated: I just finished doing a film with Reese and Ava DuVernay and Mindy Kaling [A Wrinkle in Time], and I just happened to ask Reese, “How many films have you done?” And you said, “Oh, honey child …” (Laughter.)
WITHERSPOON Do you all know how many movies you’ve done?
WINFREY You said, “I don’t know, 100 or so.” I was thinking, “Oh, God, I hope she doesn’t ask me because my number will be like, five, maybe?”
CHRISSY METZ (This Is Us, NBC) Oh, I’ve got you beat. I’ve done maybe one independent movie.
ELISABETH MOSS (The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu) I don’t know if I was nervous about the scenes themselves, but [Margaret Atwood’s] book itself is so beloved, so that was my only hesitation. I wanted to make sure that we were going to do the book justice and do it in the way that it should be done or we were going to get in trouble. I don’t have any fear with scary stories. That’s what I want to do. But I took six weeks to say yes because I wanted to make sure we were going to do a good job.
Reese is currently taking part in a live panel at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. She’ll be talking about starting and developing her businesses in the panel entitled ‘That’s Entertainment: Looking for the Next Stage’. She talks about how she had the choice of whether to take Big Little Lies to Netflix or HBO, how she identified a market for more female-driven work, and how seeing how her kids interact with media has influenced her business choices, e.g. using YouTube and social media. Watch the live stream below, and we’ll have more coverage for you after the event too…
The 20th Annual
Milken Institute Global Conference
“Building Meaningful Lives”
April 30 – May 3, 2017 | Los Angeles
The Global Conference convenes the best minds in the world to tackle the most stubborn challenges. That commitment to the power of ideas has set this event apart for two decades. It is a unique setting in which the individuals with the capital, power and influence to move the world forward meet face-to-face with those whose expertise and creativity are reinventing industry, philanthropy and media.
Expand your network of accomplished and influential people — 3,500 attendees from 50 countries, all senior decision-makers in their fields.
Julia Boorstin, Senior Media and Entertainment Correspondent, CNBC
Leslie Moonves, Chairman and CEO, CBS Corporation
Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO, Fox Networks Group
Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix
Reese Witherspoon, Actress; Producer
Jeremy Zimmer, CEO and Founding Partner, United Talent Agency (UTA)
Is bigger better in the entertainment industry? Scale matters in the quest to profit in expanding overseas markets and compete with the giants created by mergers among media and entertainment providers. This session will bring together senior industry leaders to address a range of questions on the effects of megamergers and intensifying global competition.
How will new competition in new markets, both domestic and abroad, realign the landscape and affect the prominence of Hollywood?
Will overseas markets influence the nature of the content produced domestically? Could it lead to greater diversity of stories and narratives?
How stable are the new revenue streams generated by new technologies? How do companies and individuals invest in new products and creative people in this environment?
As expected, Reese took to the stage at the first Vanity Fair Founders Fair conference today, during which she spoke about being a woman in business and her recent producing work. The Founders Fair gathers female entrepreneurs from different industries to talk about why they started their companies, how they built their businesses, and the lessons they’ve learned. Reese was joined by one of her investors, Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green, and the twosome were interviewed by Vanity Fair West Coast editor Krista Smith. Reese’s cute little white dress is (presumably) from Draper James. We have the first photos in our Gallery, and scroll on down this post for a short article from the event. We’ll likely have more from this event for you in the coming days …
Vogue.com interviewed Reese towards the end of last month, in the run-up to the finale of Big Little Lies; here is what they talked about:
Reese Witherspoon on Who She Initially Wanted to Play on Big Little Lies—and What She Thinks About Those Critics Who Dismiss the Show as Just Another Soap Opera
We only have a few days to go until the finale of HBO’s Big Little Lies airs—why, oh why are there only seven episodes?—but we can already anticipate the massive void we’ll be feeling once the show wraps up on Sunday. Thankfully, Reese Witherspoon is here to help us cope. As Madeline Martha Mackenzie, Witherspoon’s character has become a fan favorite for her type-A personality and wicked one liners (“I love my grudges; I tend to them like little pets,” she says in an early episode). We spoke on the phone with the star and executive producer of the hit TV show, and talked about who she initially thought she would play, whether or not Ed and Madeline have a good marriage, and what she thinks about those (mostly male) critics who dismiss the show as just another soap opera.
Some spoilers ahead for those who aren’t caught up.
What drew you to Liane Moriarty’s book? Why were you excited to bring it to the screen?
I thought the book was really well plotted. I loved all the characters, I thought they were really dynamic women and very truthful in their struggles and the way that they communicated with each other. I thought it was a unique opportunity to have five really talented, diverse women on screen together, which is something that doesn’t happen that often.
Did you always want to play Madeline, or did you ever consider playing any of the other roles?
I didn’t know who I was going to play. Nicole [Kidman] really wanted to play Celeste, but I don’t know, I thought for a minute I might have played Renata. But then I was in a meeting with David Kelley and Nicole and I said I didn’t know who I was going to play and they looked at me like I was crazy. They said, “You’re Madeline!” And I said, “I am? What do you mean?” And they were like, “You are very clearly Madeline.” And I thought, “Is this an insult? I don’t know.” But then I kind of started thinking how I would do this. I started talking to Nicole, she was very helpful when I was creating the character. We added a lot of stuff that wasn’t in the book.
I haven’t read the book, but I know that David E. Kelley rewrote a lot of Madeline for you. I know the affair with her play’s director, for example, wasn’t in the book. What was behind the decision to add that?
Well, we talked about it. I just felt like everybody sort of has a secret in the show. All five of us have a secret. We’re all hiding something from each other and I felt like Madeline needed something she was hiding as well; it added a new conflict for her to resolve. It was just something interesting to play instead of just being a busy body.
On that note, do you think Madeline and Ed have a good marriage?
I don’t think of it in terms of good and bad. I think they have an active marriage, they are working on their marriage. There are aspects that are really positive and there’s parts of it there are really difficult. I don’t know what “good” is, but there’s a lot of love there, for sure.
‘Big Little Lies’ Feels Crazy Truthful to Reese Witherspoon
Yes, even Reese Witherspoon has felt judged as a parent. The actress, producer, newly-named Elizabeth Arden brand ambassador and mom of Ava, 17; Deacon, 13; and Tennessee, 4, is fascinated by just how opaque and unreadable kids can be and how hard moms and dads try to seem absolutely perfect.
“Have you ever gotten a call that your kid bit someone at school? I have. You feel awful. You feel like there is something wrong. It’s interesting how we stigmatize people,” she tells Yahoo Style.
She explores the disparaging, cutting and very juicy side of motherhood (and fatherhood) in Big Little Lies, which has exploded as this season’s must-see show. The HBO miniseries delves into the inner lives of a multitude of multidimensional women, showcasing a bully (Laura Dern), a cheater (Witherspoon), a domestic abuse victim (Nicole Kidman), and a single mom raising a child of rape (Shailene Woodley).
Witherspoon was instrumental in bringing Liane Moriarty’s bestseller to the screen. She, along with Kidman, produced it and the project resulted in a bidding war. That’s because while much of Hollywood was busy lamenting the dire lack of roles for women of a certain age, or any age, Witherspoon was busy creating them.
Her production house, Pacific Standard, is now a part of the content company Hello Sunshine, a joint venture with Peter Chernin and AT&T whose sole mission is to tell female-driven stories on TV, film, and digital platforms.
“It’s my entire life. It’s so fulfilling to me. It’s all been leading to this place where I took control of my career,” Witherspoon says. “It came out of a frustration, of seeing the kind of roles for women that were so flimsy. Buying books that have complex and real interior lives of women is my life’s work. I’m a storyteller, but I’m passionate that women have stories that need to be told.”
For years, she’s been diligently optioning, producing, and releasing projects with women at their core: 2014’s Gone Girl, starring Rosamund Pike as spectacularly manipulative Amy Dunne, generated $168 million domestically. The same year, Witherspoon and her friend Laura Dern earned Oscar nominations for the soul-searching saga Wild. In the pipeline is the date-rape thriller Luckiest Girl Alive.
Big Little Lies, meanwhile, is set in glitzy Monterey, Calif., but peel back the lush exteriors of waves, beaches, and pristine landscaping, and you’ll see the ugly underbelly of the posh town and its denizens — led by Witherspoon’s insufferable but also oddly tender grudge-bearer Madeline. The role fits her like a proverbial glove, but when Witherspoon read Moriarty’s book and realized it would make for delicious television, she didn’t know what part she’d play, just that she wanted in.
“You don’t know why people like a show. I responded to the truth, a real truthful look at how women feel about parenthood. Sometimes there’s maternal ambivalence. Women are not good or bad. I like that complexity of character,” she says. “I don’t think you ever know if things are going to work or not work. But there’s something interesting about five dynamic roles for women in which they talk about sex and marriage and relationships the way that women really talk about sex and marriage and relationships.”
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