Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and ‘Big Little Lies’ Stars Detail Show’s ‘Tricky’ Journey
A version of this story on “Big Little Lies” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Four lead women in “Big Little Lies,” the HBO miniseries based on Liane Moriarty‘s book, all landed Emmy nominations, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in the lead category and Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley in supporting. (Zoë Kravitz, the last of the main actresses, was left out.)
Dern, Woodley and actors/executive producers Kidman and Witherspoon described the rare experience of making the miniseries, which starts with a murder investigation and then slowly unveils victim, murderer and motive over 10 episodes. Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Kidman’s emotionally and physically abusive husband, was also nominated — but these conversation were about the women at the center of the miniseries.
REESE WITHERSPOON I found the manuscript and sent it to Nicole, and we decided to do the project together. She met with Liane Moriarty first and got the rights, and then we got David Kelly. And then Jean-Marc Vallee came on.
NICOLE KIDMAN For me, it was the complication of the women, and the strength of their stories, and the fact that it focused on the female relationships and was told primarily through the female point of view. That’s why the book was so appealing. And it seemed to warrant being told, because amidst the entertainment of it, underneath were issues that were incredibly topical and relevant and real.
WITHERSPOON We had to decide, Is it a miniseries or a movie? And we decided it would be better to do this for television. If we had done it as a two-hour movie, it might have been about two of the women, not all five.
KIDMAN I think it would be strange if Reese and I produced something that was all men. Don’t we have enough of those? So it was very important for us to throw our weight behind finding these great female roles, and calling our friends and people we admire. That was the glorious part of it.
David E. Kelley on Big Little Lies season 2: ‘We’re kicking it around’
In just seven episodes, Big Little Lies unspooled a tense murder mystery and provided whip-smart commentary on the daily absurdities of family life. “It’s always tricky blending tones,” says showrunner David E. Kelley. “You don’t want those comedic beats to steal the thunder of your dramatic through lines, and you don’t want the severity of the dramatic points to snuff out the fun.”
Fortunately, it worked: The show earned 16 Emmy nominations, including Best Limited Series and a Best Writing for a Limited Series nod for Kelley. He credits Big Little Lies’ successful tightrope walk to his colleagues, all Emmy-nominated for their roles in the project themselves: director Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild) along with stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who pulled double duty as producers.
EW chatted with Kelley about the show’s “surprise” success, what the skilled cadre of actors — also including Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoë Kravitz — brought to their roles, and whether he thinks the limited series might get the second season some fans are craving.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Now that we’re a few months out from Big Little Lies, what kind of responses have you received? Has anything surprised you? DAVID E. KELLEY: It’s all been a surprise. You never know how these things will turn out. You sit down and you write them because you like them, and you congregate a cast and a crew that also responds to the material, and you make it to the best of your ability, and then you throw it out there, and you kinda cross your fingers and duck.
The first reward that you get is if we all like it and believe in what we made, so we had that. But in terms of the reaction to it, it’s just a big guess. So it was a surprise that it caught on with such a frenzy, but as surprises go, one of the better ones.
What are some of the scenes that you’re proudest of?
The ones that were the most difficult to write and the most disturbing to me were obviously the ones involving Celeste and the violence and domestic abuse. That was just tough stuff to wade into. It was really, I know, equally difficult — probably more so — for Nicole to play, and for Jean-Marc to direct. But there was some gratification when I saw it on the screen to see how well they had executed it. It was very powerful. We ended up being pretty proud of the depiction of it.
Let’s see… the finale. I loved the juxtaposition of suspense and music and love and murder. That was a big challenge to pull all that off in 60 minutes. I sat back and marveled at how well Jean-Marc balanced all those story lines and blended those tones.
‘SNL’ Makeup Pro on Finding the Right Shade of Orange Foundation for Alec Baldwin’s Trump “Alec will come in on some days and say he wants full orange, so it always changes,” says Louie Zakarian as more Emmy-nominated costume designers, hairstylists and beauty gurus divulge the secrets of their trade.
Big Little Lies HBO | Costumes
For Big Little Lies’ women of Monterey, California, their clothes have a character-defining distinction. Costume designer Alix Friedberg gave each their own style and color palette, as she details: “Madeline’s [Reese Witherspoon, center] colorful, perfect exterior hides a woman desperate not to reveal she is falling apart. Celeste [Nicole Kidman, right] is effortless and stylish in a more classic way. Jane [Shailene Woodley, left] is all about her effort with raising her son, leaving very little time or energy for vanity.”
Nicole Kidman, Ava DuVernay and Reese Witherspoon to Host Variety’s Television Nominees Celebration
Variety has announced the host committee for the annual Variety & Women in Film Television Nominees Celebration, which will take place Friday, Sept. 15 at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood.
The cast of “Big Little Lies” will make a big showing at the event, with Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, and Nicole Kidman all part of the committee. Emmy-nominated actresses Thandie Newton of “Westworld” and Claire Foy of “The Crown” will also make appearances, as well as Ava DuVernay, who received three Emmy nominations this year, and network and streaming executives like Mike Hopkins, CEO of Hulu and Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix. Lena Waithe, who became the first black woman to be nominated for outstanding writing for a comedy series this year for “Master of None,” will also attend.
“We are excited to be partnering once again with Women In Film on our annual party that celebrates all the inspiring work female actors, executives, directors and writers have accomplished this year in television,” said Debra Birnbaum, executive editor of television at Variety. “This has truly been a groundbreaking year, as reflected by the Emmy nominations.”
“It has been an exciting season for female-centered television — in front of and behind the camera — with three women nominated for directing drama series,” added Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women in Film. “We are thrilled to be partnered with Variety once again to honor all of the female nominees as we continue to work toward achieving gender-parity in Hollywood.”
The Hollywood Reporter have published a fantastic interview with Reese in which she talks in depth about her entire career – from the early days of advertising campaigns, to her 90’a movies Fear, Twilight, Election, moving onto Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama and Vanity Fair, Oscars days of Walk The Line, her low patch of 2008-2012, then moving into producing Wild and Gone Girl, and the process of Big Little Lies. This is a must-listen!
‘Awards Chatter’ Podcast — Reese Witherspoon (‘Big Little Lies’)
‘America’s Sweetheart’ reflects on becoming an A-list superstar, hitting a terrible slump during which she was declared a ‘has-been’ and then reinventing herself as an actress/producer and Oprah-like champion of great books.
“I won the Oscar and I felt really confused about what to do next,” Reese Witherspoon confesses, in reference to her 2006 best actress victory for playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, as we sit down at the Formosa Recording Studio in Santa Monica to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast. “I had paralysis — Oscar-induced paralysis,” she adds, along with her trademark giggle. “You don’t know what to do!” For Witherspoon, who had been on Hollywood’s A-list since 2001’s Legally Blonde, it marked the beginning of several years of personal and professional frustration, during which some began to write her off. “Someone in The New Yorker said that I was ‘a has-been’ or my career was over, and I remember thinking — how old was I in 2012, like 36? — I was like, ‘Wow, that’s brutal!’ That really bugged me.” But what no one, including Witherspoon, could have known — or even imagined — at that time was that her best days still were ahead of her, and that by 2017, she not only would have re-established herself as one of the most popular and respected actresses in the business (picking up an Oscar nom for 2014’s Wild and an Emmy nom for 2017’s Big Little Lies), but also as an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated producer (for those same two projects) wielding influence in the literary community not unlike that of Oprah Winfrey.
Witherspoon was born in New Orleans to a father who served in the Air Force and a mother who was a delivery nurse. The family moved around, but ultimately settled in Nashville, where their precocious young “type A” daughter soon began taking acting lessons and appearing in advertisements and commercials, landing a local agent at the age of 12. At 14, during the summer before starting high school, she found her first starring role in a movie, Robert Mulligan’s 1991 film The Man in the Moon. Even before the film’s release, her screen test went viral, and she quickly became in-demand. Throughout high school, she would work during the summers. She then starred in 1996’s Freeway, turning in a performance that “got a lot of attention,” during a gap-year before enrolling at Stanford; but she then spent just seven months at Stanford before irresistible film offers led her to move to Los Angeles and focus full-time on her career.
As a young-adult actress, Witherspoon gave memorable performances in strong films like Gary Ross’ Pleasantville (1998), as a nineties girl who finds herself in the fifties, and Alexander Payne’s Election (1999), as an ambitious and calculating high school student who “became a political archetype.” Then, in 2001, she played Elle Woods, a material girl who pursues her ex all the way to Harvard Law School, in Robert Luketic’s Legally Blonde. The $11 million movie had a $20 million opening weekend and made her, at just 23, and already a mother of a 1-year-old, a huge star. “I loved that character” and “underdog story,” she reflects, while also remembering the baggage that came with its success. “That’s when paparazzi started for me,” she says. “That’s when I started getting chased by 10 or 15 people.”
Big Little Lies: How Nicole Kidman convinced Reese Witherspoon to play Madeline
Is it any surprise that actor-producer Reese Witherspoon’s first major TV project, HBO’s hit miniseries Big Little Lies, resulted in not just an Emmy nomination for her, but a whopping 16 for the show overall? The star, who also produced literary adaptations Gone Girl and Wild, turned Liane Moriarty’s thriller into a moody, suspenseful — but wonderfully funny — must-watch series that has viewers begging for a second season. And as lovable but complicated busybody Madeline Martha Mackenzie, Witherspoon, 41, was at the top of her game, spitting the show’s funniest lines one moment and delivering taut drama the next.
EW caught up with Witherspoon ahead of the Emmy Awards (airing Sept. 17) to talk about making the switch from film to TV, what story lines could be explored in a potential season 2, and how her costar (and co-producer) Nicole Kidman convinced her that her comedic role was necessary for the series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is essentially your first TV role, aside from some guest spots. REESE WITHERSPOON: Yeah, this is the only thing I’ve ever done! [Laughs] I’ve never done TV before, other than being Jennifer Aniston’s sister on Friends and a Lifetime movie when I was 15.
Tell me about making the switch. What was it like getting to spend so much more time with a character?
It’s a very different process. It’s a much longer process, but as an actor, the ability to dig deeper into a character and have more time to live with these characters, I think [helps] you create a more whole picture of a human life. Nicole [Kidman] and I were approached and asked to make it into a feature film right before we were about to make a decision about what network we were going to go with, and we just really felt like we wanted to tell the story of five women, not two, and there just wouldn’t be enough time within a film format to get that deep level of storytelling.
And also, to be quite frank, audiences are much more deeply invested in these long-form storytelling opportunities. I think you get a lot more engagement. You’re chasing the audience that is Nicole and I’s audience for years and years, but it’s also Shailene’s audience and Zoë Kravitz’s audience. It’s important to go where your audience is, not expect them to necessarily come to you.
You had to balance so much in this role: Madeline had dramatic and comedic scenes, and she was a bully as much as she was a protagonist.
It was funny, when we were making it, Laura Dern and I kept looking at each other and going, “I think we’re in a comedy and everybody else is in a drama.” But I think that’s what makes it relatable and why people see themselves in it, because there’s a part of it that is so much about the intimacy of marriage and relationships and parenting and the secrets we keep from each other. And then there’s this whole other element of tension and mystery and murder, and that any one of us is capable of something truly horrible at any moment.
Last weekend Reese attended the Television Critics Association Awards in Beverly Hills, where Big Little Lies was nominated for 3 awards. It picked up the award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials, and Reese joined her director Jean-Marc Vallee, co-producers Per Saari, Nathan Ross, Bruna Papandrea, and writer David E. Kelly on stage to accept the award – congratulations to the Big Little Lies crew! Reese looked elegant in a little black dress by Antonio Berardi with jewellery from Eva Fehren. HQ photos from the event can be found in our Gallery:
The Television Critics Association Announces 2017 TCA Awards Winners
The Television Critics Association (TCA) recognized the top programs and actors from the 2016-2017 television season tonight at its 33RD Annual TCA Awards presentation. The prestigious organization’s event was held at the Beverly Hilton hotel, hosted by EMMY® and TONY®-winning entertainer Kristin Chenoweth.
The results were determined from votes cast by the TCA’s membership, comprised of more than 220 professional TV critics and journalists from the United States and Canada. The winners represent a diverse lineup of series and stars in 12 distinct categories, putting the spotlight on the absolute best in comedy, drama, reality, miniseries, news, and youth programming. Highlights included Hulu earning its first TCA awards on the strength of its freshman dystopian thriller THE HANDMAID’S TALE, which took home top honors for Program Of The Year and Outstanding Achievement In Drama; as well as ABC’s heartwarming family comedy SPEECHLESS, which won in the category of Outstanding Achievement In Youth for its unique family dynamic and strong, heartfelt storylines.
For the second year in a row, FX emerged as one of the evening’s biggest winners. The network snagged a TCA-leading three awards thanks to its dynamic new series ATLANTA, which earned Outstanding Achievement In Comedy, and scored an Individual Achievement In Comedy Award for series star and creator Donald Glover. Rounding out the network’s big night was an Individual Achievement In Drama Award for Carrie Coon, who made TCA awards history by being recognized for two separate performances. Coon was recognized for her standout roles as the tech-challenged police chief Gloria Burgle on FX’s twisting crime caper FARGO and playing the emotionally resilient Nora Durst on HBO’s spiritually-rich drama series THE LEFTOVERS.
Additionally, NBC’s beloved interpersonal drama THIS IS US was recognized as the season’s Outstanding New Program; HBO’s star-studded suburban murder mystery BIG LITTLE LIES came away with the award for Outstanding Achievement In Movies, Miniseries, and Specials; A&E’s investigative true-life series LEAH REMINI: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE AFTERMATH received the award for Outstanding Achievement In Reality Programming; and ESPN’s provocative five-part documentary event O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA nabbed Outstanding Achievement In News and Information.
To celebrate our 16 years online, here we are spotlighting 16 of our favourite Reese things from the past 16 years. You will see a new one upon refreshing or changing the page.
"It took me years to be the woman my mother raised. It took me 4 years, 7 months and 3 days to do it, without her. After I lost myself in the wilderness of my grief, I found my own way out of the woods."
Luckiest Girl Alive
Tiny Beautiful Things
Barbie origins project
In A Dark, Dark Wood
Untitled Rob Long Project
The Thing About Jellyfish
All Is Not Forgotten
Three Little Words
Pale Blue Dot
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