Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington discuss the Little Fires Everywhere finale
Warning: This post contains spoilers from the season finale of Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere.
In the end, there were three fire-starters. Or four, depending on how you look at it.
In the Little Fires Everywhere finale, Mia and Pearl left Shaker Heights in their rearview, but their exit meant the town would never be the same. Facing a world without Mia, Izzy hit her breaking point. She started dousing her room with gasoline before her brothers and sister stopped her. But when Elena found out what her youngest daughter had done, she, too, broke. After Elena screamed that she never wanted Izzy in the first place, Izzy followed in Mia and Pearl’s footsteps and left town. And with her exit, the Richardson children decided to finish what she started. Together, they burnt down their family home.
To discuss the hour, EW spoke exclusively with series stars (and producers) Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you all decide on this ending, which of course isn’t exactly what happened in Celeste Ng’s book?
REESE WITHERSPOON: We had a lot of conversations about how we were going to end it.
KERRY WASHINGTON: I think there was a desire, and I don’t even really know where it emerged, to play with the ending a little bit so that there could be surprises for people who loved the book, but to do that while still honoring the reality and the truth that Celeste [Ng] was getting at in the book. So we kind of swung a lot of different directions and played with a lot of different ideas about what it could be, but this was the one that felt like it was both a fun twist for people who loved the book but also was still walking in the footprints of Celeste’s vision.
I know there was a lot of discussion surrounding Elena’s scream when she yells at Lexie. What made it such an important moment?
WITHERSPOON: We had a lot of conversations about it, like more conversations than I’ve ever had about any scene I’ve ever done in any project ever in my whole life. [Laughs] We just set this character up in a way that it was necessary. It had to all culminate into something. It was us looking at the whole piece and going, “What would motivate these children to do something so outrageous?” I think when you think your mother has lost control or you finally see that part of your mother that is very human and almost monstrous, to use Mia’s word, the children act out in a way because of it. It was really about taking all of the pieces that we wanted to get to and try and get there. And I just kind of lost control. [Laughs] Which happens sometimes on sets. I remember having to turn to the children and going, “Are you okay?”
WASHINGTON: For us the show has always been so much about being a mother but also about having a mother, trying to find your place with your mother, and I think both of these moms are fighting for so much control at the start of this show and the only way to get to the ending is for them to lose their illusion of control over their children and over their lives. It happens in very different ways obviously, but both of them have their idea of control ripped out from under them.
Showrunner Liz Tigelaar said you all talked a lot about Mia’s final scene and whether she should get out of the car.
WASHINGTON: One thing that I really love about working with Reese is we both really understand the importance of having options as producers. You’re building all eight episodes at once, in a way, so we wanted to give ourselves enough options where if we wanted to cut while Mia was still in the car, we could do that. If we wanted to have her get out of the car, we could do that. Because we needed to get a sense of where we had to land with these women and we were so waste-deep in their emotional lives as characters that as producers we were like, we want to make sure that we can still be telling the larger story the way we need to aside from our deeply internal, personal work we were doing about these characters.
Considering where you leave these characters, was it difficult to let them go as actors?
WASHINGTON: I think we were both really ready to let them go. [Laughs]
WITHERSPOON: [Laughs] Yeah, it was an incredible creative experience and I will say the hardest part about leaving the whole show was everyone we worked with.
WITHERSPOON: Working with Kerry every day, working with Liz Tigelaar every day, it just was such an ideal creative experience and it was so fulfilling. Just to take a book that had such a beautiful blueprint for us and expand on it was really such a gift as a creative person. But I do have to say I was ready to leave her behind.
WASHINGTON: I think our husbands were ready. [Laughs]
WITHERSPOON: Oh my gosh my husband really cannot stand my character. He’s watching it like, “Who are you?!” He doesn’t like you either, Kerry! [Laughs]
WASHINGTON: I know! There were lots of people in my life who were like, “Bye, Mia!” They were super happy. [Laughs] But it was really hard to leave each other, I agree.
I also want to touch on the importance of that final shot, of having Elena finally call her daughter “Izzy.” Reese, why was that moment so significant to Elena’s journey?
WITHERSPOON: We all wait for that moment where our parents accept us for who we are and that’s just Elena inching toward that idea that she might have been wrong. The regret that she feels in that moment is so profound because you don’t know if she’ll ever get her daughter back. I think it’s really beautiful what Liz did with the end of the show because we always knew the end of the book is sad. I think there are more moments of hope in the end of our show than in the end of the book. With Mia, there’s a hope that she and Pearl are going to be on better footing and that maybe she’ll reconcile with her parents. But back to Kerry’s point, there are so many ideas in this show about mothering and what is the definition of motherhood — is it about being selfless? We know it’s not about being selfish, but what part of it is about still keeping your identity intact so you don’t resent your children? And then acceptance, of course, is a huge piece of the show.