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.
Home Again: Reese Witherspoon explains the state of the modern rom-com
Reese Witherspoon isn’t quite sure how to categorize her next big-screen venture. “It’s about that very particular post-divorce time, and the insecurity and guilt that comes with it — so it isn’t really a romantic comedy,” she says. But first-time writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (daughter of director Nancy Meyers) may have it sussed: “It’s a modern rom-com,” she says. “I noticed women were feeling comfortable getting divorced earlier in life, and I wanted to explore that trend.”
Witherspoon plays Alice, a 40-year-old mother of two who moves home to L.A. after her marriage falls apart. Somehow she finds herself boarding three aspiring filmmaker brothers in her guesthouse. “Together the three of them make the perfect man,” laughs Meyers-Shyer. Alice adapts nicely to live-in child care, tech support, and a relationship with the brother in his late 20s (Pico Alexander). “It’s kind of beautiful to see a May-December romance the other way around,” Witherspoon says. “It’s good to put that out there and challenge social arrays.”
The older-woman-younger-man romance isn’t the only love story in the movie. With the daughter of two Hollywood heavyweight moviemakers at the helm (father Charles Shyer produced and got an Oscar nomination for writing Private Benjamin and is also the writer-director of the Father of the Bride movies), Home Again is in part an ode to the filmmaking industry. “There’s a great love of cinema present in the film,” says Witherspoon. “Hallie is very respectful of the real craftsmanship and the sincerity of people’s artistry.” For Meyers-Shyer’s part, injecting the warm, sumptuous glow of old Hollywood was entirely intentional. “That’s exactly the quality I wanted the movie to have,” says the first-time director who grew up on movie sets watching her parents at work and learning that the position in the director’s seat was earned not awarded. “I wanted it to feel like a place you wanted to be. Hollywood is really the heart of Los Angeles and it’s based around an art form. There’s that bright reality TV thing that people picture when they think of L.A. now, so I was trying to do my part in showing L.A. as a sort of oasis and bringing back that idea of going west to follow your dreams.”
That dreamlike, candle-lit essence trickles over into the movie’s plot at times and yet, the most unlikely element of the story — a middle-aged mom taking in three jobless strangers — was actually born from reality. “When a friend of mine was growing up in L.A. her mother took in these three guys,” says Meyers-Shyer. “I love it when people tell me, ‘Oh I wish that that could actually happen; it seems like wish fulfillment,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, actually it did happen to somebody I know.’ I just thought it was very interesting and bohemian and it would fit in nicely with the character I had created.”
Still, following the true rom-com tried-and-tested formula, there had to be a male lead with enough charm to melt the best of intentions. “Casting Pico Alexander’s part was really tough,” says the writer-director. “It’s a part of a young movie star and I really wanted someone who embodied old-school Hollywood for that character. While I was writing it I pictured a young Jack Nicholson — those are some very hard shoes to fill, but Pico sent in a self tape and he just leapt off the screen.”
Nonetheless, despite the dewy backdrop and the attractive male suitor, the romantic fling isn’t the crux of the story. “That’s what makes it a modern romantic comedy,” says Witherspoon, finally giving in to that label. “It’s not about a woman finding love; it’s about a woman finding the best version of herself — and that’s very modern.”
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.
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 posted about previously on our Twitter, Reese is featured in the new issue of People magazine, which is their ‘Most Beautiful’ edition. Julia Roberts is on the cover, and Reese is featured inside as one of their Fabulous Faces of 2017. It has a tiny snippet of Reese talking about her mother and grandmother being her role models, alongside a picture from her 2015 Women’s Health magazine photoshoot. We have the scan in our Gallery for you:
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