In Portrait: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern, the Stars of Big Little Lies
Ahead of the HBO murder mystery’s premiere, its all-star cast poses for Vanity Fair.
Big Little Lies, coming to HBO this month, is where the mommy wars get real, what with an elementary-school fund-raiser—Trivia Night, no less—ending in bloodshed and a crushed skull. The place is Monterey, California, and the murder suspects are multiple, beginning with Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), the tightly wound queen bee of the stay-at-home brigade; she could be Tracy Flick rounding toward 40. We meet Madeline at drop-off on first-grade orientation day, where she takes newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) under her wing. Jane is a young single mom who has moved to town for reasons possibly mysterious. She and her angelic-looking son are soon in the crosshairs of Renata Klein (Laura Dern), C.E.O. of the working-mom division. How was her summer? “Well,” Renata says in a silly-me voice, “I joined the board of PayPal. What was I thinking adding one more thing to my life?” You can practically hear the entire P.T.A.’s teeth grind. Filling out the parent directory: ethereal former lawyer Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), who, we discover, has a thing for rough sex, and Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz), the lithe yoga mom Madeline’s ex-husband traded her in for. Those are the suspects. Each could also be the victim: Big Little Lies, written and produced by David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice), holds back that card as well, at least through the first two episodes. But just when you think you’re settling in for a delicious campfest—a more urbane Desperate Housewives, say—the series deepens and darkens. With Kidman and Witherspoon driving the project as executive producers and a 2014 novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty as its starting point, this limited-run series is really about the masks people wear in public, and the richer selves they reveal in private—not just moms navigating the shoals at pickup and drop-off but all of us, perhaps even A-list actresses.