HBO’s new miniseries Big Little Lies is based on the New York Times number-one bestseller of the same name by Liane Moriarty. It is a subversive tale of murder that explores society’s myth of perfection. Also the true contradictions that exist in marriage, sex, parenting and friendship.
The story unfolds in the tranquil seaside town of Monterey, California. It is told through the eyes of three mothers – Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Jane (Shailene Woodley).
Produced and written by David E Kelley (Goliath) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), the miniseries premiered on February 19th 2017.
Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman also serve as executive producers on the series. They came to the TV Critics tour to talk about their new drama.

What was it about this project that made you want to produce and star in it?

Big Little Lies, Episode 1 -Reese Witherspoon, Darby Camp, Shailene Woodley, Iain Armitage, Nicole Kidman, Cameron Crovetti, Nicolas Crovetti
Big Little Lies, Episode 1 – Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Darby Camp, Shailene Woodley, Iain Armitage, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Cameron Crovetti, Nicolas Crovetti ©2017 HBO, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Reese Witherspoon: I think what was great about reading the Liane Moriarity novel for the first time is I saw myself in different stages of motherhood all through my life. I was a mom when I was 22, like Jane; and then I was a mom who was 40, like Madeline. I’ve been divorced, I’ve been remarried.

The really amazing part was actually digging deep into the lives of women. It wasn’t about them being good or bad, and I thought it was a unique opportunity to have so many incredible parts for women in one piece of material.

Nicole Kidman: I was lucky because when I read the book, I really related to all of the women in it. I’ve met many women that feel the same way when they read the (novel).

There’s such an array of emotions in this piece, and we were excited to show the lives of these women in a very authentic, yet entertaining, way.

Big Little Lies, Episode 1 - Nicole Kidman
Big Little Lies, Episode 1 – Celeste (Nicole Kidman) ©2017 HBO, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Nicole, we see as an audience who Celeste is. Do you think she sees herself and her predicament?

Nicole: No. Part of the arc of the performance is discovering deep truths, and having to confront them. It’s very difficult at times. And that was a real balance, because it was an unraveling of the relationship.

I implore people to see the full seven hours, because you will see the camaraderie (between the women,) which is an important part of it. As much as there is conflict between us, when you see the (whole series), there are pieces about women helping and supporting each other, which was very important to Reese and me.

Big Little Lies, Episode 2 - Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern
Big Little Lies, Episode 2 – Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Renata (Laura Dern) ©2017 HBO, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Reese, is Madeline self-aware?

Reese: She is aware she is the most dynamic person in the room. I think she’s hyperaware of a lot of things, and deeply upset. When I started, I was like, “I’m not sure I can play this character.” David, Jean?Marc and Nicole were like, “What are you talking about? You’re perfect for this character.’ ‘Really? I don’t know if I find that offensive!’

(Madeline) is a bossy know-it-all busybody. But then she becomes aware through the process, and as you get further into the series, you start to realize the reason that she is so controlling, so high strung and tightly wound.

It is really because she’s concealing something very difficult for her to hold. And when she finally let’s it go in the end of this series, she can finally see her truth and become a little more mellow.

It’s pretty clear that most of these characters deeply love their kids, yet often they are not doing what’s good for them at all. Can you talk about that?

Reese: I think that’s part of what is so interesting about the piece and about motherhood. It’s about what you think you’re creating for your children, and when it’s really just an artifice.

I think that’s what the show deals with a lot, the artificial presentation of parenthood, versus real parenthood. All of us have a great journey to become deeper, better parents by the end of it as well.

Nicole: Yes. You learn as you go along. But I do have to say, my daughter, Sunday, said to me this morning that I was over protective, so you must have been a fly on the wall.

Big Little Lies, Episode 1 - Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman
Big Little Lies, Episode 1 – Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) ©2017 HBO, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

What is it like to work together?

Nicole: We’re very close friends and we’re able to talk about anything. And we laugh, we have fun. I’m at a stage in my life where I want to be with people I really like, and this was the perfect combination.

I love that it’s about women coming together and making something happen very quickly, with friendship being the core of it.

Reese: Honestly, it’s so refreshing to get to spend time with women. There would be times where I couldn’t break my character. I would call Nicole and go ‘What do you think I should do with this scene? I can’t play this.’

We just nurtured each other’s performance. We would send each other articles and say ‘Did you see this?’ It was really a collective performance (for) all of us. This is the greatest ensemble experience I’ve ever had.

Big Little Lies Soundbyte

Reese and Nicole were asked what made them so passionate about producing, particularly this miniseries? Click play to hear what they had to say.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.