UPDATED with video from event: While Reese Witherspoon and her producing partner Bruna Papandrea were the first ones to get their hands on the manuscript of Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel Big Little Lies, props were given to Nicole Kidman who “closed the deal and got the option,” Witherspoon said last night at Deadline’s Emmy FYC event for the HBO series.
Witherspoon and Papandrea immediately sent the manuscript to Kidman in Australia, who had the distinct advantage of meeting with Moriarty personally since she’s also an Oz native.
“Every single one of her (Moriarty’s) books are optioned,” said Witherspoon about the challenge in nailing down the rights to Big Little Lies.
Kidman set up a meeting with Moriarty at Fratelli’s cafe in Sydney. And the key words which the Oscar-winning The Hours actress conveyed to clinch the deal was: “‘We’ll get this made. I promise you’ll we’ll make this,’ which is very compelling. People option books and they don’t get made.”
To avoid an auction scenario for the source material, Kidman also advised the author: “You need to say you want us and only us.”
Big Little Lies follows the aftermath and flashbacks of an elementary school-related murder that rocks an affluent enclave of Monterey, CA. At the center of this universe of catty matriarchs are three women: Madeline (Witherspoon), a posh housewife who is cheating on her husband; Celeste (Kidman), a lawyer who is sexually abused by her husband (Alexander Skarsgard); and Jane (Shailene Woodley), a mysterious single mom who has just moved into town with her young boy who is being accused of bullying a rival queen bee mom’s daughter at school.
The series’ focus on the underbelly of upper-middle-class suburbia hit a nerve with viewers and the Television Academy, scoring 16 Primetime Emmy nominations including best limited series, two outstanding actress noms (Witherspoon, Kidman), two supporting actress (Laura Dern, Woodley), supporting actor (Skarsgard), writing (David E. Kelley), and directing (Jean-Marc Vallee). All of them were in attendance last night at Deadline’s Emmy FYC event sans Kelley and Woodley, with Awards Editor and columnist Pete Hammond serving as moderator.
“I’m normally the only woman on a set and on this production I’m looking across at four other women,” said Witherspoon about how the material was rich in opportunities for female actresses. “It’s a gift I’ve never had in my entire career.
“It’s not black and white, it’s grey, and there are people in this room who are navigating these storylines, right now — I will go out on a limb and say that,” Kidman added about how the issues in Big Little Lies resonated with audiences around the globe.
“If (viewers) ask, ‘Why does she stay with him?’ I hope they see at times, and understand, why she is in it. When you look at these relationships, it’s insidious,” said Kidman, reflecting on the psychology of why tormented relationships stay together. “It’s because people always want to make the best of a situation, and look to the good facets that keep a marriage anchor, i.e., kids, status, and the oasis of love.”
“There are a lot of other things that keep you in a place where you shouldn’t be. That’s how I found it be so powerful in the way it was written in the book, then adapted by David and Jean-Marc,” Kidman said.
Celeste is one of Kidman’s most sexually raw performances since Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut in which she starred opposite then-husband Tom Cruise as an upper-class couple whose marriage is laden with fidelity. However, the sex in Big Little Lies is certainly more acerbic than the nude scenes in that 1999 film, given how it’s interwoven into physical fights with Skarsgard’s Perry.
“It was about finding the truth in each of these scenes,” explained Kidman about the graphic moments. It wasn’t uncommon to have discussions about “which way we were having sex, and what they meant ultimately to the storytelling. How does this move the story forward? That’s how I felt about the sex scenes. It couldn’t be any which way because then it becomes exploitative or unnecessary and we’ve seen all of that. It needed to relevant. It’s part of being a human being and what we do, so it has reason to be there, it’s not just there so everyone gets their rocks off.”
In nailing the best drama from this class of actors, Vallee employed a style whereby he shot rehearsals with a handheld camera. From there, it was about discovering each scene’s angle. That m.o. led to such sincere moments as a 10-minute therapy scene led by Robin Weigert as Dr. Reisman with Skarsgard and Kidman; a moment that the latter beams makes television better than film.
“On film, you’d say, ‘We might have to cut this down,’ but here, it’s gold,” said Kidman. Intense fight scenes involved a stunt double in the first sequence, with Kidman stepping in during the second half. Vallee was initially hired to direct the first two episodes of Big Little Lies and wound up directing all seven after Kidman and Witherspoon rallied around him. That’s a rare feat for an EP in television to direct every single episode, the last one arguably being Sam Esmail on his Emmy-winning USA Network series Mr. Robot.
In regards to whether we’ll see a Season 2, a lot of that is up to Moriarty; the author has already been approached by Witherspoon and Kidman. Word is Moriarty wouldn’t necessarily publish another novel, but rather flesh out a story that’s prime for television.
Even if Season 2 doesn’t occur, Witherspoon cherishes what has already been built.
“These are her characters and they were born from her. As of right now, it’s pretty whole. I feel really good about where it is and if this is all there ever was, it’s a beautiful thing we all accomplished together. I feel really great about it. I feels really comprehensive,” said the Oscar winner.
Meanwhile, Skarsgard continues to gun for his involvement in Season 2: “Spoiler alert, did he (Perry) really die?”