After two seasons, the fan furore around Big Little Lies shows little sign of waning, with repeated calls for a third go-round of the HBO limited series. One woman with the inside track on whether that will happen is Nicole Kidman, who not only gave an intricately-layered performance as her character Celeste Wright, but whose company, Blossom Films, co-produced the show. Now, as Kidman gears up to reunite with her friend and Big Little Lies novelist Liane Moriarty for their new adaptation Nine Perfect Strangers, the actress muses on Big Little Lies’ impact, how that infamous slapping Meryl Streep scene came together, and why a third season isn’t off the table.
DEADLINE: Your company Blossom Films co-produced Big Little Lies. Do you remember the exact moment you knew you really wanted to push for a second season?
NICOLE KIDMAN: There was a panic sort of push, because initially, we were, all of us, like, “Absolutely not”. But when Liane dropped these ideas into our lap, and then when the audiences were so… Apparently, the show has rated, in terms of viewing, crazy numbers. So, 12, 13, 14 million, which is really an enormous amount for a show like this. So, it was driven by Liane having some really strong ideas, David (E. Kelley) thinking he could write these women, and continue their narrative, and then all of us as women going, “Oh my gosh, the audience’s desire to keep these people alive is so strong.”
DEADLINE: Celeste is so important to so many people, and this nuanced portrayal of domestic abuse feel very fresh and insightful. Did you hear a lot from women who felt the character had directly affected their lives?
KIDMAN: So many different stories always, still, letters and direct contact, and long, four, or five-page letters sometimes from people. I mean it’s only one story, but I think, as I always said, there’s an insidious quality to abuse, and a lot of it is going, “Is that actually real? Is that happening to me? Am I actually in that place myself?” And women realizing. And then denial. I mean, the second season is very much about having left, and it’s over, and the push- pull of that.
And not healing. That the process can be very, very slow and require an enormous amount of unearthing of things and digging around and revealing. And Celeste is nowhere near healed. That would’ve been ridiculous to have portrayed it that way.
What David wrote about, that’s really based on an enormous amount of research and discovery— the nature of still looking at it through a particular lens, and the push-pull and the love-hate and the wanting the father to still be kept, and how much is revealed to small children, and what do you… all of that. How do I now raise my children with this? And I’m still in a place where I’m not sure what it was, or how I’m coping.
But the greatest thing a professor of psychology said to me, who has watched the show, she said Celeste is very, very truthful, because Celeste is coping. She’s actually doing okay. She’s got a huge amount of issues in terms of her recovery, but she’s still managing to take care of her children. She’s still managing to get them to school. She’s still managing to keep the house together. She’s coping. Is she perfect? Absolutely not. But she’s getting through day by day.
DEADLINE: Slapping Meryl Streep, who plays Celeste’s mother-in-law, cannot have been easy. How did that scene come together?
KIDMAN: We did it over and over, and it was different every time. I mean, Meryl and I, I love working with her. We’re on the set, we’re quiet, we keep to ourselves, we work, and then we go home. She comes in totally prepared, which is what I try to do, and we just go at it. We sit on the side of the set a lot of times, or quietly stand in a place, and then come and do the work, and then leave. And try to have it where it’s just coming out of you, and it’s real. And that’s how it was. I mean, I’m a lot taller than Meryl, and I was scared, but Celeste is scared. So, all of those things overlap. I was terrified of hurting her, but it comes out, and it’s quick, and we didn’t plan it, we didn’t choreograph it, really. We’ve both worked for so long that we know how to do those things. But for me, it wasn’t such a huge… I didn’t think the audiences would react so strongly to it. Isn’t that weird?
Well, I guess it’s like, of course Celeste would do that at that point with the things that she’d said. And then it’s like the shame and the horror, and needing to apologize and feel completely remorseful, and it’s all so complicated. But what a great scene when it’s that complicated. Beautiful writing, you know? Just so weird. And I love the weirdness of it. Because life is weird, and jagged and messy, and that’s just like, what? to do that to your mother-in-law, are you kidding? But it’s fascinating. So, that’s what those glorious about the portrayals, is that they’re very jagged and there’s an uneasiness to it. And there’s deep trauma for both of them.
DEADLINE: If you hadn’t played Celeste, was there another role in Big Little Lies you could imagine taking on?
KIDMAN: No, not now. I mean, I think we’ve all become so much a part of this, that it’s a cellular kind of connection that I wouldn’t be able to jump in and out like that. I had a deep, cellular response to her. And also, for Liane, that was part of it. She was like, “You have to play Celeste.” From that point on there was no, what part would I play? Or, how would I play, that was it. So, I went in. And that’s the extraordinary thing of television is that you get 14 hours of playing somebody. It’s very, very rare. A whole different field for an actor, you know? Versus two hours. Still, other actors playing seven, eight, nine seasons, it’s astounding to me. It’s a life. In theater, you do a role for a year, so you’re constantly refining it sometimes, or you’re playing that role on stage over and over again. So, you’re re-interpreting it, re-finding it, reworking it every single night. If you’re doing your job.
DEADLINE: Reese Witherspoon recently joked with Jennifer Aniston that she should join Big Little Lies. What do you think of that idea? Obviously, that got the fans very excited about a possible Season 3.
KIDMAN: The muse is Liane, and she will construct something, so it’s left there. And I like how that is, that it’s David and Liane. It’s David’s show. David E. Kelley constructed this show with Liane Moriarty. They built it from the ground up, and it’s their show, and we’ll see if they’re ignited into building a life for these women, and which way they would go next. We’ll find out. But it’s so nice as actors having that, and that’s where it started. That’s where the second one started.
If there is a third one, all of it will come from the writers, and that’s amazing. Liane is deeply talented. David is deeply talented, and the combination of them is extraordinary. So, where they would take it, I have no idea. You have to bow down to the writers, because that really is where it starts. Unless you’re a director/writer, and then you write it. But this show, we’ll see what Liane can muster, and if she has an interest in it. She’s written Nine Perfect Strangers, which is something that we’re going to make.
DEADLINE: You’re making that in the spring, right? Will it give the fans something to chew on, or do you feel like it has a different flavor to Big Little Lies?
KIDMAN: Yes, I feel like it’s got her essence, and it’s got that incredible, topical truth that she’s able to put into an entertaining package. But there’s depth to it that I think is surprising. And it’s so different to me, the character. Which was what was appealing. I mean, Celeste, she’s in my body, and in my psyche, and in my heart. So, to have been blessed to play her for 14 hours… any actor will tell you, when you love playing a character because of how complicated and rich and deep it is, it’s just like it’s a gift, and it’s like, thank you.