Hollywood heavyweights Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington made a stop at the TCA winter press tour Friday to present their new Hulu limited series Little Fires Everywhere, based on the bestseller by Celeste Ng.
The pair star in and executive produce the series, which follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and an enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. The story explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger in believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
“From the beginning, the book does delve into class and sociopolitical differences and cultural differences,” Washington said. “The book does a really good job of stepping away from this binary idea of race we have in this country, which is black and white, because we’re also dealing with Asian identity, immigrant identity and class. It’s a lot to unpack.”
She continued: “It’s wonderful because all these issues are present, but they’re really embodied in these very rich women. These characters are women you know and you love or you hate or make you feel closer to them because you are them or they make you feel you have no idea how they became who they are because they are so real.”
Witherspoon, who discovered the book before it was published in 2017, brought Washington aboard after “looking for a project to do with Kerry for a long time.”
“When I read the book,” Witherspoon said, “it had so many themes in it that were very complex, and I knew whoever was going to be my partner I wanted to have many conversations that carry these performances together.” She said her first instinct was to figure who was going to “show up and do the work,” and Washington was the perfect fit.
“Everything she does she brings a grace to it and an intellectual aspect to it,” Witherspoon said. “She deepens the conversation. So I knew I wanted to go on this journey with her.”
Both women agreed that their similar work ethic and trust made the process of working together seamless.
“There’s not a lot of people in this business that I trust with my full inner life the way that I trust Reese,” Washington said. “On a project like this, it’s important. In order to bring as much truth as we could to these characters and these performances, we had to explore some of our personal stuff and share our personal experiences. … We really revealed ourselves to each other. I never felt in that nakedness we were unsafe.”
Witherspoon and Washington were joined onstage by Little Fires Everywhere showrunner and executive producer Liz Tigelaar, who talked about putting together a writers room that was reflective of the “racial landscape of the book.”
“I knew when I read the book that, in assembling a writers room, I wanted the racial landscape of the writers room to match the racial landscape of the book. That was a no-brainer going in,” Tigelaar said. “What was amazing about the room is that everybody had these multiple connectivity points for the show.”
She added: “No one was there to be the voice of one race or one anything. Everybody was there to bring their whole selves and experience to it and have really hard challenging personal conversations about what mattered to them. For a lot of us, that’s getting to the core of how we operate as mother and humans in the world.”
Little Fires Everywhere premieres March 18.