'Big Little Lies' Star James Tupper on the "Crazy Climax Ahead"

Co-star James Tupper also talks with THR about some of the more serious themes the Reese Witherspoon-Nicole Kidman starrer is taking on.
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the third episode of HBO's Big Littles Lies, "Living the Dream."]

The list of enemies for Reese Witherspoon's Madeline on HBO's Big Little Lies continues to grow. And for now, at least, the motor-mouth meddling mother doesn't seem to care. 

During Sunday's hour, Renata (Laura Dern) tells Madeline that she's "dead in this town" as tensions between the duo continue to rise. And while that doesn't seem to faze Madeline, the fact that her daughter, Abigail, is moving in with her ex-husband Nathan (James Tupper) surely puts her over the edge. It prompts Madeline's first breakdown, a marked departure from what viewers of the David E. Kelley miniseries have seen from her thus far. 

Below, Tupper talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the divorced couple's relationship, exec producer and co-star Witherspoon's notes and what's to come from the Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley family thriller: "Nathan really loses control." 

What was your first encounter with Reese like?

The first day of shooting, I burst into this trailer and I had accidentally gone into Reese's private hair and makeup trailer. (Laughs) And Reese was there preparing and said, "You're playing Nathan?" And after I said I was, she said, "By the way, if you think that you're not responsible for leaving us and your family and not looking after your daughter, then you need to look at your role again!" I don't know where I found the courage, but I was like, "Being with you was untenable. See you on set." And I walked out. (Laughs)
 
 
Did exec producer and director of the series Jean Marc-Vallee change your perception of who Nathan was?

We worked on it together. He came in one day to rehearsal [and said], "What about a tattoo?" So I drew some stuff and we had our department work it out. He'd say, "That costume is wrong. Let's try something else." He said to me, "With Matthew McConaughey, we didn't know who his character [in Dallas Buyers Club] was until we were halfway through!" (Laughs) He cares more about getting to some truth than he does about continuity. 

Nathan and Madeline are divorced and don't get along. What was the dynamic like filming those scenes?
 
When we went to work Reese had an opinion of Nathan that was very detailed and developed. She would say, "OK, are you going to come or not?" "Stand over there!" She was always pissed off at Nathan. By the end of it, we came together and are friends, but the whole time we were shooting she just hated my guts!
 
The feud between Madeline's new husband, Ed [Adam Scott], and Nathan continues in this episode. Is Nathan afraid of Ed?
 
I don't think Nathan is scared of Ed; Nathan is scared of what he might do to him. He doesn't want that conflict and he feels like he's being pushed into it. Nathan is also jealous of Ed because he didn't spend a lot of time with Abigail. He's jealous of the fact that Ed got to parent his daughter. The whole time we're in this battle and you'll see that it really develops in the end and reaches a crazy climax ahead. 
 
 
 
Nathan is noticeably uncomfortable with Bonnie's dancing and the attention it gets from other men. Will this storyline progress? Should Nathan be worried?

Nathan is this fun-loving guy, and I think one of the great things about the story is everyone has those counter movements. When you think you're a really good person, you're actually capable of doing some real harm to people, either knowingly or unknowingly. It's the big little lie that we all live in. That's an odd moment for Nathan, where he's suddenly out of his comfort zone and seeing his wife as a sexual object. It makes him really uncomfortable.

Abigail moving in with Nathan and Bonnie really hurts Madeline. How will this move change the dynamic of Nathan and Madeline's relationship going forward?

The beautiful thing about this story is that it's all carefully woven. If that didn't happen then the murder wouldn't happen. Everything is all woven together and when you get to the end you'll find out how. It even comes down to when Madeline broke her heel at the very beginning and met Shailene Woodley's character [Jane]: you realize everything is knit together in this chain of events. For Nathan, his daughter moving in is one of the best moments of his life because he gets to reclaim some little shard of what he missed out on. 

Will Abigail moving in with Nathan and Bonnie be a good decision, or will it backfire? 

Nathan isn't fully prepared to look after a teenage daughter. People say when guys get to be teenagers — and I have one — they start relying on their dad more. Our relationship has actually grown closer, but with women, the teenage years are way more complicated, and I don't think Nathan is prepared for what's about to happen at all.

The episode shows more of Celeste [Kidman] and Perry's [Alexander Skarsgard] relationship and tackles the issues of violence and domestic abuse. What other real-life issues does the show address?

You would think that living in Monterey, all of these affluent families would have healthy kids and have enough money, and yet somehow we all end up in situations where we're not these little lies that we have to live with. We develop over time as a coping mechanism. We are the architects of our own misery, and that's at the core of what everyone is dealing with here. All these people seemingly have perfect lives, but there's something really amiss. 

It seems like out of all the characters, Nathan is one who audiences won't suspect of anything. Is that true?

It's my hand on the gun! Everybody's hiding something. Nathan really loses control. One of my neighbors, who I've never had a conversation with, he sees me and rolls down the window and goes, "Who did it? (Laughs

Should Nathan be a suspect? Sound off in the comments section below and keep tuning into The Live Feed for more Big Little Lies coverage. 

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