HBO's Big Little Lies miniseries marks an important step for women, stars and executive producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman told reporters Saturday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.
Witherspoon and her producing partner Bruna Papandrea optioned the project, based on Liane Moriarty's best-selling book of the same name, and quickly brought Kidman in for what at the time was planned as a feature film. Ultimately, the project was taken out to premium cable and streaming outlets before landing at HBO.
The novel and subsequent series centers on three mothers (played by Witherspoon, Kidman and Shailene Woodley) to kindergartners whose seemingly perfect lives unravel to a murder-mystery that takes place during a disastrous parents' night at an elementary school fundraiser.
"Reading the novel for the first time, I saw myself at different stages of motherhood through my life," Witherspoon said, noting that like Woodley's Jane, she too was a mother at 22, and like her character Madeline, got divorced and remarried at 40. "It explores so many aspects that are relatable to the lives of women; it wasn't about them being good or bad — they showed every spectrum and every color of women's lives. It presented a unique opportunity to have so many incredible parts for women in one piece of material."
Papandrea noted that she and Witherspoon are constantly looking for projects with multiple voices for women and, given how rare this kind of material is, said it was like "nirvana" when they read early proofs for Big Little Lies. "Our mandate was to put women at the center of stories," she said.
"For 25 years, I've been the only woman on set," Witherspoon said. "They call it Smurfette Syndrome [as in] she's the only woman around — who gave birth to all those Smurfs anyway? — so I had no one to talk to…we have to start seeing women how they actually are on film — we need to see real women's experience — whether that involves domestic violence, sexual assault, romance, infidelity or divorce. We as human beings learn from art."
The prolific actress and producer noted that she had "had enough" of seeing talented women "playing wives and girlfriends in thankless roles" and that she is at a place in her career where she has the "unique privilege" to come together with other women to work on material like Big Little Lies.
Summed up Kidman of the seven-hour miniseries, which co-stars Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern as fellow parents in the Monterey community: "It's rare to find roles for five women in one piece…that we'd all jump at the chance to play."
Big Little Lies bows Feb.19 on HBO.