“A few years ago I just decided I was sick and tired of reading terrible parts for women.”
As long as film and television have existed, there has been an ongoing about argument about whether books or their adaptations are better.
Here at Stylist, we can appreciate both for the varied experiences they offer — we loved reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and are eagerly awaiting its sequel The Testaments, but we also love the way the Elisabeth Moss-starring TV show has gone beyond the world of the 1985 novel. And of course, we became obsessed with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before through the Netflix film, but have now devoured all three books in the series by Jenny Han.
But there’s one person who’s very clear about what books can offer that film and TV can’t when it comes to women, and well, it’s Reese Witherspoon so who are we to argue with her?
Witherspoon, along with Nicole Kidman, is behind the adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which she also stars in. A second series of the hit show is due to start next month in the US, with Meryl Streep joining the already stellar cast. Witherspoon’s production company also made Gone Girl, adapted from Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, and is about to start filming on the TV adaptation of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which will star Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
So why is Witherspoon turning to books for her inspiration? She has a simple answer. Speaking on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Witherspoon said: “I think there’s a better spectrum of the female experience than what we’re seeing in film and TV.”
It’s true — until recently books were our only real option when we wanted stories about nuanced women living lives like ours. Film and TV showed one-dimensional women who barely spoke, which was a frustration for Witherspoon, and the reason she started her production company to focus on great roles for women.
“A few years ago I just decided I was sick and tired of reading terrible parts for women, and if it wasn’t good enough for me and it wasn’t good enough for my friends, it wasn’t good enough for my daughter to be watching how women were represented in the world,” she told Noah. “So I just decided to do I myself. I started buying books and turning them into TV shows. I just finished one with Jennifer Anniston, for Apple, and I’m starting my next one next week with Kerry Washington, based on a book called Little Fires Everywhere.”
Thankfully, thanks to people like Witherspoon, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who created Fleabag and was behind season one of Killing Eve, we’re now finally seeing women on screen that are multi-faceted, and we’re seeing more than one of them at a time, something Witherspoon loved about Big Little Lies.
“I think it’s a peek behind the curtain as to how women really feel,” she said. “A lot of us, when we were doing season one, we would marvel at the fact that we had lines and scenes with each other, when so much of our early careers we were the only woman on set.
“So now this was a real exploration into the private lives of women, really dealing with serious issues, whether it was sexual assault or domestic violence, infidelity, we tackled it all from a woman’s perspective.”
We’ll continue to see that peek behind the curtain in season two of Big Little Lies — SPOILERS AHEAD — when the women of Monterey, California, deal with the fall out from the death of Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard).
Streep will play Wright’s mother, who comes to Monterey to figure out what happened to her son, much to the displeasure of his wife Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her friends, including Madeline (Witherspoon).
The show features “multiple generations, and it kind of talks about different waves of feminism”, said Witherspoon. She continued: “[It looks at] how different women feel about the response to a loved one being accused of a crime, or whether or not someone she’s related to is guilty of a crime. And also, what is a mother’s love? So it’s a fascinating exploration of every side of it. Do you defend him? Do you defend his honour even after his death?”
Whatever happens, we know that in Witherspoon’s hands we can trust that the second season will be as focused on the lives of women as the first. And we know that Witherspoon will continue to find and bring female-centric stories to the screen.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to read the next book from Witherspoon’s book club.