Admit it: the phrase ‘Meryl Streep joins Big Little Lies’ sends a tingle down your spine…
The first season of breakout HBO hit Big Little Lies had a first season that was already stacked to a powerhouse extreme. Indeed, its original cast of heavy-hitters included the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoë Kravitz. To add Actual Living Icon Meryl Streep into the Liane Moriarty-based mix felt like nothing short of decadent perfection—to say nothing of the fact that she was cast to play Mary Louise Wright, mother of Perry Wright, played by Alexander Skarsgård. Delicious, scenery-chewing days are ahead of us, my friends.
Given that the second season is said to pick up with the Monterey Five dealing with the aftermath, we had a ton of questions we hoped the gang would answer. So we did what any credentialed member of the television media would do: headed to the Television Critics Association’s 2019 Winter Press Tour, where all the women were on-hand, live and in-person, to provide answers to those of us who’d made the trek to Pasadena, California. Here’s all that we learned—after we got over the fact that we were in the same room and breathed the same air as Meryl flippin’ Streep. (Narrator: we are still not over it.)
The impetus for a sequel
As many know, Big Little Lies is based on a novel by Liane Moriarty. It’s a story that, for the most part, was told in full by the television iteration. The ending did, however, leave a few loose ends, on which, Witherspoon explained, the author happily expanded upon for a season two to make sure the story felt authentic and justified. “We were lucky Liane Moriarty wrote an - almost like a novella for us to use as a template. And it really helped tremendously that the characters were alive in her mind, and had these very rich experiences that were just as interesting, entertaining, as in-depth as they were in the original series. So that gave us a basis for which to go on for each character.”
And there’s a lot to dig into, now that *breathes in heavily* everyone knows that pushed-to-his-death-by-Bonnie (Kravtiz) Perry was not only an abusive husband to Celeste (Kidman), but also Jane’s (Woodley) rapist; Madeline (Witherspoon) cheated on Ed (Adam Scott); and that it was Max (Celeste and Perry’s son) that choked Renata’s (Dern) daughter Amabella, not Jane’s son (yup, from that event) Ziggy. *exhales* The women promised not a broader season two, but a deeper one. They’re in it together now, after all, committing to a lie to protect Bonnie from the police.
There wasn’t originally a plan for them to expand past the first outing, and even Kidman admits that, “the desire to spend more time together was a huge part of it.” But she went on, noting that there was also “an enormous demand from the audience. I mean, I’ve never been in something that reached so far, globally.”
She also put the show’s most revelatory aspect perfectly, noting that, “the incredible virtue of this series—but also the very difficult thing that we’ve had to navigate—is [the fact that] you don’t get six women in a show and follow all of their lives in this complicated, and deep a way. It’s so rare. Most times, you’ll get two. But the beauty of television is you do have seven hours, and so you do have the chance to delve deeply into six women’s lives. And that’s fantastic to have the opportunity. I mean I don’t know another show that has six female leads.”
So what’s Season 2 all about?
Happily, the series sounds like it will put a lot of focus on Bonnie, a character whose backstory, though included in the book, was largely left out of the first set of episodes. “Bonnie’s character wasn’t explored to the degree that it was in the book,” Kidman admitted. But she’s glad “it gets a greater chance to be explored, having done what she’s done.”
This sets things in motion. “The dynamic is really interesting this season, because even though we are a group, we’re all going through so much [separately],” explained Kravitz. “So there still is a conflict within us. But we now have this thing that binds us together, so watching us all kind of do this dance together, because of this lie that we all hold is – it’s an interesting thing to see.” And after seeing a teensy bit of footage (!! we know) before the panel began, we can confirm that seems to be what’s happening.
Separate but together seems to be the genesis of how the story will play out, with Witherspoon adding that it all hinges on trauma, both shared and isolated. “We’ve talked about trauma, we’ve experienced trauma, we’ve seen each other’s trauma, but how do we cope with it? How do we go on, and how do we carry on? That was a big theme we explored in season two.”
Woodley feels as though her character is in a very particular position, nothing that Jane, “has had extreme trauma in her life and [is now] able to work on the other end of that. What does it look-like once this ghost in her closet is gone? How does she cope [with] that, and how does she move forward in a way that’s healthy for her and her son, while also continuing to co-exist with a bunch of women who maybe aren’t in the same boat as her … but moving forward are aligned or in commitment to standing with one another, helping one another?”
They’re also energized by this season’s new director, Andrea Arnold, who they said really digs into the emotional center of character and story established last season by the show’s co-creators, writer David E. Kelley (of Ally McBeal fame) and Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée. Kelley commended Arnold’s raw and honest approach towards the story as she took over for Vallée for this run of episodes.
Kidman added that having the female gaze helming the set brought with it a noticeable tone shift to the show. “The way she enters into all of us, is – you’ll see,” she teased.
As for the indomitable Ms. Dern, who looked as powerful as she did resplendent in a black jumpsuit? Well, the panelists’ comments on that regard are perfect, sans write-around, so we’re providing them in transcript form:
Kravitz: “…it’s an interesting thing to see.”
Dern: “And thrilling for Renata to have any friends, so –”
Witherspoon: “It’s really cute to see Dern – Dern’s character is so excited that she has girlfriends! And she wants to hang out, and drink wine, and –”
Kravtiz: “And she kind of doesn’t know how to do it.”
Witherspoon: “It’s so awkward!”
Dern: “But she’s such an uncomplicated character, and they’re so complicated that, you know –-”
Witherspoon: “She gives a lot of unsolicited advice.”
Kidman: “But we go to the grave with all of these stories, I gotta tell you.”
Streep: “All of them. What happens in Monterey, stays in Monterey.”
…Oh yes, did you think we forgot about the Meryl Streep of it all?
Meryl-y we roll along
Few things rarely bring as much assurance of greatness as the inclusion of Meryl Streep. The actress is so casually accomplished, so coolly confident in that way only your carefree aunt who had a lot of fun in the ’70s could be (a girl can dream), it’s hard to imagine there isn’t some sort of quantifiable gravitational force that surrounds her. Quantitative or not, she and Big Little Lies found themselves in each other’s orbit, thanks to an obsession on both sides.
“I loved this show. I was addicted to it,” Streep giddily explained. “I thought it was an amazing exercise in what we know and what we don’t know about people; about family, about friends—how it flirted with the mystery of things. What was unsaid, unshown, unknown was sort of the pull, … and it was so exciting. So, when I got the chance to join the crew, I thought, ‘Yeah! I wanted to do it, to be in that world.’ The world that was created was amazing.”
As it turned out, she was being willed to the project by Moriarty, who created the character of Mary Louise specifically for Streep—something the actress, whose real name is actually Mary Louise, didn’t know until she was on the panel stage. “She was sending that subliminal message to Meryl because she wanted her,” Kidman explained. “Oh, she did?” Streep replied.
Kidman smiled, “Yes, did you not know that?”
Big Little Lies will return to our screens for its second season in June 2019. You can find out everything you need to know about what’s to come, including spoilers and new cast additions, here.