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HBO BIG LITTLE LIES Season 2: Q&A w Streep, Witherspoon, Kidman, Dern, Kravitz, Woodley + Episodes

Maj Canton - June 9, 2019

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HBO premieres Season 2 of BIG LITTLE LIES on Sunday, June 9, 2019 at 9pm ET/PT. The highly anticipated second season (seven episodes) of this subversive, darkly comedic drama explores the malignancy of lies, the durability of friendships, the fragility of marriage and the vicious ferocity of sound parenting. Multiple characters will be dealing with Perry’s death, and the prospect of moving past a life-altering event. In short: Things get messy. Relationships will fray, loyalties will erode…the potential for emotional and bodily injury shall loom. This new season is just a good as the first in all its moody, twisty goodness. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Returning Cast: The Monterey Five – Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern) and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), and their husbands, Ed (Adam Scott), Nathan (James Tupper) and Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling), Also returning Kathryn Newton (Abigail), Robin Weigert (Dr. Amanda Reisman), Merrin Dungey (Detective Adrienne Quinlan), Darby Camp (Chloe Mackenzie) and Sarah Sokolovic (Tori Bachman). Rumor has it the Alexander Skarsgard (Perry) will appear – flashbacks or ghost?? (We’re not telling)

 

New Cast: Meryl Streep as Celeste’s visiting mother-in-law, Mary Louise, Douglas Smith as Corey Brockfield, Crystal Fox as Elizabeth Howard, Mo McRae as Michael Perkins and Poorna Jagannathan as Katie Richmond.

 


 


This February 2019 TV Tango attended the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, where HBO presented a panel that included Cast Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, and writer/creator David E. Kelley. Here are a few highlights (edited for clarity and readability) from that panel.

 

Cast and writer/producer of BIG LITTLE LIES at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour in February 2019 at The Langham Huntington in Pasadena.

(L-R): Zoe Saldana, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspon, David E. Kelley, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Shailene Woodley.

 


 


Meryl Streep as Mary Louise in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: Meryl, what was it about this show that made you want to come to TV?


Meryl Streep: I loved this show. I was addicted to it. 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, the gravitational pull of the piece. And it was so exciting. So, when I got the chance to join the crew, I wanted to do it, to be in that world. The world that was created was amazing.


Nicole Kidman as Celeste in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: How did the second season come together?


Nicole Kidman: We all said goodbye at the end, big goodbyes. But we became very close, and we had such a good time doing it, and the desire to spend more time together was a huge part of it. There also was an enormous demand from the audience. I've never been in something that reached so far, globally. And that was such a compelling idea, in terms of putting it together again. But it was very much generated by the actual audiences and the desire to see these people still in existence.

David E. Kelley: Well, going back to last season, we really didn't close the chapter. It ended on a very open note of what's going to happen next. And that being, will the lie have a life, will it have a malignancy, what will it do to the equation of these friends, these relationships, the marriage? So, there was a lot of fertile storytelling ground to be mined. The question for us -- and I think the deep breath that we all took -- is, is the storytelling going to be compelling enough that it will rise up to the first year? We didn't want to do this unless we could at least have a fair shot of living up to the bar that we felt we had all set. So, we met, we talked about what the stories were. We were very unflinching and candid with each other about the ones we thought were viable and the ones that we thought not good enough. And we didn't finally agree to set sail until we had the commitment on bank, from all of us, that this was storytelling that we all felt passionate about. When we come back, their lives -- like all of our lives -- seem very well put together on the surface, but then the fissures and the fractures begin to emerge. And there is a big fault line that lies under all of it, which is this event that happened at Trivia Night, last year. So, once the crevices start to widen, it escalates pretty quickly.


Reese Witherspoon (right) and Nicole Kidman (left) in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: What was the thing that you wanted to know happened next to your character after last season ended and does the second season get into that thing you were wondering about?


Reese Witherspoon: Oh, that's a good question. I mean, the book ended with a lot to do with Bonnie's character. So, it was kind of fascinating to see how she was going to respond, and how the actual events happened and how it affected her, in her life. We were in a little bit of a difficult spot, too, because we had this book to follow, the first time. Well, we were lucky Liane Moriarty wrote almost 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 we all had unresolved issues. You know, I had had an affair, and that was never resolved.

Nicole Kidman: I don't think it's answers as much as it warrants -- following the stories of these women and being able to delve more deeply into more of them because Bonnie's character wasn't explored to the degree that it was in the book. So, it gets a greater chance to be explored and also having done what she's done, what's gonna happen for Celeste? What is the aftermath of abuse when the partner is gone -- in this case, dead -- but it doesn’t mean you're healed. I think what's been the incredible virtue of this series -- but also the very difficult thing that we've had to navigate -- is you don't get six women in a show and follow all of their lives in this complicated, deep 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 and the -- I suppose the template, for it being nothing. I mean I don't know another show that has six female leads.


Nicole Kidman (left), Reese Witherspoon (center) and Laura Dern (right) in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: Does being executive producers create a unique dynamic on set?


Reese Witherspoon: Oh, certainly. I get very concerned about logistics and schedules and wanting to accommodate people and help people and help facilitate their ideas. And I think more than anything, the fun part of being a producer is just getting to kind of dig in with everybody about what they wanted out of the experience.


Nicole Kidman: I think we're all in it together and we deeply care. Nobody is in it for the wrong reasons. Reese and I know that and value that and therefore want to have that. We want it to be a satisfying, fantastic experience for everyone. And with that comes enormous responsibility. We're just so honest with each other. And we'll call or we'll be like, "We've got to talk. We've got to -- how do we fix it?" And then we'll go, "Okay, well, but I'm coming at it from this point of view with the character, and that--" and it's fantastic to be in it together. I just love having fellow partners and women and they're so smart, so everyone's contributing, and being able to be a part of that group, I've never had that. And it's lovely at this stage of my life and career to be doing something that I've never done before.


David E. Kelley at TCA.

Question: Do you get overwhelmed with the writing?


David E. Kelley: Yes, there's definitely a lot of writing, rewriting, tweaking, that's part of the process. But this show certainly went through a fair amount of it because of what Reese and Nicole just spoke of -- that commitment -- I think that's one of the attributes that brings us this distinction in the marketplace. I mean, my favorite quote from a writer would be Robert Frost. He said, "No tears for the writer. No tears for the reader." Which means if you don't feel it, don't expect your viewing or reading constituency to feel it. And here, everybody up here felt it. Everybody brought such commitment to their roles. All of them were "How do we make the story better? How do we make the show better?" And that's exactly the kind of input and collaboration that you hope for.


Nicole Kidman (left) and Meryl Streep (right) in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: You had one director do the entire first season, now you have a different director doing the second. Can you talk about the differences?


David E. Kelley: Well, it's a real marathon for any director to do all seven. Jean-Marc was herculean last year, and Andrea Arnold this year. The audience is coming back to a show and a group of characters that they love, and they don't want to be betrayed by suddenly seeing different people in a different world than what they fell in love with. So, you adhere to that vocabulary, but then you want to go places and mine centers of characters that you maybe didn’t get to mine first year and expand. I think when I look at Season 2, we don't so much go broader, but we go deeper. We take the story that we left off on last year, the lie, and we drill down on how is that lie going to permeate the world of Monterey and the people who make up this franchise? Andrea's brought a great skillset. She really mines the emotional center of character and story.

Nicole Kidman: It's interesting having a woman. You talk about the male gaze and the female gaze. Obviously, this is a female gaze because we have a woman now behind the camera. But it's the way she enters into all of us. The biggest difference for me with this one is that we don't have the Greek chorus this time. Which was very much a part of the first season. And for some reason, that just -- that fell away, and that, I think changes some of the tone of it.


Meryl Streep (left), Reese Witherspoon (center) and Nicole Kidman (right) for BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: What kind of role do you think the show has played in furthering a national conversation about trauma?


Reese Witherspoon: We had no idea there was gonna be that kind of public response to this show, that it was going to converge with this moment of women, sensing their need to be leaders and step up and talk about their experiences with strength and with encouragement from other women. And I do think that is part of the reason that we felt like a Season 2 was not just, a great experience for us to get back, but to talk about, now what? We’ve talked about trauma, we’ve experienced trauma, we see each other’s trauma, but how do we cope with it? And how do we go on and how do we carry on? So that was a big theme that we explored in Season 2.

Meryl Streep: I was in this thing called HOLOCAUST really a long time ago, and it was not very critically well received. And yet along with ROOTS, which appeared about the same time, it really precipitated a conversation, certainly in Germany. Someone has made a documentary about the fact that HOLOCAUST was the first time German audiences, young people, had been exposed to the enormity of that time, and looking back at their fathers, their grandfathers. And really it created a seismic shift. This exploration of abuse and its provenance, where it comes from, why it continues, how people survive it, all those questions were in the air and this piece fed something that was a hunger that was a ready audience. You really feel like it owns its place and you want to contribute to it. You feel like you have something to say about it. This piece, for me, because I have four grown children, I’m playing someone who is dealing with whatever the deficits of her parenting were, and the mysteries in that, and how you can’t go back in time and fix something. All those issues, that was interesting to me. And it felt real, honest, honestly investigated. David really understood that part. I felt like I had something to give to this piece.


Shailene Woodley as Jane in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: Shailene, your character was sort of an outsider that got pulled into this massive situation, can you talk about what it’s been like to play that journey over two seasons?


Shailene Woodley: I was really excited for the second season, because at the end of Season 1, Jane had the idea of who this person was, this sort of ghost in her closet, this demon that haunted her constantly. And her idea was always if she could kill the man, or if she could get rid of the man, then she’d be free, and she’d be fine, and she’d be able to move forward. So without going into what happens in this season, it feels very exciting and good for me to be able to portray a character who has had extreme trauma in her life and who now is able to work on the other end of that trauma. And what does it look-like once this ghost in her closet is gone? How does she cope from 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 -- from her history, from her past -- but moving forward are aligned or in commitment to standing with one another, helping one another?


Zoe Kravitz as Bonnie in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: For Zoe and Laura, what was the most rewarding about your characters’ shifting dynamics among the group?


Zoe Kravitz: The dynamic is really interesting this season, because even though we are a group, we’re all going through so much. So there still is a conflict within us. But we now have this thing that binds us together, and so watching us all this dance together because of this lie that we all hold is an interesting thing to see.


Laura Dern: I just want to say how happy I was going to work every day because I had other people to talk to. It’s thrilling for Renata to have friends. She’s such an uncomplicated character and the rest are so complicated.


Reese Witherspoon (left) and Zoe Kravitz (right) in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: If more women take the reins with filmmaking, will personal lives factor more into work scheduling??


Reese Witherspoon: We're definitely aware of each other’s personal lives. Sometimes when I’d be at work and I was a young person with young children, I wouldn’t bring my young children to set, because it made me feel vulnerable. It made me feel like I was exposed and that no one was gonna be supporting of me needing to take care of a sick child. And I have never had that experience with this group of women, I mean they did everything short of putting on a blonde wig and going out there and doing it for me. So, I have to say it was an incredible experience to be able to lean on each other. Even just express the feelings of guilt, or regret, or sadness, or excitement over something that happened in my personal life. So, I will say it was a more personal experience than I've ever had.


 Meryl Streep (left) and Nicole Kidman (right) in BIG LITTLE LIES.

Question: Can you talk about the influence of male critics on female performance?


Meryl Streep: For most of my life, all the critics were male, with a very few women. In films, certainly, the important critics were male often. And, the preponderance of the taste then, of what people chose to review, what they chose to look at, that drove the generative part of what things were made, what things were green lit. So, it was sort of like a little, horrible circle for a long time. Now, with women’s voices more included -- not anywhere near what they should be --people are understanding that this drives the market, actually. And, it drives what's available. Now, television sort of has always been a women’s medium, because at first it was trying to sell women things. They were at home watching commercials, and so television was interested in what women wanted. Films were not. And now, it’s kind of nicely integrated and on its way to being more responsive to half the sky. My worst review came from a female critic, Pauline Kael. But she was playing a boy’s game, which was a very familiar thing that women used to have to do, to talk tough and to play hardball and all those metaphors, for earning your bona fides that way.

Reese Witherspoon: I think when this show came out, the first episode there was one critic who probably didn’t watch more than one episode and said it was a chick show or something. And, really tore the show apart. And, I remember Nic and I talked about it.


Nicole Kidman: 50 SHADES OF GREY, I think they said that it was worse than. So, in terms of my character and the abuse, I was like, please watch the whole show. Which is what I always say, which I know is a massive commitment, because there are so many hours. But you know, you make the show as a whole and the beginning, middle, and end are in those seven hours, or eight hours, or ten hours. And, it’s a massive ask and a lot of times you're not even given the final episode, or the last two episodes. So, that’s one of the quandaries of television and reviewing television, taking it out of the male/female thing. Because when you're dealing with people like Andrea Arnold and these great filmmakers, they're looking at it as a whole, and the writers are. It’s being explored that way. So, that’s what we beg for, is that it’s reviewed that way.


EPISODE GUIDE


If you want to know nothing about the episodes at all, skip this section. Provided by HBO, this episode guide includes general episode descriptions and specific plot details.


“What Have They Done?” (Premieres Sunday June 9, 2019 at 10pm ET/PT; Season premiere): Following first-day-of-school events, Madeline is worried by Bonnie’s behavior and, later, is shocked when Abigail says she doesn’t want to go to college. Mary Louise, Celeste’s mother-in-law, offers her unvarnished assessment of Madeline’s character. Jane learns from her new coworker, Corey, that she’s known in town as one of the “Monterey Five.” Teleplay by David E. Kelley; Story by David E. Kelley and Liane Moriarty; Directed by Andrea Arnold

“Tell-Tale Hearts” (Premieres Sunday June 16, 2019 at 10pm ET/PT): Renata faces an uncertain future when Gordon lands in legal trouble. Corey asks Jane out on a “practice” date. After a challenging therapy session with Dr. Reisman, Celeste opens up to Mary Louise about her relationship with Perry. Bonnie’s mom Elizabeth arrives. Ed confronts Madeline about her secrets. Teleplay by David E. Kelley; Story by David E. Kelley and Liane Moriarty; Directed by Andrea Arnold

“The End of the World” (Premieres Sunday June 23, 2019 at 10pm ET/PT): Mary Louise tries to get closer to Jane. Rather than address her troubles at home, Renata focuses her wrath on Principal Nippal. Madeline is forced to confront her issues at a couples therapy session with Dr. Reisman. Celeste remains conflicted by her memories of Perry. Teleplay by David E. Kelley; Story by David E. Kelley and Liane Moriarty; Directed by Andrea Arnold