As much as audiences loved HBO’s Big Little Lies, the female-driven limited series, the cast loved it even more. The personal bond between the five main stars — Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoë Kravitz — was so close and nourishing that they clamoured for another season.
Audiences and cast members alike will get their wish when Season 2 airs on HBO this June, despite the fact that the first hit season of seven episodes was all that was ever planned. Kidman said it was almost unbearable to imagine never being able to share the intense personal and professional experience that came with working on the critically-acclaimed show.
“We all said goodbye — big goodbyes,” said Kidman in reference to how the cast felt after wrapping the first and supposedly only season of “Lies,” set amid the seaside community of Monterey, California. “But the desire to spend time together [again] was a big part of the decision to do another season, although the demand from the audience was an even bigger factor . . . I’ve never been a part of something that reached so far globally.”
Not only that, but Kidman delivered arguably the finest performance of her illustrious career as Celeste, a battered wife struggling to hold her family together, and was subsequently rewarded with both an Emmy and a Golden Globe award. She and Reese Witherspoon had also invested considerable time in developing and producing “Big Little Lies,” and they knew that they had found a great property.
There was just one problem: the show was based on the stand-alone book by the Australian writer Liane Moriarty, and there was no second novel! There was such a collective swell of interest in the powerful study of the interconnected lives of these five female characters, however, that Kidman and Witherspoon persuaded Moriarty to write what turned out to be a 200-page novella (still unpublished) that served as a template for a second season that was again scripted by showrunner/writer David E. Kelley.
They then went out and hired Meryl Streep to play Kidman’s character’s mother-in-law after the former had gushed about wanting to come on board the show. Kidman said that the atmosphere on the set during the second season was just as intense and rewarding as the first. “We’ve now worked together for well over a couple of years and the bonds between all of us are just deeper and stronger and richer,” Kidman said. “I miss them . . . we go out all the time, we talk, we help each other . . . it’s just a very strong connection and that’s rare that you get that amount of screen time together and then the personal time.”
“To watch Zoë and Shailene grow up and to see them become women . . . it’s so nice, and I’ve never had that. I know Laura and Reese feel that, too. We’re all so different, yet we complement each other.”
Added Kidman: “We’re all in it together and we deeply care. You just don’t get to see six women in a show and follow all of their lives in a complicated and deep way . . . I don’t know another show that has six female leads, with Streep added for good measure.”
Kidman believes that her experience on “Lies” has been a revelation and that she and her co-producer, co-star, and close friend Reese Witherspoon wondered why it had taken so long to be part of a powerful female ensemble project. “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.”
It’s certainly been a very busy last year for the 51-year-old Kidman. In addition to her work on “Lies,” the Australian star gave a stunning performance in last year’s Destroyer and is about to begin shooting a six-part miniseries, “The Undoing,” developed by her own production company, Blossom Films, and based on the book You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. The series is being directed by Susanne Bier (“The Night Manager”) and co-stars Kidman opposite Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland. It’s yet further evidence that Kidman has correctly gauged the entertainment industry’s tectonic shift away from studio films to high-profile limited TV series.
Season 2 picks up right where the season finale left off, after (Season 1 spoiler alert) Zoë Kravitz’s character, Bonnie, pushed Celeste’s violent husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), down a flight of concrete stairs to a much-deserved death after he attacked Celeste at a school fundraising event. All five of the Monterey women were present at the killing, and now they have been brought tightly together by the “big little lie” they have told the police about the “accidental” nature of Perry’s fall.
The narrative then explores each of the characters in different and deeper ways while they collectively deal with the aftermath of Perry’s demise. “[Season 2] is about being able to delve more deeply into these women,” Kidman said. “What’s been the incredible virtue of the series but also the incredibly difficult thing we’ve had to navigate is you don’t get [to explore] six women in [a TV series] and follow their lives in these complicated ways.” Kidman’s character, Celeste, is dealing with the aftermath of abuse after her partner is gone — in this case dead. It doesn’t mean she’s healed.
Season 2 also encompasses two other important changes. First, there is an additional female presence in the form of a new director, Andrea Arnold, who replaced Jean-Marc Vallée after the latter was unavailable due to a scheduling conflict. Second, the Greek chorus of ordinary Monterey residents who provided a running, gossipy commentary on proceedings has been — thankfully, in the eyes of some critics — removed.
Kidman describes the change of directors as the opportunity to have “a female gaze because we have a woman now behind the camera,” although she feels that “the biggest difference for me in this season is that we don’t have the Greek chorus this time.”
Kidman is justifiably proud of having had the chance to not only create but delve even more deeply into Celeste’s life. She has been profoundly struck by the extraordinary public response to the character. “What a journey this has been. . . . that’s the character people talk to me about more than anything else,” Kidman said. “It’s probably the most commercial thing I’ve done in my whole career . . . and it was an important step in my career.” It has made her jump into TV all the more satisfying.
“I cannot believe how [“Lies”] entered the zeitgeist. It’s really been a huge eye-opener for me on the power of television, the power of that particular story and how it connected. It was glorious, actually. While it was [first being broadcast], people were coming up to me, saying: ‘What happens next? [Audiences] were obsessed. It was beautiful. I was very much a part of people’s lives. People would want to reach out and touch me. I got so many emails and people talking to me about it,” said Kidman.
Interestingly, Kidman felt empowered on a professional level by how the public responded to her work and in particular Celeste’s deeply uncomfortable therapy sessions while she was forced to confront Perry’s serial abuse. “When I saw the therapy scenes, which people really responded to, I thought I was terrible. And everyone was like, ‘No, no!’ I think it was because I felt too exposed and vulnerable. It was probably too much for me to see.”
Perhaps the most significant development in Season 2 is the presence of Meryl Streep as Perry’s mother, who develops a relationship with Celeste and her two young grandsons. “You need a Meryl, someone to come in and shake us up,” Kidman said. “She helps us get into the ramifications of how the first season ended. The weight of that is heavy. It has to be. There’s no way around it.”
Added Kidman: “Meryl signed on without having read any script, which is a big support of us as a group of women. She was like, ‘I want to be in the coven,’ and she’s definitely in it now!” laughed Kidman. The addition of Streep into the already complex female dynamic of “Lies” was welcomed by the entire cast, many of whom admitted to being in awe of the screen icon. Kidman was no exception.
“I was terrified,” Kidman confessed. “You’re acting opposite the great one. I get nervous anyway — but to be opposite her and not want her to think, ‘Who is this amateur?’ And also, we want to deliver a series for her that she’s great in. Reese and I were like, ‘We want this for her and for the other women.’ ”
Some of the other “women” who will be part of Season 2 are none other than Nicole Kidman’s two young daughters, Sunday Rose (10) and Faith Margaret (7), who make brief appearances as extras. Kidman, who has made her home in Nashville, Tennessee, for the past 13 years after marrying country and western idol and fellow Aussie Keith Urban, confesses that there are still a few years to go before her kids will be able to watch “Lies.” For the time being, her daughters are slavish devotees to her role as Queen Atlanna in Aquaman, the hit blockbuster starring Jason Momoa. Quipped Kidman: “That’s the only thing that gives me any credibility with them, in terms of my career.”
In the meantime, audiences around the world are eagerly anticipating the worldwide June release of Season 2 of a series that represents a historic breakthrough for this daring and compelling female-centric series.
While showrunner David E. Kelley has gone on record as stating, “We like where our closure is at the end of season 2, so that will probably be it.” Witherspoon and Kidman both reminded Kelley at the February Season 2 HBO press junket that he had said “exactly the same thing” after Season 1 had ended.
Kidman is proud of having been part of the concerted effort to bring about a second season of episodes that she feels has created “even stronger characters” and probed further into women’s stories that are gaining increasing traction in Hollywood parallel to the ascendancy of the #MeToo movement.
“Artistically it’s [been] a wonderful thing to take something and go okay, let’s jump off the cliff [and make Season 2]. At the same time, it is its own entity and hopefully it will be taken in that way. It was made with an enormous amount of love.”
“There’s no plan for [a Season 3],” said Kidman. “I think it would be hard to get the whole group together. But we would love to do it.”