When asked to join a second season of “Big Little Lies,” Meryl Streep didn’t hesitate.
“[My agents] asked me, ‘don’t you want to read it?’ And I said no,” the actor laughed, sitting alongside her co-stars Wednesday at the Wing Soho in New York City. “The first season was the greatest thing on television.”
In a conversation moderated by “Vanity Fair” editor-in-chief Radhika Jones, Streep joined stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern hours before their season 2 premiere to discuss their experiences with the celebrated HBO drama and why they were so determined to bring it back. (Co-stars Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz were unable to attend, but Witherspoon enthused about Kravitz’s character getting to explore her relationship with her mother, played by Crystal Fox, while Streep gushed that “Shailene is just a miracle in this.”)
“You get to explore [the characters] and the consequences on a deeper level,” said Kidman of the decision to continue after the climactic finale, which coincided with the end of Liane Moriarty’s novel and was originally meant to end the series. “You see their lives unfold in a much deeper way.”
Another big part of the decision to return was the huge reaction the show received. “The year at the Golden Globes when Oprah gave that incredible speech…and we were able to go up there and talk about this show was truly one of the greatest moments of my life and career,” Witherspoon said. Plus, as they all agreed, “Big Little Lies” represented a rare treat in their careers when they got to collaborate with many women rather than be the sole female voice on set; the fact that they even get along well enough to have an ongoing group chat is a bonus. (While they wouldn’t reveal the content of their conversations, Kidman at least allowed that she’s the most enthusiastic emoji user, while Witherspoon said that she “likes a gif.”)
Still, Dern admitted that the wide reach of “Big Little Lies” surprised her. “In my narrow-minded perception, and perhaps cellular perception that comes with some sexism, I thought, ‘well, women will watch the show.’ Which is not okay!” she exclaimed. “Because men loved the show! Frat boys love the show, teenagers loved the show. We all want authentic stories.”
In that respect, Streep continually emphasized her appreciation for Witherspoon and Kidman banding together to get “Big Little Lies” made in the first place. “I am of a generation that waited to be asked to dance,” Streep said, “but I’m so admiring of you for getting out in front of stuff, for being on the balls of your feet, for seeking out material.”
The cast also discussed the impact of how the series tackled domestic violence, a purposeful turn given that the Wing talk was presented in partnership The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). After playing her character Celeste, who was abused by her husband (Alexander Skarsgaard), Kidman says she has become much more aware of the realities of domestic violence and was “suddenly able to hear the stories and be a voice for a lot of those stories.” Still, she didn’t want Celeste to get past her trauma too quickly in the second season. “I was adamant that she wasn’t a superhero,” Kidman said. “You’re going to see her navigating that path.”
Above all, everyone agreed, the best part about making a second season of “Big Little Lies” was the opportunity to dig deeper into the lives of (as Streep put it) “very complicated, flawed, hysterically funny but tragic women.”
“For all of our lives as little girls, we grew up reading all the books that had male protagonists…we spent all our lives living through [them],” Streep said (adding later that she never wanted to be “Wendy or Tink….I wanted to be Peter Pan!”).
“The hardest thing is getting men to watch a story where they put themselves in the bodies of protagonists who are female,” Streep continued. “It’s almost an impenetrable act of imagination for any men. [But] ‘Big Little Lies’ crossed over. They could feel what you felt. That’s an amazing gift to humanity.”
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