If Reese Witherspoon's social media is to be believed (and why shouldn't it?), the actress has been having the time of her life while filming here in New Zealand this week. She's been drinking in our views, and wine, with vigour, alongside some of the world's most influential women.

Forget Taylor Swift. Between Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and director Ava DuVernay, Witherspoon has formed herself a power squad.

But while girl power is coursing strong on the set of Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, it remains the exception in Hollywood, where Witherspoon says "Smurfette Syndrome" is all too common.

"When there's literally just one woman. It's just bizarre,"she tells TimeOut. "But that was the majority of my experience up until now. I would be the only woman on set, even with the crew."

Big Little Lies is Witherspoon's most ambitious project yet as a producer, featuring an all-star cast.
Big Little Lies is Witherspoon's most ambitious project yet as a producer, featuring an all-star cast.

It's the reason she founded the production company Pacific Standard five years ago, to bring more female-centric stories to the big screen, including the Oscar-nominated



Gone Girl


Now, she's gone even further, taking on the challenge of a seven-part television series, featuring a host of all-star talent. Premiering this Sunday on Soho, Big Little Lies will see Witherspoon lead the cast, alongside Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley.

"I'm passionate because things have to change," explains Witherspoon. "We have to start seeing women as they really are on film, we have to, and not just in movie theatres on a tiny budget. We need to see real women's experience, whether it involves domestic violence, whether it involves sexual assault, whether it involves motherhood or romance or infidelity or divorce.

"We need to see these things because we as human beings need to. We learn from art. And what can you do if you never see it reflected? "

Adapted from Australian novelist Liane Moriarty's best-selling 2014 book, the story focuses on a tight cluster of mums whose kids attend the same school in the picturesque Northern Californian seaside enclave of Monterey (changed from a fictional Sydney location in the book).

"One of us killed another one of us, so one of us is a murderer!" Witherspoon says with glee.

Reese Witherspoon believes women want to see more female-centric stories on screen.
Reese Witherspoon believes women want to see more female-centric stories on screen.

There is indeed a murder mystery driving the story, and the show holds back on revealing not only the perpetrator but the victim, teasing a variety of possibilities as it explores the private lives of these very complex ladies.

"We really weighed and measured whether this was a movie or a television show but we decided together that it would be sort of robbing from the material to have to shrink it down for two hours," says Witherspoon, who shepherded the adaptation from the get-go.

"You'd probably have to get rid of a couple of characters and we just thought what's beautiful about the piece is the diversity of the characters and the ability to show the female experience through lots of different wonderful performances. I would say there are certain episodes of this that are better than most movies I've been in. Number six is maybe my favourite thing I've ever done. Maybe."

Big Little Lies is vivid in its portrayal of the passive antagonism that simmers between rival mothers. It's something Witherspoon has had some personal experience with.

"Yeah, you see it everywhere I mean, it's an interesting dynamic. I call it the 'alpha mommy', I'm always looking out for who's the alpha mommies because I'm scared of alpha mommies.

"Who can out-mommy another mommy?! It's so weird but I don't know, I think it's relevant and I think people will relate to it."

Witherspoon's character, uber-busy-body Madeline Mackenzie, is perhaps the most alpha mum to ever live. It's impossible to imagine any other actor managing to sell the character so well. It's a performance that left co-star and fellow producer Nicole Kidman awed.

"When you read Madeline on the page, she speaks non-stop, but that's an incredibly hard thing to do," Kidman tells



"I mean, that to me is terrifying. I say there's nobody else in this country working today who can do that sort of role where you balance the comedy and the verbose, constant fast-talking with all that emotion and humanity. As an actor, it's one of the hardest things to do. And I would always say to her 'How do you do that?' And she's like 'Oh, I just do it.'"

No slouch herself, Kidman also gives a fine performance as Madeline's bestie Celeste, a glamorous lawyer who gave up her profession to raise twin boys.

The third episode of the series contains a stunning scene between Celeste and her abusive husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), in a marriage counsellor's office. Kidman is more or less silent for a good five minutes, yet conveys torrents of emotion as Perry articulates his darkest thoughts.

"I call that scene an acting class," effuses Witherspoon. "I literally, I stopped watching for a second I had to catch my breath.

"I've never seen two actors sustain in that space dealing with such complexity up and down in modulation, it was just extraordinary. I would recommend it all of our budding actors and actresses out there, watch that scene, it's really extraordinary."

It also highlights how for all the salaciousness driving the main plot of

Big Little Lies

, it's more concerned with revealing relatable truths about its characters.

As Kidman explains: "There's sexual assault. There's being a single mother. Raising a child on your own. There's divorce. There's the separate extended family ... All of those things are fantastic things to be talking about. It's not didactic and heavy-handed. It's funny, it's poignant, and it's devastating."

Witherspoon and Kidman were both so impressed by the source material that they're teaming up to produce a film version of Moriarty's latest book, Truly Madly Guilty.

Kidman says it was the humanity of the characters that she loved that most. As the series' marketing slogan says "A perfect life is a perfect lie".

"Well there's no perfect life, we all know that. I mean nothing's perfect, there's no absolutes and what people present in terms of trying to survive in the world is very much portrayed in this series because that's what Liane Moriarty wrote.

"That was basically her way of saying that whatever is going on in terms of people, what goes on behind close doors is not what's really happening. And it's so much nicer I think when people do realise we're all flawed, we've all got all of these things and we can be open and reach out and help each other."

Who: Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman
What: Big Little Lies
When: Sunday, 8.30pm; Available on Neon from Monday
Where: SoHo