Boasting huge star power, insightful writing and poignant storylines, Big Little Lies was one of the biggest series of 2018. Now, star Shailene Woodley tells Beatrice Hazlehurst what it was like returning for season two, and welcoming Meryl Streep to the stellar cast.
With an A-list cast comprising Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman, among others, you might think the success of Big Little Lies was a given. But Shailene Woodley says no one predicted the show's overwhelming success.
It was only the day after it premiered, as she was seated in a salon chair, that her hair stylist delivered the big news: the series was an international phenomenon.
"I had to dye my hair for a movie, so I'm sitting there and start hearing, 'Celeste this, Bonnie that'. So I say to my stylist, 'What is happening?' And she replied, 'What, you haven't heard? It's a sensation, everyone is talking about it.' It was pretty remarkable to see how much of an effect it had."
It's this "power of the people" that we can thank for season two, Woodley explains, although she's tight-lipped when it comes to next instalment's plot points. Witherspoon and Kidman had no intention of extending the series beyond the Liane Moriarty novel on which the first series was based, but the response was "so extreme" that a second season was soon born.
The intention, she says, remains the same: to explore the female psyche in ways not often seen on screen. It's this that Woodley also believed resonated so universally. The women of Monterey were reflections of our family members, friends and selves, and the bleakly comedic murder-mystery in which they become entangled only upped the ante.
The hype for a follow-up increased tenfold with the announcement that joining the cast for season two would be one of the industry's most esteemed: Meryl Streep.
Little is known about her character other than she is the mother of Skarsgard's recently deceased character — an addition that's sure to shake up the sleepy Californian town. Considering the killer-watt star power of the existing cast, it's easy to envision that Streep's arrival incited a battle of egos on set, but Woodley says the opposite is true.
"Meryl was so nervous to be there — she showed up very vulnerable," she says. "Because she always questions whether she's right for that role, or whether the story is going to be told in the way it should be. I've never seen another actor look at a project so holistically.
"When you have someone as revered as Meryl Streep be open about the things that are difficult for her, you feel like you can do the same. That's what makes her so brilliant: she is able to be strong because she's able to admit her weakness."
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Adding to the success and talkability around Big Little Lies, was its uncanny arrival at the same time as Hollywood's reckoning - the burning hot spotlight that was turned on Tinseltown after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which exposed the film and television industry's abysmal treatment of women.
It's an alignment Woodley believes was "cosmic".
"It was a bunch of women interested in talking about the psychology of females rather than just the idea or the picture of what a female experience is. And then behind-the-scenes hiring people with an emphasis on equality."
The parallels were uncanny. On screen, the series dealt with issues of rape and domestic abuse, along with the pressure of motherhood and complexities of female friendship. Ultimately, each woman prevails with one another's support — a theme that Woodley deeply identifies with.
"I don't know any woman who hasn't either been sexually abused herself or doesn't have a close friend or family member who has been," she says.
"Or any man, actually. We're all part of this, and we have so much f***ing work to do. My only hope is that more of us right now, having these uncomfortable conversations, actually do the work to change. Like we actually need to do something different. That's on us and no one else."
And if #MeToo is soon retired from headlines, that's okay too, Woodley continues.
"Listen, everything's a trend. There are a thousand things we need to move on to, as long as the seeds that were planted when it was sexy and happening can manifest and disrupt.
"I think that's why the show has done so well, because we focus on the things that are wrong in order to move forward in a better way."
Who: Shailene Woodley
What: Big Little Lies, season two
When: Premieres Monday on Soho and Neon