The untold truth of Big Little Lies

Since premiering on HBO in 2017, Big Little Lies has evolved into a true television phenomenon — being nominated for (and already raking in) a slew of awards. In addition to being optioned and co-executive produced by two of its stars, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, the series centers around a refreshingly female-driven narrative. It's not surprising the immensely popular mini-series has pivoted into a full-blown series, or that its second season is attracting celebrated actresses such as Meryl Streep

Of course, that doesn't mean Big Little Lies is without any surprises. Watch one episode and that becomes abundantly clear. But adding even more intrigue to the series are these little known behind-the-scenes facts about its stars and what really goes on when the cameras aren't rolling. 

Reese Witherspoon had a mid-filming meltdown

It's natural to relate to the women central to Big Little Lies. No, you likely haven't colluded to cover up a major crime. But in a general sense, you know these women. That kinship is only amplified by the fact that not only do the characters have meltdowns, the women playing them do, too — underscoring that this is a show made for complex women by complex women. 

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Reese Witherspoon confessed that the show's finale was "the worst shooting experience I've ever had in my life." Later, at a round table alongside co-star Nicole Kidman and other dramatic actresses (think Oprah Winfrey and Elisabeth Moss), Witherspoon shared how she reached her breaking point when an emotionally charged scene was repeatedly pushed off. 

"By day seven of getting prepared and not ever using it, we came in and, out of nowhere, we were told we had to do the title sequence, and I just couldn't do it. I started to scream, and I've never screamed like this. Like, howling," Witherspoon said during the Hollywood Reporter round table. "And instead of having this feeling — like, 'Oh, my God, what did I just do?' — all the women came over and said, 'Girl, I have so been there.' And Nicole [Kidman] goes, 'Jean-Marc, she's ready to shoot right now, right now. We need to get Jean-Marc.'"

Ladies' night doubled as rehearsal

Can you imagine what it must have been like shooting the series with such a nuanced cast? As evidenced by Witherspoon's major meltdown revelation, even difficult days on set didn't actually suck. In fact, when the women weren't shooting, they unpacked their characters together — over adult libations. 

"With Big Little Lies, especially, it was great to work with all those wonderful women (including [Laura] Dern, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley). We learned more about each other at night over wine. We didn't rehearse; we'd just go to dinner!" Witherspoon told Southern Living magazine.

That organic on-set chemistry and commitment to digging deeper clearly paid off. "I think people see themselves [in the show]," Witherspoon continued. "I think men discovered how women really feel about marriage and relationships and each other. I mean, when was the last time you got to see women really talk about complex issues?"

Nicole Kidman was secretly engaged to a co-star's dad

Coming into the project, most of the women in the cast had professional connections: Wild for Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon, The Fault in Our Stars for Dern and Shailene Woodley, Divergent for Woodley and Zoë Kravitz. But, unbeknownst to many, Kravitz and Nicole Kidman had a very personal connection. During an interview with The EDIT, Kidman casually dropped the pair's past, saying, "Well, I knew Zoë because I was engaged to her father. It's all in the family! I love Lenny; he's a great guy." Wait, what?! 

In her own subsequent interview with The EDIT, Kravitz addressed the collective shock the admission caused. "I think she forgot that no one knew that," Kravitz said, reportedly laughing. "I hadn't seen her in a long time before Big Little Lies, but there was a point where we were all kind of living together. I was about 13, and she would take me to see movies; she was so nice to me." 

Those violent scenes left a mark...literally

Scenes between Nicole Kidman's character, Celeste, and her onscreen husband Perry, played by Alexander Skarsgard, prove impossible to watch without wincing. The pain — both physical and emotional — is that convincing. In the case of these extraordinary actors, it's because they made some serious sacrifices for their art. For Kidman in particular, that meant weathering the gnarly bruises of her character's abuse.

Kidman recounted her role's physicality to The Hollywood Reporter, divulging, "There was one point when [director Jean-Marc Vallee] wanted to go back and reshoot me being slammed into the wardrobe because it wasn't hard enough. I'm like, 'I've got bruises because of how hard it was, so I can't believe that it didn't read that way.'" 

The aftermath of her scenes with Skarsgard were so intense, in fact, that they gave Kidman's real-life husband, Keith Urban, pause for concern. Kidman told Vogue, "At one point, Keith was like, 'I'm going to take a photo of your back because it's covered in deep, massive bruises.' He was devastated seeing it, but then he would say, 'But I have an artist wife!' He knows that's how I work; I don't even notice it half the time."

BFFs run in the family

Just when you thought Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern's friendship couldn't get any cuter (Beach vacays! Award shows! Girls' nights!), consider this: Their mothers are BFFs, too. As revealed during a joint interview with The New York Times, it all started with an introduction by a mutual friend who assured Witherspoon she'd adore Dern and Dern's mother. As Witherspoon explained it, "Her mom is, like, the quintessential Southern mom, and I have a real Southern mother, too." 

Spoiler alert? Witherspoon did love the women, and vice versa. Dern's mom loves Witherspoon so much, in fact, that she panned her daughter's performance in Big Little Lies on account of her fondness. "My mother called me — and she's an actress — and goes, 'You didn't prepare me for what a b**** you are.' I'm like, 'I didn't know I was supposed to prepare you for any character I play!' And she said, 'Yeah, but you're a b**** to Reese.'" 

It's no wonder Witherspoon's mom struck up a fast friendship with Dern's. "Your next article should be about how our mothers met," Witherspoon joked to The Times of the tight matriarchs, revealing, "They watched Wild together in a theater holding hands." 

Did the director plot this from the start?

Although Big Little Lies' author Liane Moriarty says she is a fan of the TV adaptation of her book, she did confess to The Sydney Morning Herald that she was initially unsure about one specific change made in the screenplay: excluding any backstory about Bonnie and her abusive father. 

"My original reaction was what have they done? How have they left that out?" Moriarty said, noting that many people have reassured her they could tell through Zoë Kravitz's performance that Bonnie had a troubled past. And while Moriarty would have preferred it in there, she likes that the omission "leaves open the possibility of season two." 

When asked why he didn't include that part of Bonnie's narrative, director Jean-Marc Vallee simply told The Hollywood Reporter that "it was too much explaining." However, despite asserting he wasn't in favor of a second season, Vallee is already tied to the hit show's next installment. Hmm, perhaps he left the door open for Bonnie's backstory just in case? 

Alexander Skarsgard likens the ladies to "hyenas"

You can relax; Alexander Skarsgard isn't like his onscreen character, Big Little Lies' abusive husband Perry. Although he chose a less than flattering word to describe his female co-stars, he meant it in a way that implied strength and tenacity.

"It was interesting, because it was like all of their rage was combined; they ganged up to protect Celeste. It was [akin] to hyenas taking down a bigger predator. It was very animalistic, very primal," Skarsgard told TVLine of the dramatic finale, quick to point out, "Not to compare these gorgeous women to hyenas, by the way. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. To get to work with those ladies was extraordinary." 

Filming made one actress smash a glass door off-set

By all accounts, Nicole Kidman is the consummate professional. She comes off as calm and, as co-star Zoë Kravitz describes it, at times "quiet and shy." So it may come as a shock that the meek-mannered Kidman smashed a window in cathartic angst over a Big Little Lies scene. 

It happened, as Kidman confessed to The Hollywood Reporter, following filming the last episode — after Kidman lay crumpled in nothing but underwear. "I just lay on the floor. I couldn't get up. I didn't want to get up," she said, revealing that director Jean-Marc Vallee walked over and put a towel over her between takes. "I just felt completely humiliated and devastated. And angry inside. I went home and I threw a rock through a glass door." 

Kidman regained her composure enough to call her co-star, Reese Witherspoon, and admit what had happened. But the instance speaks strongly to why Kidman told Deadline the role of Celeste was "the hardest character to work on." 

Ed's burly beard was Adam Scott's idea

Little did Adam Scott realize when he tackled the role of Madeline's husband Ed that his beard would gain a following all its own. As fans took to Twitter to gush over the actor's full facial hair, Scott struggled with the real-life ups and downs of being a bearded man — and he has no one to blame but himself. He suggested it! 

"I just thought he would have a beard and a fleece vest and four pairs of khakis," Scott told The Hollywood Reporter. "Jean-Marc [Vallee, director] kind of thought that was an odd way to go. I told him all of that and he was like, 'Oh, all right yeah. Let's do the beard!" For six solid months, the actor rocked his burly Ed beard, noting, "It got to be a little much." 

Madeline and Nathan's tension had a life of its own

When it came to getting into character as Madeline, Reese Witherspoon apparently didn't mess around. Her strained relationship with ex-husband Nathan, portrayed by James Tupper, played out to some extent even when the director called cut.  

Such kicked off Tupper and Witherspoon's working relationship. "The first day of shooting, I burst into this trailer and I had accidentally gone into Reese's private hair and makeup trailer," Tupper told The Hollywood Reporter. "And Reese was there preparing and said, 'You're playing Nathan?' And after I said I was, she said, 'By the way, if you think that you're not responsible for leaving us and your family and not looking after your daughter, then you need to look at your role again!' I don't know where I found the courage, but I was like, 'Being with you was untenable. See you on set.' And I walked out." 

All's well that ends well though, right? Clarified Tupper, "She was always pissed off at Nathan. By the end of it, we came together and are friends, but the whole time we were shooting she just hated my guts!" 

Picture this: Jane as someone other than Shailene Woodley

Now that the dust has settled on the first season and a second has been secured, fans can take a deep breath and mull over the many layers of the show's resident characters. But, if the author of Big Little Lies had her way, at least one of those characters would have been played by a totally different actress. 

To preface, Liane Moriarty doesn't have anything against Shailene Woodley. She simply had another face in mind for the series' third major player once Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman had been confirmed. "There are three women so all the Hollywood reporters are trying to guess who the third person will be," Moriarty said to The Sydney Morning Herald. "I don't know, but Rose Byrne is absolutely perfect for the third character if anybody is wondering." 

You don't have to feel bad for Byrne, though — the Australian-born actress has been busy with other roles, including three films premiering in 2018 and one slated for release in 2019. 

Zoë Kravitz and Madeline would have bonded over Bonnie

It's pretty easy to empathize with Madeline if you've ever had to endure a partner moving on, not to mention being an even better partner to someone else. When kids are involved, it gets exponentially trickier. And while Bonnie seems nice, the fact that she is so ingratiating can make the situation even more maddening. No one knows this better than Zoë Kravitz, who brought Bonnie to life onscreen. 

"It's kind of annoying how nice she is," the actor admitted to Yahoo TV. "But I have compassion for Madeline's character in thinking that Bonnie's annoying and probably fake. She acts like she wants to be her friend, but she is dating her ex who left her and her child a long time ago and now is living the perfect life trying to be the perfect dad with Bonnie." 

Kravitz went on to talk about how it is even more complicated when the kids' feelings are taken into account. "And Madeline's older daughter thinks Bonnie is so cool just as she starts pulling away from her mom, so that causes issues. I think if I was the one in that situation, the nicer someone is, the more frustrating they would become to me." 

Chloe is a super-cool kid IRL, too

One qualifier springs to mind where Darby Camp is concerned: scene-stealer. Despite being oh-so-young, the child star — who played Madeline's music-obsessed daughter, Chloe — stole the spotlight throughout the first season. And judging by Camp's interview with Vulture, the pint-sized talent boasts an equally charismatic appeal in the real world. 

Discussing differences between herself and Chloe, Camp told the outlet she typically isn't sassy like her character (although "it was really fun to call Reese 'woman'"). On the other hand, she does love a good jam sesh like her Big Little Lies alter ego. 

"Like, I love '80s and '90s music, like David Bowie and Johnny Cash and all of those good singers. I love all the music that she listens to. I'm more of — the artists I like are Hall & Oates and Michael Jackson," she said. In case that doesn't convince you of her coolness, know that Camp also streams Leon Bridges and Janis Joplin on the regular. Case closed. 

The cast personifies #squadgoals

Prepare to wish you were part of the Big Little Lies cast. Or, to be more accurate, prepare to wish that more. Not only do Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman, and Zoe Kravitz get along famously on set, the women also continue to empower and support each other outside of the series as well. 

From their joint family vacation together, Dern and Witherspoon confirmed to Vanity Fair that the actresses are never far from each other's thoughts. "Yesterday, we were texting with the other girls. We FaceTimed with Shailene yesterday," Dern said of Witherspoon and herself. "We all remain close, and I can't believe our very good fortune in finding each other and forming this friendship. Between filming and all of the press afterward, it feels like these actresses and I have spent two and a half years together. And we're not getting to be together with our families, our children, on holiday while we happen to be watching the finale."