The first season of “Big Little Lies” may have come to an end with an answer to the murder mystery, as well as a sense of the Monterey Five solid in their friendship. But when the cast and producers realized they wanted to reunite, and they saw there was equal audience demand for more of the story, the show went from a limited series based on Liane Moriarty’s novel to a drama, for which the author returned to “write a novella as a template,” noted executive producer and star Reese Witherspoon.
“It helped that the characters were alive in her mind,” Witherspoon said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the series Friday.
Added executive producer David E. Kelley: “We really didn’t close the chapter. It ended on a very open note of what’s going to happen next, and that’s will the lie have a life, will it have a malignancy?”
Kelley said they will “drill down” on that lie and explore “how will that lie permeate” the community of Monterey.
Additionally there were questions about the status of various character relationships in the team’s behind, both for the characters explored in the first season and new ones they wanted to include for the future of the storytelling, including Mary Louise Wright (Meryl Streep), Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) mother-in-law.
“It’s 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 television show] and follow their lives in these complicated ways.”
For Kidman’s Celeste, the exploration in the second season is “what is the aftermath of a abuse when the partner is gone — in this case dead? It doesn’t mean you’re healed.”
Meanwhile for Shailene Woodley’s Jane, it’s about exploring how she moves forward from her own “extreme trauma…in a way that is healthy for her and her son while also continuing to coexist with women who maybe aren’t in the same boat as her because of her past but are aligned in commitment to helping one another.”
Keeping the conversation around abuse at the forefront of the conversation was important for the team behind the show, especially upon seeing the “strength and encouragement” of other women in their audience and in the industry.
“We’ve talked about trauma; we’ve experienced trauma; we see each others’ trauma — but how do we cope with it, how do we go on?” Witherspoon said is the focus of the second season.
Streep added that “this piece fed something — a hunger” not only for the audience but for her personally.
“I’m playing someone who is dealing with whatever the deficits of what her parenting was and the mysteries in that and how you can’t go back in time and fix something. All of those issues, that was interesting to me, and it felt real, honest…David really understood that part, and I felt like I had something to give to this piece,” she said.
A pivotal behind-the-scenes change comes in the form of the show’s director. Andrea Arnold stepped in for the second season, where Jean-Marc Vallee helmed the first.
“You talk about the male gaze and the female gaze and obviously this is the female gaze because we have a woman behind the camera,” Kidman said.
However, she continued, the biggest change in the second season may just be the removal of the Greek chorus part of the storytelling. “That, I think, changes some of the tone of us,” she said.
Kelley noted that in the first season such a device was a way of “informing the audience on the characters” but that it became a “fine line” of using it once the “show intensified and we wanted to live and breathe in that intensity.” The second season, he said, will pick up at the intensity level of the end of the first season, although “tonally it’s still a mix of comedy and drama…we often describe it as a big bowl of porridge,” he said.
The team behind “Big Little Lies” met to discuss different story ideas for the second season, but Kelley said they didn’t “agree to set sail” until they found a story about which they were passionate. At this time, Kelley shared they “like where our closure is at the end of Season 2, so this will probably be it.”
Of course, as his cast pointed out on-stage, that is what they said at the end of the first season initially, too.
But, Kelley said, “Everybody up here can get jobs. We didn’t want to do this unless we could at least have a fair shot of living up to the bar we set in Season 1.”
The second season of “Big Little Lies” premieres in June on HBO.