Joshua Jackson wasn’t allowed to see the scripts for all eight episodes of “Little Fires Everywhere” when he was first approached about playing Reese Witherspoon’s husband on the Hulu series.
They gave him the first seven. “Until I signed on the dotted line, they wouldn’t give me eight,” Jackson says on Thursday’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeartRadio’s weekly podcast.
The adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name stars Witherspoon as Elena Richardson, a well-off suburban mother of four and a small-town newspaper reporter in the 1990s who befriends her new mysterious tenant (Kerry Washington) and her teenaged daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood). Jackson plays Bill, Elena’s attorney husband. As Elena digs into Mia’s past, all while trying to keep up the perfect home (or at least the appearance of one), Bill seems to have quietly faded from of their marriage and into the background.
Jackson believes Bill has settled for a life he didn’t necessarily want. “He made this unspoken deal with his wife at some point along the way…The deal was like, ‘I want to be with this woman and I don’t really have it in me to be the maverick that I thought I would be, the public defender that’s going to go out and change the world,’” Jackson says. “’So I’ll do all the right things and I’ll get the picket fence and I’ll have all the cute, well-polished kids. I guess that’s a successful life.'”
“To me, I see that, I understand that. I think lots and lots of people make that deal with themselves and then you end up in some degree of misery,” he continues. “At some point in your life, that rattles apart. The husband and the wife, the partners don’t really speak to each other about anything real. They’re just going through the motions. I think for Bill, he really doesn’t want to deal with anything inside that house.”
But, Jackson points out, “Little Fires Everywhere” is more about the women than the men of the story. “First thing that I said to Reese, Kerry and to [series creator] Liz Tigelaar was, ‘As an audience member, as a person who reads a lot of scripts, it’s amazing to read a script and a whole narrative arc that’s completely from the female perspective,’” Jackson says.
The adaptation also wasn’t exactly a Xerox of the book. In the novel, Mia isn’t black. “If she’s just white, you’re only tackling the issues of class,” Jackson says, adding, “There’s plenty of juicy and meaty things there, but as soon as the Mia character becomes black and then obviously by extension her child becomes black, you bring in the race and class, and then the intersection of race and class. It just makes the whole story, I think, incredibly richer.”
Jackson is not only promoting the show, but he’s thinking a lot about his brother, who is an ER doctor in New York, and when we talked, Jackson’s wife, “Queen and Slim” star Jodie Turner-Smith, was due to give birth any day now with their first child. “That adds a little bit of sauce to my days, but in general, my wife’s healthy, my baby’s healthy, so I’m healthy. Life is good,” he says.
And leave it to Turner-Smith to become an unofficial “Little Fires” cheerleader with some very cheeky tweeting. In one tweet, she asked her followers for GIFs of a scene featuring Jackson in a pair of tighty-whities. “Little did I know in 30 years all I really needed to do was get into some ugly dad underwear and this is what people have really been waiting for,” Jackson says.
It was actually his idea after the costume designer asked him if he wanted to wear sweats for the bedroom scene. “I was like, ‘No, this is a middle-aged dad who’s given up. I want ill-fitting tighty-whities,’” Jackson recalls.
“Little Fires” isn’t the only thing Tuner-Smith is watching. She and Jackson are doing what so many others have been doing — obsessing over Netflix’s “Tiger King.” “I cannot wrap my head around basically anything in that show,” Jackson says. “One, that that man and that woman exist. And that there’s a subculture of people who have giant, ferocious, man-eating animals as their house pets. Two, that there is such a thing as a gay, libertarian, cowboy, meth head.”
Also during our chat, Jackson, 41, joked about how young people routinely remind him that he’s been in Hollywood for about three decades. “I’m in this phase of my career where all kids are like, ‘I think I’ve heard of “Dawson’s Creek.” My mom really liked that show,’ he says, before adding with a laugh, “Yeah, that’s where I’m at.”
You can listen to Jackson’s full interview below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.