Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies had seen powerhouse sales long before it was adapted into a miniseries for HBO. The show, which is produced jointly by stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, wraps on April 2. PW spoke with Moriarty about mean-girl moms and the joy of working with female producers.
How similarly does the show hew to the book? Were you involved in any aspects of its adaptation?
It sticks very closely to the plot, with a few notable exceptions. The setting has changed from Australia to California. There is a lot more money and sex and glamor in the series than in my book—it is HBO after all! I was asked if I wanted to write the screenplay but I was busy writing my last novel, Truly Madly Guilty, so I declined. I was thrilled when David E. Kelley [who wrote the teleplay] came on board.
Reese Witherspoon's production company has a few feature film adaptations under its belt--namely Wild and Gone Girl--but this is its first foray into TV. What do you think it brought to the show that other companies might not have?
Big Little Lies is a joint production between Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman’s production companies. I think it helped to have women in charge who were all passionate about finding a project with multiple strong roles for women. It seems they are just amazingly efficient at what they do because I’ve had books optioned before and the years roll by with nothing happening.
One of the most unsettling aspects of the show, arguably, is its portrayal of domestic violence. Does the show's depiction of domestic violence differ much from what's in the novel?
When I first spoke to Nicole Kidman about the series and she said she wanted to play Celeste, I said it was very important to me that her character doesn’t just take the abuse, she hits back. That was my only stipulation. I didn’t want her to be a passive, pretty victim. I wanted to show how these relationships become tangled and confused, how if you defend yourself you start to feel complicit in the violence and how it’s possible to still be deeply in love with your abuser, even as part of you knows you need to leave. When I was writing the book, I worked hard on conveying the cycles of abuse—the violence followed by the abject apologies. I think David E. Kelley did an incredible job translating that to the screen, and I couldn’t be happier with the way Kidman played Celeste. All that complexity of emotion plays out on her face. It was amazing to watch.
What are some of the biggest takeaways about bullying you wanted your readers to have? Did you feel like the show adequately conveyed those messages?
Big Little Lies is a book about bullying in all its forms, from innocent bullying in the schoolyard, to the subtle, malicious bullying that can take place at the school gate, right through to the violence that goes on behind closed doors. The show absolutely conveys those messages—although of course, I’d quite like viewers to also read the book.