It’s all fun and games until someone ends up dead at an elementary school function. You can exhale and stop writing your tersely worded comments — this is not a Big Little Lies spoiler.
As in the same-named bestseller by Liane Moriarty, the fact that someone has shuffled off this mortal coil is disclosed in the first chapter. Heck, even the debut episode of the seven-part miniseries, which premiered last Sunday, is called “Somebody’s Dead.” But you’ll have to stay tuned to figure out the who, the where, the how, and most importantly the why of the morbid mystery. And that’s one of the things Zöe Kravitz likes most about the story.
“It is a very complicated and layered story about motherhood, marriage, and friendship and image and secrets and the lies we tell others and ourselves. With each episode, more of the details are filled in,” says the Mad Max: Fury Road actress. Kravitz portrays a mom/stepmom in a small, affluent, seaside California community, as does Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley. “There’s an incident at the school where all their children go that sparks a scandal, and everything unravels from there.”
She spoke with Yahoo TV about what drew her to the project, how great it feels to be part of a quality women-centric project, and why she wanted to take on a character that would quite frankly rub her the wrong way in real life.
For people who have not read the book or seen the premiere, how would you describe this series?
I would tell them it’s about mothers and motherhood. You meet so many different kinds of women, and even if they seem like there could be nothing that could ever bring them together, motherhood is what drives all of them. They’ll all go above and beyond for their children. That can lead to interesting and dangerous places. It is about how seemingly perfect people leading perfect lives is a lie. They all have their secrets, and somehow that all adds up to a mystery.
Tell me about how your character, Bonnie, fits into this world.
Bonnie’s a young mother like Shailene’s character. All of their kids go to school together. She’s married to an older man who is Madeline’s [Witherspoon] ex-husband. She’s young. She’s beautiful. She’s a yoga teacher. And she’s so nice. It’s kind of annoying how nice she is. 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. 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. Bonnie starts out a little bit like a stereotype, as do all the characters. And as the story goes on, you see the layers of the characters and see why they are the way they are.
Madeline paints her as the evil stepmother, but actually she is trying to be a pretty good one, encouraging her to do yoga or be vegetarian or get involved in social causes. Do you see Bonnie as a bad person?
No, not necessarily. A lot of the mothers, especially Madeline, think that they know who she is but they are making assumptions. And Madeline’s projecting all this hurt she has from her prior marriage to Bonnie’s husband. Here’s this woman getting all the things from this man that she never got but she always wanted. I think she’s projecting all of that anger. When I looked at Bonnie, the character, I’m even waiting for her to kind of show her true colors, because no one is that perfect or peaceful. Which she does eventually, to an extent. But what you do find with that character is that she is genuine. I think she sees the way that she seems, especially by Madeline, because she isn’t stupid. At the end of the day, she’s trying as hard as she can to create a healthy environment for her children.
Could you relate to this hippie free spirit that you are playing? Are you anything like her?
Yeah, I grew up around a lot of that. My mom [Lisa Bonet] and all of her friends are kind of in that world. So I know it very well. But it’s not very me at all. Which is why it is fun to play that, and it was fun to draw on that experience with my own mom. But I’m not as peaceful as she is. I’m much more confrontational. If this was my situation, Madeline would have gotten a talking-to way before we ever do in the book or movie. I would not have taken so much of her crap. It’s interesting to play such a passive character. The one thing that you don’t really see in the show, but you learn in the book, is that Bonnie comes from an abusive family with an abusive father. So I think a lot of her passiveness comes from that history, which is why what happens with Bonnie as the story goes on happens. She’s got hidden rage that she’s tried to turn into something positive, and she has tried to correct her life and be a better parent than her parents were. I feel for her because she’s so earnestly trying to not repeat that pattern and that cycle.
You and Shailene have been working together for the last few years on the Divergent franchise. Did that have anything to do with you getting involved in Big Little Lies, or was it a coincidence?
It was total coincidence, actually, and a nice one. I got a phone call from my agents. I hadn’t read the book or really been aware of the project. It happened really quickly. They released just a few episodes [to read]. I met with [director] Jean-Marc Vallée. He looked at me and said, “You seem like Bonnie.” And that was kind of it. Then I read the book. [Shailene and I] emailed each other like, “We’re doing it again.” We were really excited to work together on a different project. It’s our fourth time. We really get along, so it’s great. It was written in the stars, I guess.
Why did you want to do this? Reese and Nicole have both said they did it because it has so many strong, deep female characters. No one is really relegated to being just “wives and girlfriends.”
Of course, it was a draw for me for that reason too. Not only are the women involved people I’ve always looked up to and I’ve always wanted to work with and never actually thought that I would, but these stories are so complex and go so deep into these women’s lives. And the crazy thing that I realized while reading — and also watching the whole series — is that every character is presented in this way where you think you know who they are but you really don’t know the whole story. And part of you, as a reader/watcher, is satisfied with that. Like this is the overprotective mom. And she’s the young mom. She’s the pretty rich one. She’s the working mom. And part of me, as an audience member, by default because I’m used to that, is comfortable with getting only this amount of a character. And why this project is so interesting is because as you keep going, and you get deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into these lives until their stories break open. And you see that we’re all just people. All these women are just trying their best and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. And it’s interesting because I realized while watching it that I’ve never seen that before on TV to this extent. I’ve never seen a character be presented so specifically and then kind of ripped open the way that these characters are. It’s so refreshing and so great that they’re women because women have so much going on inside. We’re such complex creatures and so to explore that is what drama is made of. That should be the most obvious thing in terms of creating interesting things to watch, but it is not always the case.
As a woman and a human, I have always believed it was important to tell the stories of women and examine their relationships in smart, fair, and thoughtful ways. But lately, given the state of the world post-Trump’s election, that has felt even more important.
I totally hear what you’re saying. Because of what’s going on in the world, a lot of people are not pretending anymore or playing the roles that they’re supposed to play. They aren’t being quiet and complacent. All people, and especially women right now, are being forced to step up and be seen as more than just women. It’s exactly what I think we’re doing in this story.
And yet we have to admit we are still just talking about TV. It feels like we should be out marching 24/7.
I know. I feel guilt every time I have to get dressed up and do interviews or go to a premiere party. Is that saving the world? No. But you gotta get rid of the big-world, little-me complex and focus on the bigger picture of things. It’s baby steps, and people need inspiration all over the place, and hopefully, someone will read Big Little Lies or watch the show and it will give them a little bit of a boost, a little bit of truth that makes them feel not so alone right now. Or whatever it is. Every little bit of truth, I think, at this point, is helpful. People are getting too much fake news as it is. They deserve authentic storytelling and art.
The series takes place on California’s Central Coast, but a lot of scenes and locations are Southern California substitutes. Did you get to do any filming in the Monterey area at all?
We did a lot of stuff in L.A., but I went to Monterey for a few weeks. But it was a lot of shooting in homes and on sets. But it’s beautiful out there, so natural and green. Being on the beach and hanging out around the trailers in Monterey was such a gift. It’s breathtaking out there. I hadn’t really spent a lot of time up there, actually. I’ve driven through a little bit, but yeah, I hadn’t spent a lot of time up there. It’s beautiful.
The book takes place in an affluent community in Australia, but the series takes place on California’s Central Coast. Did you think this was an acceptable switch, or will book diehards be upset?
I’m sure someone will be upset, because someone always is when you are adapting books. But our producer is from there. Nicole is from there, and the author gave her blessing, from what I understand. And there is a universality in this isolated, gated community vibe all over the world. These environments are very controlled because they’re safe, beautiful, and well-to-do. Also, what’s interesting is when you see people who live a certain way, in a very controlled way, they find ways to create their own problems and drama. There’s a lot to lose, and there is pressure to be the best and have everything before your neighbor. And the question is, is it worth keeping all that stuff stuck inside? Is that what’s killing us all?
Big Little Lies airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.