BY BILLY SUTER
TWO top actresses – Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies) and Golden Globe nominee Kerry Washington (Scandal) – head the cast of a new drama series that has been described by The Guardian as “moreish, searing, excellent”.
Now available to binge-watch on internet TV network, Showmax, it’s Little Fires Everywhere, an eight-part drama which, recently nominated for five Black Reel Awards, is based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestselling book
The show follows the intertwined fates of the Richardsons – a picture-perfect, privileged white American family – and their new tenants, enigmatic African-American mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl Warren.
Witerspoon plays Elena, a tightly-wound mother of four teens (a character not unlike Big Little Lies’ Madeline), whose perfectly tailored world is disrupted by the arrival of Kerry’s character, Mia, a struggling artist and mother to teenager Pearl.
The two women share the fundamentals of motherhood – raising, protecting, and ultimately, learning to let go – but their experiences couldn’t be more different. One of the most powerful moments comes during an altercation between Elena and Mia, when Elena bitingly says: “A good mother makes good choices”, and Mia comes right back at her with, “You didn’t make good choices. You had good choices.”
The cast also includes People’s Choice nominee and Teen Choice winner Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek, The Affair), reuniting with Witherspoon for the first time since 1999’s Cruel Intentions.
Also featured are two-time People’s Choice nominee Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy); two-time Teen Choice nominee AnnaSophia Robb (The Act, Bridge to Terabithia); Critics Choice nominee Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married); and young star Lexi Underwood, whose performance as Pearl is labelled by New York Times as “excellent”.
Little Fires Everywhere was recently nominated for five Black Reel awards, including Best Limited Series, Actress (Kerry), Supporting Actress (Lexi), Directing and Writing.
As a producer, Witherspoon has an eye for gems, from the Oscar-nominated movies Gone Girl and Wild, to the Emmy-winning HBO series Big Little Lies, all of which were produced by her production company, Sunshine Pictures.
When Witherspoon read the novel, she immediately sent it to Washington, who read it in record time and agreed to bring in her own company, Simpson Street, to partner on the production.
Asked how she and Witherspoon feel to be producing this project, Washington laughs. “It makes me feel… busy,” she says. “To other people, ‘producer’ sounds like a fancy title, but to us, it sounds like work. We put in the work. We’re roll-up-your-sleeves kind of producers.”
Their first step was bringing in a diverse team. This included writers like Black Reel winner Attica Locke (When They See Us), Writers’ Guild of America nominees Liz Tigelaar (Nashville, Brothers & Sisters) and Shannon Houston (Homecoming, The Looming Tower), and Scandal executive story editor Raamla Mohamed. They also roped in directors Lynn Shelton (Glow) and Nzingha Stewart (Grey’s Anatomy), and Emmy-winning Californication cinematographer and Good Girls director, Michael Weaver.
“It was really important to us that the film-makers and the storytellers behind the scenes were just as representative as the ones in the book,” says Witherspoon. “There are four different mothers in this piece, all mothering under different circumstances”.
And, Washington adds: “Having to navigate those differences impacts them and their families, their kids and their friends.”
The aim, for Witherspoon, was to show the spectrum of what motherhood can be for different people: “There’s all kinds of different mothers out there. This is not news to us. But we haven’t really seen that explored on film, and I think people will really see parts of themselves and parts of other people. It’s a great show for people to watch and discuss with each other.”
Watch the series trailer by clicking here: https://youtu.be/yrc_7rZRw5c.