Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the finale of “Big Little Lies,” which aired April 2.
The mystery is finally solved: Not only do we know who did it, we also know who the victim is, too. And we know who the father is of Jane’s son, Ziggy — the man who assaulted her that horrible night seven years ago. And thanks to director Jean-Marc Vallee’s visual storytelling style, it was all delivered without a single word spoken.
It was justice a long time coming for Celeste’s abusive husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) who suffered a fatal fall at the hands of Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). The women bonded together to keep the secret, refusing to tell the authorities the truth — but they’re each finally unburdened of the painful, deep secrets they’ve been keeping all series long.
Nicole Kidman, who also served as an executive producer for the project, took on the challenging role of playing Celeste, who suffered physical and emotional abuse from her husband. But in the final hour, she finally stood up to him, when faced with the evidence that her sons had not only witnessed the violence — but one had in fact become abusive himself.
“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, in terms of being able to produce it and get it made,” says Kidman of “Big Little Lies.” Along with “Lion,” for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, the actress has had a year of strong performances. “There’s zero strategy,” she says. “There’s an openness to opportunity. And a lifetime of experience now and a well of emotion and untold stories in my body and my psyche.”
Here, Kidman talks to Variety about the challenges of filming “Lies,” the response from viewers, and whether she’ll reunite with the “Lies” creative team.
How did you approach playing Celeste?
I felt my way through it. It was beautifully written. Jean-Marc and I had a lot of talks prior about it. It’s unusual but it’s based in extreme authenticity and truth. It was Alex, Jean-Marc and I really diving into it psychologically and not skimming it. We wanted it to be a proper study for this couple and how toxic this relationship is. How much they want each other and they want the family to stay together and that they’re in this dance of death, really.
How much research did you do?
A lot. There’s a lot, in terms of the work I do about violence against women. This is one study of it but there’s very different ways in which it plays out. But it’s very insidious. Celeste is always saying, “I’m to blame, I’m part of this.” It takes two to do this. I think what’s fascinating is the way in which she goes to seek help. She says, “Don’t unravel this. I don’t want to destroy the relationship. I just want some tools to make it a bit healthier.” Which is very, very real for a lot of these situations. You can go and see women talking about why they didn’t leave a relationship. Ultimately it’s incredibly destructive and abusive. And not dealing with it for what it is.
Have you heard from victims of domestic violence?
I have and hope it’s part of a dialogue. I’ve done a lot of work with victims of domestic violence, and also victims of war crimes. That’s been my work for well over a decade with U.N. women. My antennae are so sensitized to it. It’s obviously an epidemic. I know a lot about it. I’ve been around it a lot. But I’m glad that people feel her. It’s how I approached the whole role through just pure visceral feeling. I’m just glad they’re feeling her, if that makes any sense. Having done “Lion” earlier this year, people felt that film. There are films you see and you respond to intellectually, and films you respond to viscerally. To me, this is one of those things. That was a frightening prospect – to put so much into it and for it not to find its way would have really gutted us.
The turning point for her is when she realizes that her children have been witnessing the violence — she can’t stay for the sake of the children anymore.
Celeste is willing to take things because she thinks the rest of her life is good. She’s literally got blinders on. Trying to penetrate that is what I found really interesting, too. Nobody could penetrate that until she finally realizes that it’s now her children who are going to be continuing this pattern. That’s when she says, we have to end this because this is so bad. Our children are now being so affected. I thought they didn’t see or absorb any of it and it’s exactly the opposite. They’re actually playing it out in their own way. And that’s what’s so beautiful. As soon as it’s affecting the children, she will act. She will move. That propels her.
What changes did you want for your character from the novel?
David E. Kelley and I and Jean-Marc were always digging deeper and deeper. I really wanted that push/pull. There’s that sexuality to the relationship. It’s a huge part of it, and the danger of the relationship. I wanted also [the part] where he would hold her and say I love you and cry. All of those things were important to be mined. But Jean-Marc had such a strong hold on it as did David. I love that Jean-Marc would allow scenes to play out. Particularly the therapy scene with Alex and I. He would play that in a two shot. That’s a ten-page scene. That takes a lot of guts as a director on TV. When we shot the sex scenes, that became very violent, I was pretty battered and bruised by that, I just got lost in the role, more than I ever have before. It was a pretty strange experience, stepping out of it. I’d go home at night and sit in the bath and cry. It really seeped into my psyche in a way. It’s a strange place to exist as an actress. I remember lying on the floor on the bathroom, really beaten up a lot, and just crying. I knew it was important to be as true and as deep as I could. I was just sobbing. At one point Jean-Marc just put a towel over me. But I was in another place. I was here in the world, but I was not.
Talk about that final scene when Celeste realizes that Perry is the one who attacked Jane, and then we see all the women — who’ve been fighting all season — playing with their children on the beach. There wasn’t a single word spoken.
I love that. I love how he ends that. I cried when I saw it. You don’t see that on TV where the women are protecting each other. They always say there’s a boys club but that very much is a female club. There’s that sisterhood, and that the sisterhood put into imagery. It was really powerful, on the beach with our children surviving. That was earned. The friendships between us as actresses are so powerful and still are. We’re very close. That’s an unusual thing to happen from a show as well.
What was your experience working with Jean-Marc?
My relationship with Jean-Marc was very intense and almost telepathic, where we wouldn’t have to speak that much, and he would just get it. I was so grateful that it was him doing it, because he’s got such a strength to his filmmaking and yet he’s able to get the raw quality, and a simplicity to it as well at times. He’d just let the performances just be there and ride out through all of its nuances and twists and turns, particularly in the therapy scenes. He would just let it play it out. It was very real.
Will you work with Jean-Marc and Reese Witherspoon again?
That would be for me a complete joy. We were just simpatico. That’s what you want. There was a synergy in the way we worked together. For them to let me in and Reese to be so open in what she knew about Jean-Marc. This is just the beginning for him. He’s a strong, cinematic voice.