Warning: The following contains spoilers for Sunday’s Big Little Lies finale.
“I just love being in people’s lives every week,” she tells TVLine, adding that the murder-mystery aspect of the HBO miniseries “requires a lot of discussion and people asking questions and analyzing things. I find that very, very stimulating. I’m just amazed at the way people must watch things. Because they re-watch it, and they seem to really notice detail. Far more than film. They can press rewind!”
And Emmy voters are going to want to press rewind on Kidman’s haunting performance as battered wife Celeste. We talked with the Oscar-winning actress at length about Sunday’s riveting finale — which saw Celeste’s abusive husband Perry killed after a brutal tussle — the painfully intimate scenes between Celeste and her therapist, how her famous husband Keith Urban reacted to the miniseries… and if there’s any chance we might see Celeste and company again in a second season.
TVLINE | Fans had so many theories about how the show would end. Did the ending surprise you? Had you read the book?
Yes, I knew the book. But the way in which [director] Jean-Marc [Vallée] captured all of us… I think the final scene, where you have the beach and the children and all of us together, and the strength from that point on, the way in which we’re going to protect each other… I just think that was so important for the whole arc of the series. Because this is Reese [Witherspoon] and I going, “We want to make a series that celebrates women, not that brings us down.” And if you see the whole series, that’s what you see, ultimately. It’s about the friendships… no matter what has happened and the paths that have led us to where we are, when it really becomes important, we reach out for each other.
TVLINE | That’s what I loved about that final scene: These women sniped at each other and fought throughout the series, but when something really serious happened, they all came together and joined forces.
Mmm-hmmm, yeah. I always say that the conflicts in the show… Laura [Dern]’s character had to defend herself and have her shield and her armor because of her desire to fit in. She’s hugely successful, but still, for her, she feels like an outsider. I think many women feel like that. And then for someone like Celeste, there’s so much tragedy there, and so many things she can’t say to people, because that would be absolutely destroying and betraying what she sees as her family. And having to face the truth of that is almost impossible, you know? Until, as you see in the finale, she finds out that how she thinks she’s protecting her children is actually destroying them.
And I love that she goes to her little boy and holds him. She doesn’t punish him. She just holds him and tells him, “I’m gonna work through this with you, and I’m your mother, and it’s going to be alright.” So she’s breaking the pattern. That shows Celeste’s deep, deep love for her children, and the desire to do the right thing. She’s absorbed so much in terms of what she thought was best for the family, and actually, when she faces the truth, it wasn’t. She was willing to do that, to sabotage herself and take on the pain, because she thinks she’s giving her children a good life. So it’s very complicated. That’s rare to see that, I think.
TVLINE | Yeah, you don’t see that a lot: the complexity of Celeste’s situation, and how you can see how she justifies in her mind staying for as long as she has.
It was really important to me that… you would feel the desire to sort of go, “Celeste, please!” Shake her, you know. But at the same time, understand her and feel for her. Because so many women are in this situation, and I wanted there to be compassion for her, rather than judgment and anger. She’s doing that to herself, because she’s the type of person to hold it all in anyway.
TVLINE | But when she sees how that violence has been passed down to Max, that’s the last straw for her, right?
Right, because she thinks it’s not, and defends it always with the therapist. She says, “No, absolutely not. They never see it.” She defends a lot of things, and puts on a smile about a lot of things. From the way in which it was written, and how Jean-Marc wanted to do it and how Alex [Skarsgard] and I worked on it, it was imperative that the relationship had this push-pull throughout the series, until it finally disintegrates.
TVLINE | You mentioned the beach scene at the end, but we never really see any scenes of dialogue between the women after Perry’s death. Was there anything you filmed that didn’t make the final cut?
No, that was all Jean-Marc. He had it all in his head. When we all sit in the police station, we all had our own monologues, so you could have heard things. But in his head, cinematically, he had it shaped. The tie between the ocean and nature, and the way in which he shot the ocean, it’s also a part of the whole series. It’s so unpredictable, and the way we’re all drawn to it… it has its own force. I love how he’s done the silence there.
TVLINE | Yeah, you don’t really need a scene of the women talking about Perry being the one who assaulted Jane, or Madeline and Bonnie settling their differences…
You get it all. I mean, you hope people get it all. But I’ve realized that the audience… they’re so clever! [Laughs] Oh my God! The audiences are insanely clever. They’re very bright, with all the shows. I’m just glad that this strong female show has connected, because there’s no reason for people to say, “No, audiences will not watch these sorts of dramas.”
TVLINE | No, that’s ridiculous. I don’t get that at all. I’m a guy, and I found the whole series fascinating.
I know when Keith watched it — he got privy to it early, because he’s married to the producer [Laughs] — he was really part of my barometer. And he was like, “This thing is so addictive.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Oh, you have no idea. I’m, like, salivating for the next episode. When do we get it? When do we get it?” And he doesn’t normally say that! He said, “No, no, men will love this show. They’ve just got to somehow find out about it.”
TVLINE | I love that shot in the opening credits of all of the women walking towards the camera in a line, like it’s a modeling runway. Was that just an ad-lib while you were shooting the finale?
Yeah, that’s Jean-Marc. Jean-Marc is amazing. We did two weeks of night-shooting shooting that party, and he’s like, “Uh, I’ve decided… just do this! I want you all to dance towards the camera, and I’m going to put music on.” And we’re like, “What? Uh, OK…” But you go with him, because his vision is so powerful. And he has an editor’s brain. He’s been a DJ. So he’s this multi-talented guy. He’s masterful, in terms of what he’s already thought of. And I would pretty much guarantee that he already thought of exactly how he was going to do that. And we’re all thinking, “Where is this gonna go? What are we doing now?” But you just go with him, because that’s his style. I love that he’s such a renegade.
TVLINE | And he earned your trust, because he was there every day, directing every episode.
Oh, beyond. And also, he loves women, so he wants to depict them in a raw, honest way. And he was so committed to all of us. Reese’s whole storyline… which I think is just glorious. You see this incredibly well thought out arc for her. And he knew Reese so well, so they have a great, intuitive language already. And then he already knew Laura as well. So he would be shooting each one of us separately, because we all had different storylines. Yet you would feel so protected and safe and special. That’s really hard. And to give that to Shay [Woodley], who had never worked with him, and then Zoe [Kravitz], who is just magical… we were very, very lucky.
TVLINE | You can see that trust in the scenes with Celeste and her therapist. They’re so intimate, they feel like a two-person play.
It was. He cleared the set out, and we were just kind of in there. I didn’t really meet Robin [Weigert], who plays the therapist, as Robin. I just met her as though we were completely in character. So it was very intense, and incredibly truthful. It was very strange. And we worked long days, so it was almost like we went into a different realm to do them. And it builds and builds and builds. We were able to shoot them in sequence, which is a blessing, in terms of a show like this. So we shot the Episode 3 one first, and then the next one… so by the end, we were both ragged. Like when I go into her at the end, and I’m just like, “Don’t touch me”… all of that is very, very primal.
And then the sexuality of the role, as well, is confronting. But it’s so much a part of their relationship, and it’s a very complicated sexuality. I just wanted it to be truthful. I wanted audiences to feel, and not sort of be voyeuristic, but more to feel like they’re in there. Like you said, it’s deeply intimate. And you’re witnessing the intimacy, and all of its toxicity and pain and, I suppose, addiction.
TVLINE | Those scenes of Perry abusing Celeste are very hard to watch. How do you choreograph those so no one gets hurt? I read that you came home with bruises.
Oh, yeah. That’s the thing: We choreograph them, but I had to say to Alex, “Don’t be frightened just to go for it with me, because this is so important that you see that there’s a reality to it.” It was strange. It was some of the strangest stuff I’d ever done. [Laughs] It was very exposing. I felt unbelievably vulnerable, and at times humiliated, and at times just deeply exposed. And I don’t mean physically. I mean just emotionally, and the rawness of it. There was a point in the final episode where I’m on the floor, and I just couldn’t get off the floor. I was just bare. And I remember Jean-Marc putting a towel over me in between takes, and I didn’t even notice. I just laid there. And then I thought, “God, I’m sort of half losing my mind here.”
It was a very strange feeling. Very uncomfortable, very vulnerable. And I was lucky to have a partner who’s an artist, and was able to sort of soothe me in a way. But it’s important, because for that to read on television, it’s got to be very in-your-face. I love when people say, “I feel so uncomfortable watching it.” They should! They shouldn’t be feeling turned on. They should feel like, “What’s going on here?” Because it’s very confusing. It’s confusing to Celeste and Perry. All they know is they’re in the dance together. They can’t get out. And they’re completely compelled, and at the same time, they know they’re really hurting each other.
TVLINE | I know this was billed as a miniseries, but is there any possibility of a Season 2? Reese has said it would be up to the writer.
[Laughs] Yeah, well, Liane [Moriarty], because it’s her story. She concocted it. And then David [E. Kelley], because he then took it to the series level. So between Liane and David, I would hope that they could come up with something… I mean, it took us six months to shoot this. So we all went, “Uh… OK!” I think if there was something compelling and extraordinary that they could come up with, then would we want to go and embody these women again? That would be a beautiful prospect.
And for us, I think there’s also a strength in terms of our friendship. All five of us, there’s a very, very strong connection through what it took to get the series made, you know? But there’s certainly nothing [about Season 2] now, nothing that’s solid or anything. I mean, it was a lot to get it to this point! [Laughs] There are so many moving parts to this series that would be impossible not to have again. And who knows if it’s meant to be finite? But all of us, I think, feel so connected to it. And that it’s had an impact, that it’s penetrated the very, very dense world of television… there are so many shows! But I love that people are responding to it. I love the emotional attachment to it. It’s very rare.
Do you want to see a Season 2 of Big Little Lies? Give us your thoughts on that, and the season as a whole, in the comments below.