Australian author Liane Moriarty, like a fair chunk of the TV-viewing planet recently, has found Big Little Lies utterly gripping business.
She first saw rough cuts of the seven-episode adaptation of her 2014 novel on her iPad on holiday in Noosa a few months back, and couldn’t help but binge-watch it.
“I loved it,” she says. “I stayed up really late. I think I stayed up until 3am or something. I just decided to watch the whole thing.”
And now it’s a week on from the airing of the astounding finale of the hugely acclaimed series, with a continuing social-media whirl of debate and think-pieces about its themes including domestic violence, rape, gender and motherhood.
Moriarty, a Sydney-based former advertising/marketing executive, has seven books under her belt since her debut novel, Three Wishes, in 2004. Big Little Lies is the first to be adapted for screen and she says she’s been thrilled with the reaction to the show, which is “more faithful that I expected it to be”.
Adapted by screenwriter David E. Kelley, it has followed Moriarty’s original story of the glossy, sexy, competitive residents of an upmarket community – transferred from Sydney’s northern beaches to Monterey, California – relatively closely.
One controversial change, however, was the decision not to explicitly include the backstory of Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) and her abusive father. Bonnie’s reaction to events in the final scenes of the school trivia night is the most powerful, fundamental part of the whole story, but we don’t know what was behind why she did it. Director and executive producer Jean-Marc Vallee told the Hollywood Reporter her story “needed too much explaining” to be reflected in full.
Moriarty says she doesn’t know why Bonnie’s backstory was left out.
“My original reaction was what have they done? How have they left that out?,” she says. “But a lot of people have said that they could tell [what was Bonnie’s true story], there had been little hints and that you can take that away. It’s implied in her performances and some little lines. I think I might have preferred to have had it in there but I wouldn’t argue against it either. It also leaves open the possibility of season two.”
Yes, there you have it. SEASON TWO.
It’s an unsurprising that such an enormously successful series would be likely to get a second outing. But Valle has already come out and said “it’s a one-time deal” and it should be left at the peak it’s achieved.
Actor-producer Reese Witherspoon, however, has been asking fans to lobby Moriarty on Facebook for a second season.
So where are we at?
“A lot of people have obediently done as Reese suggested,” says Moriarty. “And 99 per cent are saying please do it, but there is a small percentage saying no, don’t do it, it should end there.”
She says she’s not keen to write sequels to any of her books but Big Little Lies could reappear as a story written solely for television.
“I have started to think about ways this could continue,” she says. “The producers have asked me to see if I can come up with some ideas. I wouldn’t write a new book but perhaps a new story and then we’ll see what happens.”
“I’m absolutely open to it because, once I started thinking, it was too much fun to see what I could do and to see these characters again. And there’s definitely places you can go.”
And she already has a sense of where the trip back to Monterey would head.
“The obvious thing is, first of all, I think we could bring in more of Bonnie’s story from the book,” she says.
“And also what happens next [for Celeste]. That’s the question that’s also a really interesting thing, when you’ve been through a relationship like that, how do you feel now? How would she feel? She’s grieving. She’s still grieving for the end of a terrible relationship and I think that would be a really interesting thing to explore. So there’s a whole lot of different storylines.”
Would the cast be onboard for a second outing?
“I think everybody is pretty keen,” she says. “They all loved working together but I think the thing is the story has to be right. So if is right, and if [screenwriter] David E. Kelley is happy to get the screenplay right, then I think that’ll do it.” Understanding domestic violence
It’s a series that has pulled out some incredible performances out from all of its cast, including Witherspoon as the razor-sharp Madeline, Shailene Woodley as the battling single mother and rape victim Jane and Alexander Skarsgard as Perry, the abusive husband of Celeste.
In particular, Kidman is stunning as Celeste in her portrayal of the behind-closed-doors terror of a violent relationship.
Moriarty says one thing she did insist on with the adaptation was that it displayed the complexity of domestic abuse.
“Originally I was a little worried that they would oversimplify the abusive relationship and that’s what I said to Nicole. That was my only stipulation when I very first met her. I said it’s really important that you hit back so that your character feels complicit in the abuse and so that we show that it’s a really complex relationship – it’s not just, ‘oh, here’s a horrible man hitting a pretty woman.’ She played that perfectly.”
She says putting forward that complexity was essential to highlighting the reality of abuse.
“I think if you’re a person in that situation then you think there are all these reasons why it’s different for me, because we love each other and he loves me and he’s not always a bad person and he’s not 100 per cent bad. [It’s] generally the case that these women don’t fall in love with villains and that they’re still in love with them, which is what makes it so hard to make that decision to leave.
“It’s rarely, if ever, a black-and-white situation, so that’s what I wanted to convey in the book and I didn’t want it to be lost in the adaptation.”
The huge volume of debate and analysis that the show has sparked has been a reflection of the power of good television in Moriarty’s opinion. She says jovially that there’s been “ridiculous” pieces, for example about why are there no dogs in the show and which sort of dogs the characters would have, plus of course much said the show’s enviable house porn.
Then there’s also the importance of continuing and deepening the conversation about domestic violence.
Some of the most powerful responses from viewers and readers of Big Little Lies are those who have written to say that it has given them fresh understanding of friends’ or their own circumstances, or given them the courage to leave.
How does it feel to have that impact on people’s lives in this way?
“It’s just an honour and an privilege,” she says. “It’s very hard to put into words. It’s amazing, it’s just amazing.”
Big Little Lies has been such a trailblazing show because it places women at its centre, with rounded, real characters. What does Moriarty hope is its legacy?
“That a day will come when nobody even comments upon that fact,” she says. “I mean it’s completely bizarre that it needs to be commented upon. There should be lots of shows exactly like this with lots of roles for women as there have been over the years for men.
“So I guess that’s the legacy – that we see a lot more of these stories.” Other projects
Already on the horizon is Truly Madly Guilty (2016), which has been optioned again by the Big Little Lies producing team of Witherspoon and Australian producer Bruna Papandrea’s Pacific Standard and Kidman and Per Saari’s Blossom Films.
Moriarty says she was initially hesitant about it as a TV series as it is has a narrow focus on one single event at a suburban barbecue, but given the hunger following the success of Big Little Lies, Papandrea suggested a series, albeit a shorter one of about four episodes.
Elsewhere, there hasn’t been a great deal of progress with What Alice Forgot, Moriarty’s 2010 novel which has had Jennifer Aniston attached to it as far back as 2015. As far as Moriarty knows, Aniston is not yet “detached” from it, despite its slow development
Headway is being made on The Husband’s Secret (2013), which was picked up by CBS Films that year and now has a finalised script, with the hunt on for the actress for the lead role.
Moriarty is also working on a new novel, although it’s in the very early stages and she sounds a touch doubtful about it. “I might scrap it completely. I don’t know if it’s going to work,” she says.
She says the most enjoyable part of her job is that she simply gets to write for a living, and writes books that readers have a powerfully positive response to.
“So yes, that’s the amazing thing, that I get to sit at my desk and make up stories and then hear the impact that they have on people all over the world,” she says. “The fact that I’ve connected to somebody so far away in such a deep and personal way. I can’t find enough superlatives.”
Big Little Lies airs on Showcase and is published by Pan Macmillan.