Big Little Lies is a Very Big Deal. It is an epic, insanely entertaining, tremendously acted hit. It features an ensemble of women, from longtime movie stars to burning younger talents who are each Big Deals on their own (oh, and coming up in Season 2, Meryl Streep). But it represents more than that. It is, frankly, a triumph for the ladies. BLL is great work done by great women, with respect and craft, the conscious sharing of opportunity, and, most significantly, very real friendships.
The lives of the cast — Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoë Kravitz — have overlapped in myriad ways. Nicole and Reese have a production partnership (Big Little Lies is their brainchild). Reese starred with Laura in Wild. Laura starred with Shailene in The Fault in Our Stars. Shailene starred with Zoë in Divergent. Nicole has known Zoë since she dated her father, Lenny Kravitz, 16 years ago. And so it goes. These women’s relationships run much deeper than “ensemble cast”; rather, they have influenced and enriched each other’s lives.
It’s quite the confluence: intense success, intense celebrity, intense friendship. But I wanted to talk to Nicole, Reese, Laura, Shailene, and Zoë about something else — ambition. Ambition remains, curiously, a loaded word, and in conversation, some embraced it more than others. Their answers are wildly different and often surprising, revealing a desire for success, sure, for visibility and political change, of course, but for love more than anything else.
Keep reading for a sample of each woman's cover story, and click the links for their full interviews.
VIDEO: How to Be a Good Friend With the Cast of Big Little Lies
Nicole Kidman: "[Working with these women has been] astounding because I’ve learned so much. We all come in with our own set of skills. There’s great listening and great contributing and great compromise, but actually, in the end, it’s just a great allegiance. The show itself is its own force. We were all like, 'No, we’re done,' and it pulled us back in. Reese and I just look at each other and go, 'How did we get here?' What a lovely thing to play the women we play and have people feel like they know them. I’ve never had that. I’m not used to that. It feels so good. Makes me feel very close to people.
"Other people are off doing things like having a girls’ weekend. I don’t have that because I go home. I want to be with my children and my husband [singer-songwriter Keith Urban]. I will sort of get lost in a character or whatever I’m doing, but I’m constantly working to keep that balance."
Nicole talks her relationship with Keith Urban, working motherhood, and being a total introvert, here.
Reese Witherspoon: "[Late-night on set] I like to make people laugh. Zoë tells jokes too. Nicole carries around a bag of snacks with rock-hard old-lady candies, giving out peppermints and butterscotches. Shai is just chill. And Laura gets delirious and starts making up musicals ... It’s truly one of the greatest experiences of my career. I feel like a door opened, and I’ll never go back the other way. When I watch the episodes, I’m always texting them saying, 'You blew me away.' I’m in awe of their talent and our collective ability to express on such a deep level, have joy on such a high level, and celebrate each other. It’s the most fulfilling expression of the female experience I’ve ever had on film — particularly when Meryl Streep shows up. That’s when you’re like, 'Oh, we are doing something right.'"
Reese opens up about overcoming self-doubt and fighting for wage equality in Hollywood, here.
Zoë Kravitz: "I have amazing people in my life who support me — my friends, my family, my fiancé [actor Karl Glusman], and all the women on Big Little Lies. They have my back, and I know if I was doing some weird, crazy shit, someone would set me straight. They help whenever I have a moment of panic and confusion, which happens quite often. ... I’ve known Shai for years now, and with all the ups and downs — life stuff, fame, films, love — she’s just constantly herself. So many people change depending on their environment, and Shailene Woodley does not, and I fucking love it. Life is Shailene Woodley’s bitch. And Laura has the best sense of humor. She makes me laugh so hard because she finds humor in really bizarre places. You see it in her acting too: What she does with her characters is always this weird tone of funny. Nicole can access her emotions in a crazy way, which is why she’s so wonderful at her job. She’s sensitive, and she’s open to feeling things no matter where she is or who she’s with, and I think that’s very brave, because I tend to protect myself."
Zoë opens up about her struggle for body confidence, her political pet peeves, and what she's learned about herself through her relationship, here.
Laura Dern: "Our dinners are like 10-day vacations on a deserted island. Every dinner is three and a half hours minimum with food and wine. We break it all down. It’s how I think all of us feel when we get together with a group of women, particularly in the same field, like you’ve been crossing the desert for five days and you see water.
"'Ambition' was a dirty word for women when I was a little girl. Women who are ambitious are cold, calculating, and unsexy — that was the idea presented to my generation. To be sexy was to be demure, subservient even. ... It’s been enough, I think, for Reese, Nicole, and me to be ambitious in our field. I was told growing up that to be an actress of quality you shouldn’t make money because serious actresses didn’t make money. Actors made money."
Laura opens up about growing up in Hollywood, and the "sexy moment" ahead of her as a single mom in her 50s, here.
Shailene Woodley: "I want to cry when I think about Reese, because that woman holds the weight of so many worlds on her shoulders yet manages to show up day in and day out with more ambition than anyone I’ve ever met. More drive, more care, more passion. Even if she disagrees with you, she will take the time to understand. Sometimes I get a mothering comfort from Reese, and other times I get a cool-big-sister vibe. I admire how she’s able to use humor to create the change she wishes to see. That is her superpower. She’s also a ninja.
"When I’m watching Big Little Lies, I feel as if I’m as much an audience member as anyone else. When I do films, I see myself in almost every shot, but with this project, I take up five minutes, so I get to see story lines unfold. I’m properly eating popcorn on the edge of my seat when I watch Big Little Lies."
Shailene opens up about her "serious" childhood in Hollywood, why she prefers moving around to planting roots, and her deep feelings for each of the women on BLL, here.
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 17.