Reese Witherspoon on Motherhood—In Real Life and In Big Little Lies

Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

If you've read Liane Moriarty's book, Big Little Lies, then you know how central motherhood is to the story. The book revolves around a trio of mothers, their families, their frenemies, and the drama that ensues when they all clash in their idyllic little town. This Sunday, Feb. 19, the television series adaptation of the bestseller will finally premiere on HBO, and, as huge fans of the novel, we couldn't be more excited.

The all-star ensemble cast, featuring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgård, and Adam Scott, recently dished on the show at a Television Critics Association panel, and InStyle was there to get the scoop. Speaking on everything from the characters to the storyline, we got a lot of insight behind the scenes. Specifically, Witherspoon opened up about being a mother herself and how her own experience relates to her role in the series--read below to see what she had to say.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

In Big Little Lies, Witherspoon portrays Madeline, a feisty mother-of-two who can be a little overbearing but has a heart of gold. She cares deeply for her friends and family and would do anything for them, and she's not afraid to fight for what's right. Her youngest child is in kindergarten, and she also has a teenage daughter with her ex-husband, so the actress was able to relate to her character, having been divorced and having had children at very different points of her life. "It’s definitely interesting, because I’ve had kids at 22, 27, and then at 37, and there is a wild difference," she admitted. "Having kids really young, I think you have a different [mentality of], 'Oh, they’re going to be fine. I don’t worry about it at all.' And then as you get older you’re like, 'Oh, am I taking them to the ballet?' Like, things that, you know, when you get past survival, I think that’s part of what is so interesting about the piece and about motherhood, and it’s like it’s about what you think you’re creating for your children, and when it’s really just sort of an artifice. And I think that’s what the show deals with a lot--the artificial sort of presentation of parenthood, versus real parenthood. All of us have a great journey to become deeper, better parents by the end of it as well."

Not only was she able to connect so naturally to her own character, she also related to the other mothers in the show. "I think what was great about reading the novel for the first time is I saw myself in different stages of motherhood all through my life," she said. "So I was a mom when I was 22, like Jane; and then I was a mom who was 40, like Madeline. I’ve been divorced, I’ve been remarried. There was just so many aspects of it that were so relatable." Having these life experiences helped the actress prepare for her role in a unique way.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

"Motherhood is the great equalizer," she told the audience. "Parenthood is a great equalizer, and socioeconomically, it sort of brings these five disparate women together in a way that they clash, but they also understand and discover each other, you know, as similar spirits by the end of the series. And I think that’s what I’m always looking for--something new, and something challenging."

Tune in Sunday at 9 PM to catch the first episode. This is one you won't want to miss!

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