Blame it on the weather. It was unseasonably cold in Monterey, Calif., when, deep into the 88-day shoot for “Big Little Lies” — after 10 straight days of late nights — the unthinkable happened: The usually unflappable Reese Witherspoon lost her temper. Faced with a difficult emotional scene, she yelled at director Jean-Marc Vallée.
Recalling the incident a few months later over tea at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, the two — who share an easy, effortless camaraderie — laugh at the memory. “I’m so sorry!” she tells him, sheepishly hiding her face in her hands. In his French-accented lilt, Vallée says, “I felt so sad because I knew it wasn’t her.”
But back in that fraught moment on the set, he turned to her and said, “Great! Let’s do it,” pushing her to channel her frustration into her performance. Vallée reports that Witherspoon — perfectly cast as the fast-talking, multitasking mother of two, Madeline Martha Mackenzie, in HBO’s new limited series about the tragic fallout of secrets in a small town — nailed the scene. (Based on the bestseller by Liane Moriarty, the seven-episode series debuts Feb. 19.)
Witherspoon, who serves as executive producer along with co-star Nicole Kidman, handpicked her “Wild” director for this creative reunion. (The 2014 film, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, chronicles a woman’s journey of self-discovery as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail.) “I feel safe with Jean-Marc — more safe than I’ve ever felt with anybody, because he’s my brother, he’s my partner; I know he’s always going to demand the best, but I’m always going to bring my best,” she says. “We hold each other to those standards. We don’t have any artifice between us.”