Interview: Shailene Woodley on reprising her ‘Big Little Lies’ role and working with A-listers

Reta Lee
Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Shailene Woodley attends the screening of "Rocketman" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

NEW YORK CITY — It was late March on a breezy afternoon in New York City, that Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore met with actress Shailene Woodley at the chic Crosby Hotel. I first crossed paths with her in the bathroom, as we both were trying to maneuver around the hallways, making our way back to the interview room: “This place is like a maze!” She let out a laugh and agreed, as I finally located the right door, covered with artsy wallpaper.

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Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in a scene in 'Big Little Lies'. (PHOTO: Jennifer Clase/HBO)

The one thing you’d be drawn to her is how hippie she looked, with stacks of rings on her fingers, and a chic ‘do. She’s very sure of herself, and I was totally vibing with her; after all, I could say the 27-year-old actress and I have something in common in activism - she opposed the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota, whilst I marched thrice on the streets of Malaysia to call for a fair and just elections - and of course, she didn’t know that. Besides being vocal about the issues she cares about, Shailene has been starring in cleverly selected titles, like Divergent, Adrift and now, HBO’s series Big Little Lies; A series that’s in the same vein as Desperate Housewives, but bigger, without the fluff, and featuring women full of secrets.

Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern in'Big Little Lies'. (PHOTO: HBO)

Playing Jane Chapman, a single mum to a son, and the youngest of the ‘Monterey Five’, Shailene is far from her character, but loved the elements of her: “I love that she has a very strong identity of self, despite how fractured that might be and how she might not see herself as strong or something that's identifiable in her own mind. You know, in Season One, she came into an entire new environment, where she met a lot of different women, and she could change. She didn't try and alter who she was to fit into a mold. That was something that could have been easy to do, which could’ve made her life a bit more comfortable.”

(SPOILERS ALERT)

In the last Season One, Shailene’s character found herself embroiled in domestic violence issues and a murder mystery, alongside Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Renata (Laura Dern), and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). We’ve also learned that the big little liars Jane, Celeste, Madeline and Renata told cops that Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) fell to his death. But the cops know something’s amiss, and it was Bonnie who pushed him down the stairs.

Meryl Streep stars as Perry's mother in search of truth. (PHOTO: Jennifer Clasen/HBO)

With bigwig Meryl Streep joining the Season Two, Shailene felt the storyline would take a different toll: “It's wild! I mean, now that we've finished filming, I'm just really excited to see this season because I don't really know how it's going to unfold with all the other characters. I'm just as in the dark as you guys are. I'm excited! I mean, to do a second season when it wasn't something that was anticipated; I think it was difficult for a lot of people. Like, the writer not having a book to be based on like he did for Season One. And we had a new director, with a lot of new elements at play. But I think, knock on wood, they've all come together in a really exciting way that deals with different subject matters as Season One did.”

And exciting it was for the press to report on Meryl’s involvement, which we can imagine to be as exhilarating as the sentiment on set. The Oscar-winning actress was actually convinced by Nicole Kidman to join the show as Perry’s mum who comes marching to town demanding some answers. So how does Shailene feel about having a new character unfolding for Season Two?

Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in 'Big Little Lies'. (PHOTO: Jennifer Clasen/HBO)

She perked up at the mention of Meryl’s name: “You know, there's a reason why she is as famous as she is, because she's a brilliant actress. She's a brilliant artist who has spent an entire lifetime wanting to cultivate new ways to approach what she does. And not only was that deeply inspiring to witness, but also like, I think she really raised the game for all of us to think about how we approach acting and a film set or a TV set. I don't know if you had the opportunity to meet her, but she walks into every room and immediately deflates the tension by holding the space of equality. You know, it doesn't matter if you’re a reporter, or Nicole Kidman, or a driver on the street, she treats every single person unanimously in the same regard. I really respect that.”

Big Little Lies reeled viewers in with great writing, acting, direction and entertaining plot arcs for the television, whilst carefully creating an awareness on domestic violence, a topic that affects most households. It takes the topic seriously, and the series panned out without falling into the trappings of a ‘soap opera’, thankfully.

Shailene Woodley stars as a single mum embroiled in a murder case in 'Big Little Lies.' (PHOTO: Jennifer Clasen/HBO)

So did Shailene anticipate the early success of the series? She was as surprised as the rest of the journalists at the roundtable, as well as her fellow cast members: “I was so surprised. I mean, we expected it to, hopefully, do well because it was at HBO. And you had all these actors involved, but I don't think any of us expected to have the sensational response that it had. I was out of the country when it came out. I'll never forget… I came back to LA and I was in a hair salon. I went straight from the airport to the hair salon, because I had to dye my hair for a project. I'm sitting there and I hear all of these whispers around me. I heard ‘Celeste this’, ‘Jane that’ and I was like, ‘What is happening?’ and it turned out episode three of Season One had aired and people were talking about it, without knowing I was there! It was odd to be in the middle of (sic) if this is affecting salon life, then it’s something that people like (laughs).”

BIG LITTLE LIES Season 2 premieres same time as the U.S. on Monday, 10 June at 9am, exclusively on HBO GO and HBO. The episode repeats on the same day on HBO at 10pm. New episodes premiere every Monday at the same time.

This story was a result of a trip sponsored by HBO Asia.