HBO’s beautifully-crafted prestige drama “Big Little Lies” packed a punch with a satisfying ending on Sunday. Director Jean-Marc Vallee, who originally planned to direct only the first two episodes but ended up directing all seven, spoke to EW.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does it feel to finish this project? You spent more time with these characters then you’ve been able to do in any of your films.
JEAN-MARC VALLÉE: When I did the final color grading for the last episode and I watched it with no sound, I got very emotional [when I watched] these women bonding [on the beach]. They were becoming one, becoming like the ocean, becoming a force. And the ultimate Big Little Lie is to protect each other. I relate. I’m not sure they are doing the right thing but I get what they are doing. When I see them at the beach, I see hope. I see pain. I feel strong female solidarity. It’s like the revenge of these women against all of these abusers.
Did you relate to the men as closely?
Yes, they are strong. They each have their own thing. They try to cope with being part of a couple, being divorced, starting over again. And being in the shadow of the other one. They are all different. I cared for them just like I cared for these women. That’s why I wanted to direct this. It felt real. There are not a lot of projects that feature a lot of strong female characters but we can still relate to them. We don’t have to be female to relate to what they are going through.
Let’s talk about the violence in episode seven. It feels the most severe of all.
Episode seven is the ultimate violent scene but we see it in flashes, we don’t know the way that it’s structured. We first just see Nicole on the floor. Later on, as she prepares the apartment for the kids, we see what happened in the bathroom, in quick flashes, with no sound. She’s there in the apartment with the sound of the ocean and she remembers what happened to her.
Seeing those images with no sound, very quick — the imprint it leaves on your brain just might be stronger then if you see the whole thing, I believe. Sometimes when you stay there and you see a lot, it dilutes the violence. You get used to it.
You told me you let the leading ladies each choose their Audrey Hepburn look but how did it work for the guys?
I picked everything out with the costume designer. And for Alex, he’s the black leather guy. The coolest. The sexiest. It’s funny how this villain with this problem, this domestic violence, he gets to bring the audience to this point where we want to him to solve his problems, to cure himself and to be nice. Deep down inside he wants to do that but he just can’t. It’s funny how we feel about him. Like, come on Perry, don’t do that. Solve your s—.
How did you choose the songs for the performers to sing on Trivia Night and why?
Screenwriter David Kelley already picked “The Wonder of You” for Ed. It was already in the script. I think “Don’t” was already chosen for Bonnie. And I totally agreed. And then I went through the different Elvis tracks and I thought it was beautiful for Nathan to sing a love letter to Madeline with “How Is the World Treating You,” which is about a couple who has stopped seeing each other. This guy is singing, “how is the world treating you since we’ve been apart?”
We rearranged these songs so they become beautiful and sentimental. Zoë Kravitz is a singer. She sang her song. But Conor O’Brien, lead singer for the Irish band The Villagers sang “The Wonder of You” and Adam Scott learned the song perfectly so he could lip sync. Same with Nathan. It’s not James Tupper’s voice. We first went to Chris Isaak to sing a version of it but then he had scheduling issues. So we went with another guy, who had a similar feel.
Does this medium give you more freedom than film does?
It’s the same. HBO is inviting feature film actors, directors, and writers to play in their sandbox. And they are allowing us to do it the way we always do it in the feature film world. I’d say I’m doing the same thing. The only difference is it’s long and I get to spin more as a director/DJ, which I love a lot. At the same time, making a TV series is to make a huge playlist that I get to play for the world. I’m doing it to serve the project. I’m aware that the people are going to listen to this and music is a strong element in my life. It gives me wings. I like to share it. I make playlists for my friends/family. Doing TV, I’m on my second one. I’ve just started to craft my playlist for Sharp Objects [his upcoming series starring Amy Adams and based on the Gillian Flynn novel]. It’s going to be a great one.