Little Fires Everywhere isn't just a show starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
They also executive produced the series, based on the 2017 book by Celeste Ng, in which they star as two very different mothers. Elena (Witherspoon) is a control-loving mom of four, married to Bill (Joshua Jackson). Mia (Washington) is a single mom who's living in her car with her 15 year-old daughter when we meet her.
She ends up renting an apartment from Elena, intertwining their families in ways that become very dramatic over the course of the story. Witherspoon and Washington opened up on a panel at the TV Critics Association press tour on Friday about how they got together for this, with help from Witherspoon's producing partner Lauren Neustadter at Hello Sunshine.
"[Kerry] and I have been friends for a long time and when I read the book, it just had so many complex themes in it, and i knew whoever was going to be my partner, I wanted to be able to have many conversations, carry these performances together. My first instinct in who's actually going to show up and do the work, a lot of work," Witherspoon said.
"That first person that Lauren thought of and then said to me and I was like that's perfect, is Kerry," she continued. "Everything she does, she brings a grace to it and it was a wonderful aspect to it and she. She deepens the conversation, and I knew that I wanted to go on this journey with her. So, especially because she read it so quickly and responded so quickly to the role, and it just, it made sense that we're representing slightly different kind of women and different kinds of mothering, but both with dignity and respect."
A lot of the show is about the choices women make, including the line "you didn't make good choices, you had good choices," and Witherspoon said she started producing shows so she could make her own choices.
"Choices used to be made for me a lot," she said. "I made a conscious decision about eight years ago to start my own company because I wasn't happy with the choices that were being made for me. And I didn't see a place to exist within the industry that we had. There just wasn't a spectrum of storytelling for women representative of the world that we walked through, and that our daughters are seeing on film and television. And I think the emergence of streaming...the confluence of deciding to start a company, I guess I was psychic or something. I had no idea the whole world would open up for us, but it has changed my life, and the ability to work with different types of storytellers, to be able to option books and partner with other people I respect and admire also have a perspective that is not my own, but is just as valuable, has changed my entire experience."
Washington talked about how this sort of work has become possible as kind of a "side result" of the Time's Up movement, because of how many women were gathering together to create all kinds of change.
"One of the extraordinary impacts of the Time's Up movement is that so many of us came together to try and advance the cause of equity and safety in the workplace, but in doing so we came together and we were no longer siloed," she said. "For so much of my career I had been told that, so and so actress was crazy, so and so actress was difficult, this other actress is bad news. And when we were all gathered in a room together, and not for the purpose of building each other's career, for the purpose of creating safety and equity across all industries, all over the world, but we got to know each other. And in that sisterhood we got to ask each other, how can we partner together to also create create more environments that are filled with equity and safety in our own industry as well."
"So, for me that's been one of the exciting results side results of coming together as a community is that we've been able to grow our friendships and also grow our professional relationships, not just for our own advancement," she continued. "But as producers we get to employ hundreds and hundreds of artists and activists and now we can do it in environments that are safe and and have values that embody our values."
A big theme of Little Fires Everywhere is motherhood, and Mia and Elena are very different mothers. Mia is a mysterious, secret-keeping artist who has a seriously close relationship with her daughter Pearl, while Elena might even remind you of Big Little Lies' Madeline right at first, but not for long.
"It's a slow burn that turns into a rapid, fast descent" for that character, showrunner Liz Tigelaar said of Elena, a Type-A, color-coding sort of mom who can't seem to get a hold of her younger daughter, Izzy, which causes quite a bit of the story going forward.
Watch the trailer above!
Little Fires Everywhere also stars Rosemarie DeWitt, Geoff Stults, Jaime Ray Newman, Jesse Williams, Obba Babatundé, Britt Robertson, Jade Pettyjohn, Jordan Elsass, Gavin Lewis, Megan Stott, Lexi Underwood, and Anna Sophia Robb and Tiffany Boone as young Elena and Mia.
The show premieres March 18 on Hulu.