The HBO drama series Big Little Lies is back for a second season, as the lies that were told last season come back to haunt the Monterey Five. With the death of Celeste’s husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) even more present now that his mother, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), seems to be staying in town indefinitely, the friendship between Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern) and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) is tested, pushing their husbands to the edge.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor James Tupper (who plays Nathan, the current husband of Bonnie and ex-husband of Madeline) talked about his reaction to learning that they’d be returning for a second season, recapturing the magic of the first season, what it was that originally interested him in the show, what it was like to meet Meryl Streep, the experience of working with both Reese Witherspoon and Zoë Kravitz, why Nathan keeps trying to be BFFs with Ed (Adam Scott) who’s clearly not interested, Nathan’s journey in Season 2, what it was like to have Andrea Arnold step in to direct these seven new episodes, his desire to return for Season 3, and the projects that he’s considering doing next.
Collider: You were already a part of one of the best casts, ever, on a TV series, with the first season of Big Little Lies. And then, you find out that you’re returning for a second season and that Meryl Streep is joining the cast. What was your reaction to both learning that there would be a second season and that Meryl Streep would be on the show?
JAMES TUPPER: I think my heart stopped for a second. I was like, “What?!” I couldn’t believe it. The fact that we had a second season was terrific. I remember Jean-Marc Vallée called me and was like, “Can you believe it?! Our little show.” I was super excited and just blown away. This is what every actor dreams of. My aunt called me from Nova Scotia and was like, “Jimmy, I’m so proud of you. You made it.” I definitely know that it was the Meryl factor. She’s so amazing because she takes the time with each person that she meets. If you think about her reality, for one second, I jokingly called her the Queen of England because every single person wants a relationship with her, and she meets each person with this incredible detailed presence. People said Bill Clinton had that. She has a quality, where she just takes you in and really has a moment with you, and then moves to the next person. I saw her across the hotel lobby, and no one wants to miss the opportunity to meet her. All of my interviews have been like, “So, tell me about meeting Meryl.” It’s funny, meeting Meryl is a professional achievement, but playing a character in this story is an entirely different challenge, and Meryl gives you the space to do that. You’re not wowed by her, when you’re working with her, you’re just working.
And it’s not like you haven’t been in the business a long time and done a lot of great work, yourself, so you have every right to be there with Meryl Streep.
TUPPER: That is very kind of you. I appreciate you saying that. That’s very sweet. She’s really something.
When you originally signed on for this series, were you under the impression that it was just going to be one season? Did the fact that there could be a second season ever even cross your mind?
TUPPER: The only thing that I was thinking when I signed on was, “I can’t believe that I have to play Reese’s ex. I don’t think that’s a great position to be in.” I was just wowed by the whole cast. It’s amazing that we would come back. It’s incredible. I think we touched a cultural moment, where America was waiting, ready and willing to have a cultural shift and change. We were ground zero for #MeToo, and I think it was high-time for a dialogue and other really important changes. This little show captured some of and was in the middle of that spark, and now it’s become this other thing, not to mention that it’s just terrific entertainment. I tell everyone that it’s a couple’s show. Women love the show because there’s so many complex female relationships and amazing actresses, and guys like it. I’m just a dude, down deep, and I like it because there’s a murder and you’re trying to solve who the heck the murderer was. When you get to the end of the story, it’s not disappointing. It’s this story that’s taken from a novel and it’s connected to these deeper themes.
At the same time, when you do a show that has that magic to it, before you actually got and started reading scripts for the second season, were you ever worried that you might not be able to recapture that magic?
TUPPER: Sure, I was worried. I wanted to be in it, a lot, and I think I do have a nice arc this season. What you’re saying is true. You’ve moved on and done other characters, and playing a character is an ineffable thing. You do all of this work, and then, it suddenly creates itself, in a way. Maybe if you were doing a painting, you wouldn’t know exactly how it’s gonna turn out, but when you’ve done all of the detailed work to create what you think is the picture, and then you have to recreate that, it’s scary. But then, as soon as they said, “Action!,” it all came back and I was like, “Okay, this is very familiar. I recognize and remember this guy. Hello, Nathan.”
Because this came your way before you knew what it would turn into, what was it that originally sold you on this series and character, and made you want to be a part of this? What sold you on this show?
TUPPER: Two things, really. It was the pedigree of HBO. It’s not a level playing field. HBO spends almost a month, perfecting an episode. They shoot at the same speed that you would shoot a major motion picture, and they give you all of the things that you need to succeed. They really do support their artists. I remember when I went up to Monterey, the first time, they gave me this huge suite overlooking the ocean and I was like, “Wow.” Nowadays, in filmmaking, so often you’re at a Motel 6 and you’re like, “There’s no running water, can I just get water?,” because they’re trying to save money and shoot it in whatever way they can. That’s not the case with HBO. We went back and had almost three weeks of re-shoots because they wanted to get everything exactly just right, and they have a budget to spend. And then, the second thing was the level of talent. It wasn’t just Laura Dern, and it wasn’t just Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. It seemed like every major American actress was in this thing. I saw them all at a read-through. I looked at the lineup, and there was Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz, all together, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is really incredible. What a moment.” I wanted to take out my camera and just take a picture, but there was an HBO assassin, waiting on the other side of the room.
This show is so fun to watch and talk about, and to speculate about. Have your friends and family been trying to get spoilers from you, or do they really not want you to tell them anything because they don’t want you to ruin it?
TUPPER: Yeah, there’s definitely a vibe of, “Tell me. No, don’t tell me.” I handle that as any standard street comedian would, and I tell them the wrong stuff. I say, “Three people die.” I just tell them crazy stuff because there’s no way for them to disprove it until they see. The first season, I was telling my dad, “So, you don’t think I’m the killer?” He was like, “Geez, Jimmy, are you?” And I’m like, “I’m just saying, do you or don’t you?” It was pretty funny.
Why do you think it is that Nathan keeps trying with Ed (Adam Scott)? The two of them are clearly never going to be BFFs, but he keeps seeming to want to have conversations with him, anyway. What is that about?
TUPPER: Poor Nathan. Some of the funnier stuff fell to me and Adam Scott, and we just had so much fun doing it. I may have peed my pants, in one take. He is so funny, and I just enjoy working with him so much. We’re just complete opposites. It speaks to, what do men do when their women don’t tell them the truth, when they have lies or secrets, and it leaves them out in the cold. Suddenly, relationships go topsy-turvy, and guys often don’t understand what’s going on. I think a lot of men are in that boat. Nathan is just trying to put the children first, and trying to have a positive relationship with a snide fuck.