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Nicole Kidman and her co-stars at the Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey.
Nicole Kidman and her co-stars at the Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey.

The Truth behind the Big Little Lies Locations

Big Little Lies is one of the most talked-about TV series over the past year. Nominated for 14 Emmy awards, it’s based on an Australian novel, but for TV its location was moved from a fictional Australian town to the Monterey area in Northern California. Nicole Kidman shows us where it was made.

Reese Witherspoon was concerned. She felt that the setting of Australian author Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies needed to be moved from Australia to an American beach town. Nicole Kidman had gone to Darlinghurst in Sydney to convince the author to let them ­option the book, and when they got the rights, she agreed with her co-producer and co-star that it would appeal more to a global audience if the location were moved to California.

“We looked at all sorts of beach towns,” says ­Kidman, who hired French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée to direct Big Little Lies. “Monterey seemed like a perfect fit.” 

The Northern California town of Monterey was chosen because of its physical and hypnotic beauty and demographic mix. The rough, rugged coastline and the power of the ocean, which at times can seem angry and violent, came to represent all the drama that lies beneath the beautiful scenery. 

“I think there’s an intimate quality to Monterey,” Kidman says about the town with a population under 30,000. “You get the feel of a small, tightly-knit community, but also the beauty of it. People have said to us, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to move there.’ Also, the ocean and the water play such a huge part in the series. Jean-Marc used it almost like a character. There are so many scenes where we are looking at the ocean or on the beach, or running in the water.”

Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon. Photo: HBO Nordic

Kidman had read Big Little Lies overnight when she received it and immediately thought that it could be a great opportunity for five women to work together. The author Moriarty had insisted that Kidman play Celeste, while the remainder of the main female roles went to Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, and Kidman’s producing partner Reese Witherspoon. Alexander Skarsgård meanwhile plays Celeste’s abusive husband Perry Wright. 

Superficially the group is the envy of the town with their seemingly perfect lives. However, scratch under the surface and things look different.

‘It was a really painful role and I didn’t realize how it was affecting me’

“I think Monterey was perfect because of that dichotomy of the beauty of everything, but behind closed doors there are secrets and shame and people hiding things. 

If you set it in Los Angeles for instance, which is somewhat sprawling, there is just so much more going on there. When you put it in a small community though, everyone is in each other’s business, but everyone doesn’t really know what’s really going on. And that is what is so fascinating and so real,” Kidman says.

The abusive relationship, between Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård’s Perry Wright, is a central theme throughout Big Little Lies. Photo: HBO Nordic

While in Monterey, the main cast stayed in little rented beach houses next to each other. Although the experience of shooting in beautiful surroundings with a group of women who became friends was wonderful, Kidman had a tough job to do. It wasn’t easy being in Celeste’s shoes and one day she even broke a window out of sheer frustration.

“That reaction was from the abuse of the relationship,” Kidman says. “I was so into Celeste’s head. 

I was in Celeste. I was Celeste. And so your body doesn’t know any different. When you’re thrown around and hit, and crying, and all of those things, ­my brain knows different, but my body doesn’t know anything different. It was interesting and it made me think of women in abusive relationships and how that fits into your psyche and your body. It’s so painful. It was a really painful role and I didn’t realize how it was affecting me.”

Photo: HBO Nordic

The first series of Big Little Lies ends with an idyllic beachside picnic and the women singing, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by the Rolling Stones during the final credits.

“That’s where you see us all joining forces and coming together and protecting each other,” Kidman says without revealing too much of what happens at the end of the series. “It’s incredibly powerful and I cried when I saw it for the first time. When we shot it we were just there for a day together, hanging out and it was just special and magical.” 

Text: Tina Jøhnk Christensen

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