The ‘Big Little Lies’ Emmys Wins Would Never Have Happened Without Reese Witherspoon’s Behind-the-Scenes Hustle
Even on a night where women won big, Big Little Lies' Emmy success felt astonishing. Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon's Emmy speech while accepting the Outstanding Limited Series award was moving, not just because it was garden-variety inspiring, but because it suggests that the Legally Blonde actor has achieved exactly what she set out to do when she launched production company Pacific Standard in 2012.
The 41 year old put women's issues at the center of the emotional speech when she stressed, "It’s been an incredible year for women and television. Can I just say? Bring women to the front of their own stories and make them the hero of their own stories." Kidman also used the speech as an opportunity to advocate for meatier roles for women, explaining that her friendship with Witherspoon led to them having "created opportunities out of a frustration because we weren’t being offered great roles, so now, more great roles for women please."
The critically-acclaimed series Big Little Lies won five Emmys in categories including Outstanding Limited Series and Directing, as well as acting Emmys for Kidman (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie), Laura Dern (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie), and Alexander Skarsgard (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie). And all those accolades were the result of years of hard work on Witherspoon's part, to create a show like Big Little Lies in the first place.
In a 2014 interview with Variety, Witherspoon explained that she had a very personal motivation for her professional decision to set up her own production company, along with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea. The reasons she cited seem eerily similar to those cited in the redhead's speech, namely a frustration when going to meetings with studio execs and receiving lackluster responses to the question "What are you developing for women?" She told Variety, "I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’ "
The Louisiana native's fears were based on facts. In 2014, The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film released a study that confirmed that only 12 percent of protagonists were female (which Indiewire commented constituted a decrease of 4 percent from 2002) and females only accounted for 30 percent of speaking parts. As the numbers show, projects like Big Little Lies were not only not getting made, they didn't even seem to be a priority for studios. Enter Witherspoon.
After teaming up with Australian producer and fellow voracious reader Bruna Papandrea, the mother of three set some priorities: that they should aim to showcase "different, dynamic women on film." Papandrea added some input of her own, hoping for "a funny, unique voice, regardless of genre." The fact that the pair were both passionate about literature paid off, with Forbes reporting that they were particularly fortunate in buying the rights for "soon-to-be bestsellers" like Gone Girl and Wild, which led to box office success, grossing "a combined $422 million at the box office."
Witherspoon seemed to hit her stride with Big Little Lies, which Papandrea stayed on to produce before leaving the company. While speaking to The Guardian, she implied that her production company wasn't just about a lack of female roles, but a lack of female companionship: "For 25 years I have been the only woman on set, with no other women to talk to, and it’s been so refreshing to finally get to spend time with some."
When you bear all this context in mind, it's hard to stay dry-eyed when watching Witherspoon's dream come to fruition: not standing solo on stage and accepting another prestigious award for playing a girlfriend or wife (as she did when accepting her 2006 Best Actress Oscar for Walk The Line) but to stand alongside her friends onstage and accept an award for work that puts women and female issues front and center.
Should her daughter want to pursue the same path as Witherspoon, hopefully, by the time Ava is old enough to pursue her own career, she'll have a far richer array of roles to choose from — thanks to her mother's hard work.