Big Little Lies first premiered as a TV show in 2017, three years after the novel of the same name by author Liane Moriarty was published in 2014.
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoë Kravitz, the show followed the lives of five fictional women living in a California beach town whose upper-class community is rocked by scandal and secrets.
The show’s first season was a success that Moriarty was under pressure to write new content for a second season outside the realm of her book.
Meryl Streep famously joined the cast for the show’s second season, which premiered in 2019.
Playing the role of Mary Louise Wright, Streep earned positive reviews for her performance. Interestingly, she signed on to the show before actually reading the script—a risky move for any actor.
Keep reading to find out why the legendary actress joined the cast without seeing the script and what role Liane Moriarty played in convincing her to take the part.
Meryl Streep As Mary Louise In ‘Big Little Lies’
In the TV series Big Little Lies, which ran from 2017 to 2019 and was an adaptation of the book by Liane Moriarty, Meryl Streep portrayed the role of Mary Louise Wright. She appears in the second season as the mother of Perry Wright, who dies at the end of the first season.
Prior to his death, Perry was abusive to his wife Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman. He also assaulted Jane, played by Shailene Woodley, and unknowingly fathered her son.
When Mary Louise arrives, she takes on the role of the series’ new villain by painting Celeste as a bad mother and trying to get custody of Celeste and Perry’s twin boys.
Meryl Streep is no stranger to playing a villain that the audience ends up loving, having famously portrayed the role of the terrifying (even Meryl stated it was “horrible” to film the movie) yet charismatic Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada back in 2006.
Liane Moriarty Specifically Wrote The Role For Meryl Streep
Cheat Sheet reports that the novel’s author, Liane Moriarty, wrote the role of Mary Louise specifically with Meryl Streep in mind.
She revealed to season one cast members Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon that she wanted the legendary actress for the part of Mary Louise when she was penning material for the second season, but they laughed at her cheek.
How Liane Moriarty Improved Her Chances Of Securing Meryl Streep
Given Meryl Streep’s iconic reputation in Hollywood, it’s understandable that Witherspoon and Kidman didn’t think that Liane Moriarty would be able to secure her for Big Little Lies.
Moriarty herself new it would be a challenge, so she decided to employ a specific strategy to improve her chances of convincing Streep to come on board.
She named the character of Perry’s mother Mary Louise because that is Meryl Streep’s real name. As Cheat Sheet reports, the actress was sold immediately once she heard her name being used for the character.
Why Meryl Streep Didn’t Need To See A Script
When Meryl Streep’s agent told her about the role of Mary Louise, she accepted it without even seeing a script.
While Moriarty’s trick of using the actress’s real name is believed to have helped, this was reportedly because Streep had a lot of respect for the show already.
She is said to have called Big Little Lies “the greatest thing on TV,” and said, “I’ll do it” as soon as her agent mentioned the part to her.
Meryl Streep Wanted To Protect The Character Of Mary Louise
Like many actors who portray villains, Meryl Streep became loyal to Mary Louise on set and would not listen to comments suggesting she was in the wrong by trying to get custody of her grandchildren after her son’s death.
According to IndieWire, Streep was not rude on set but was determined to protect her character from the reputation of being the show’s villain, and would reject the director’s notes about Mary Louise being evil.
Of course, this follows the way Streep has embraced all her characters, including tactics such as improvising scenes for 20 takes or more. Meryl’s deep dive into her character in The Devil Wears Prada is just one example, but it changed her entire life.
By the time Big Little Lies came around, Meryl had a leg up.
The Response To Meryl Streep In ‘Big Little Lies’
As predicted, Meryl Streep was a huge success in Big Little Lies. Her performance received mostly positive reviews. Where the second season itself was condemned, critics still showed respect and admiration for Streep’s performance.
“… [Mary Louise] has become [the series’] saving grace, and she’s garnered more intrigue with each successive episode,” read the review of the second season in the LA Times. “Who knew until tonight that Mary Louise had the physical power to shove her apartment door shut on a woman half her age? (Poor Jane.)”
The review went on to label Streep’s Mary Louise as “a rare TV masterpiece” thanks to her mix of “old-fashioned etiquette, passive suggestion and nerve-grating menace.”
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