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It took Meryl Streep until precisely 43 minutes into episode one of Big Little Lies season two to deliver what the internet has deemed an iconic TV moment of 2019. As the murdered Perry’s grief-stricken mother Mary Louise, Streep let out a piercing scream over a quiet dinner with her son’s wife and twin boys that promptly went viral – even if you missed the show, you couldn’t miss the memes.
It would have been foolish to expect anything less than scene-stealing from Streep, even if she was joining an already stellar ensemble cast led by Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz (the Monterey Five have two Oscars and six nominations between them). But it begs the question of who was behind her inspired casting as Celeste Wright’s suspicious mother-in-law – and how the Hollywood veteran was persuaded to dip a toe back into TV.
It turns out it wasn’t just down to her relationships with the original Big Little Lies stars – Streep and Dern both appear in Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Little Women, and she worked with Nicole Kidman on The Hours in 2003 – the idea actually came from Liane Moriarty, the Australian author of the book the series is based on.
Producer Bruna Papandrea revealed on Tina Brown’s TBD podcast how casting Streep was Moriarty’s condition for writing a follow-up to the first season. “When we were trying to convince her to write a second season story, she had an idea for a Mary Louise character,” Papandrea said. “She said ‘OK, well now I’ve written it, now you have to go get me Meryl Streep.’” It was then that Monterey’s finest were drafted in to court their soon-to-be co-star. “Nicole and Reese both had relationships with Meryl, and within the ether there were a lot of connections,” she explained.
“I think Meryl brings her own thing to it,” Papandrea said of Streep’s Big Little Lies character. “It’s a deadly strangeness. Is she friend, [or] is she foe? I think that’s the big question of the season.”
Big Little Lies will air tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.