In case you haven’t heard, an all-star cast—including Adam Scott, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, and Zoë Kravitz—is working alongside executive producers and fellow actresses Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon on the new HBO miniseries Big Little Lies. But Witherspoon, who originally optioned the show, told People magazine that she didn’t sign up to produce the show because it’s expected to do well; instead, she had a far more empowering reason.
“So often I’m the only woman on a set full of men,” Witherspoon told the magazine. But on the female-driven Big Little Lies, the cast’s women are the stars.
Witherspoon echoed the sentiment in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last month. “For 25 years, I’ve been the only woman on set,” she said. “They call it ‘Smurfette Syndrome’ [as in] she’s the only woman around … so I had no one to talk to … We have to start seeing women how they actually are on film—we need to see real women’s experience—whether that involves domestic violence, sexual assault, romance, infidelity or divorce.”
The miniseries is based on the Liane Moriarty novel of the same name, and follows the lives of three mothers who find themselves wrapped up in a murder mystery. Witherspoon’s character is also a divorceé, a storyline that hits home for the actress.
“Reading the novel for the first time, I saw myself at different stages of motherhood through my life,” Witherspoon told The Hollywood Reporter. “It explores so many aspects that are relatable to the lives of women; it wasn’t about them being good or bad—they showed every spectrum and every color of women’s lives. It presented a unique opportunity to have so many incredible parts for women in one piece of material.”
But this is hardly the first time Witherspoon has called for more and better female characters in television dramas and movies—as well as women behind the scenes developing those characters. In her 2015 Glamour Woman of the Year speech, the actress told the audience that she started her production company, Pacific Standard Films, specifically so she could address the lack of strong female roles in the industry.
“I was warned that on the crazy chance Pacific Standard would acquire any good scripts, we would never make it past our first few years in business because there just wasn’t a market for buying female-driven material,” she said. “But like Elle Woods, I do not like to be underestimated.”