Big Little Lies season 2: Poorna Jagannathan says acting with Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep 'brought me to my knees'
Poorana Jagannathan talks about playing Celeste's family lawyer in Big Little Lies season 2, and what drew her to the small yet insignificant part.
Poorna Jagannathan has made a career in the West after doing small roles in critically acclaimed TV shows like Better Call Saul and House of Cards. But her most recent claim to global fame is season 2 of Andrea Arnold's HBO drama Big Little Lies, in which she plays Celeste's (Nicole Kidman) lawyer Katie Richmond.
"I was offered the role of a doctor first. I don't know if it was Celeste's therapist or some other doctor. But I didn't want to play a doctor again. I've played it so many times that you have to safeguard yourself so that you don't end up getting slotted in just one kind of roles," Poorna says, in an exclusive interview to Firstpost.
"But a few days later, Katie's role came up. I really wanted it but the only brief I got for the audition was that she's a family lawyer fighting a custody battle. Now, whose custody battle, they never told me then. So I visited the family court in Downtown LA. I realised the proceedings of a family court are 180 degree different from a criminal court. Family lawyers are nurturing and less aggressive, instead of being manipulative. They really want to work things out rather than escalating it. Everyone knows everyone in family courts so the clients are also much calmer. They're courteous even while fighting because they know the case is everyone's loss," she says.
Poorna feels, as Renata (Laura Dern) mentions to Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), these are the very qualities that make Katie a much-sough-after family lawyer. "I think she knows how to not piss the judges off. That's why I think she has a good reputation among the judges. I don't know if those are the qualities that you need in this particular case (of Celeste and her mother-in-law fighting for the custody of her children). This is not just a family case. It has started to look a lot like a criminal case. That's why at the end of the sixth episode, Celeste ends up claiming that she has the license of a lawyer and will question her mother-in-law herself. She says if her motherhood skills are being put to test then it's only fair that her mother-in-law's skills are also questioned," she adds.
She doesn't disclose how much of her we will see in the season finale of Big Little Lies. "I don't know how much of me finally makes it to every episode after the edit table. But I'm definitely there in the final episode." However, she maintains that she does not mind because she got "the front row seat" to the best show in town. Sharing screen space with both Kidman and Streep has been a humbling experience for her.
"I have more scenes with Nicole. But watching both of them act brought me to my knees. I couldn't imagine the level of acting they brought to the show. They speak with so much variation that you feel it just came out. There is nothing rehearsed. There is no 'acting' as such. It's more of a documentary. To just stand by Nicole's side was something," says Poorna.
She maintains that she tries to stand out in every film or show she is even a small part of, but in Big Little Lies season 2, she took a backseat with the forces of Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman at play. "I always try to keep up. But on this set, I really let that expectation go away. Because of what they bring to the show, my preparation for my part will completely fail. I don't know what game they're playing! The most I can do is not laugh out loud at jokes that I can't understand."
Amidst reports of the executive producer imposing his vision on season 2 of the show and diluting the creative control and feminist influence of Andrea Arnold, Poorna explains that she never felt the same. "Not in my world. I do know that season 1 (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée) had a male-dominated energy. What I saw here was, Andrea was both technically brilliant and inspirational. In the middle of a scene, when she came in to give directions, her eyes were puffed up and tears streaming down her face. She brought that vulnerability to the show so I personally feel season 2 has an underlying theme of feminism throughout," says Poorna.
Poorna claims that most of all, the overarching theme of Big Little Lies, that of female bonding in the midst of trauma, influenced her decision to play Celeste's lawyer in season 2. "I saw season 1 at night. I read the book right after. I really drew to the show's themes of violence and female bonding. It rang very close to home. But I never imagined there'd be a season 2, and I'll be part of that world. You know, there are shows like Game of Thrones, that you ask yourself how am I gonna be a part of this world. When Katie was offered to me, I surely felt in the same boat as Celeste. We have major disagreements and at the end of the sixth episode, Celeste decides to fight the rest of the case by herself. Still, I'm willing to stand by her side, even in the finale episode."
The finale courtroom battle between Celeste and Marry Louise is sure to give closure to Poorna, like the rest of us.
Big Little Lies is set for Indian television premiere on Star World in September.
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