Liz Tigelaar Interview: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ showrunner
“Little Fires Everywhere,” the new Hulu limited series adaptation of the Celeste Ng novel of the same name, tackles such themes as racial tension, motherhood and adoption within the privileged community of Shaker Heights, Ohio. It was a story that greatly appealed to Liz Tigelaar, showrunner and writer for the series and herself an adopted child. Stars Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington had read the novel and proposed a series adaptation to Tigelaar, who admits to Gold Derby in an exclusive interview that she “just fell completely in love with it” and knew she had to commit to the Hulu series. Watch the full video interview with Tigelaar above.
SPOILERS BELOW AND IN THE VIDEO:
While “Little Fires Everywhere” is faithful to the novel in many ways, telling the story of single mother Mia (Washington) and her strained relationship with the rich mother-of-four Elena (Witherspoon) who rents a room to her, one crucial element was changed. In the novel, Mia’s race is not explicitly mentioned while in the Hulu show, she is black. Much of the show’s conflict comes from microaggressions that Mia and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) experience. Tigelaar notes that this choice “didn’t change the story in terms of the story beats, but it changed the story in terms of how the characters interacted and what would be truthful for this character and this woman at this time in this position.” This also led to some “challenging, transformative conversations” in the writers’ room about the right approach to this material and voicing “our own biases or blindspots to the room and admitting them.”
One key aspect of the series is its setting in the ’90s. This was a time where white people talking about how you “didn’t see color” was prevalent. It was important to Tigelaar to capture that cultural feeling that doesn’t feel too long ago but really is. The ’90s, she expresses, had “ways of thinking that we can look back now and see how not good it was, damaging really. The concept of colorblindness, that you wanted to not see someone’s race in order to treat them equally instead of seeing someone’s race — this is a very detrimental, damaging concept.” Authenticity was also key for Witherspoon and Washington. Tigelaar explains that Witherspoon made sure to accurately capture how teenagers behave, as a mother of teens herself, while Washington was very instrumental in getting the best performances out of her scene partners. “I can honestly say that at the end of this process, I love and admire them even more than when I started,” Tigelaar admits, “and I obviously started at a pretty high bar.”