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'Big Little Lies': Reese Witherspoon riffs on Hollywood and the 'Smurfette Syndrome'

The actress stars in the upcoming HBO miniseries 'Big Little Lies,' which co-stars Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Zoe Kravitz. 'It’s so refreshing to spend time with all of these women,' Witherspoon said of the project.

'Big Little Lies' stars Reese Witherspoon.
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO
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After experiencing decades of professional isolation as "the only woman on set," actress Reese Witherspoon is making waves with a female-led miniseries.

The Academy Award-winning actress spoke during the Television Critics Association winter press tour about how she has felt isolated on past sets as a woman and about how Hollywood projects depict female characters. Her upcoming project, the HBO miniseries “Big Little Lies,” is a "refreshing" break from what she referred to as the "Smurfette Syndrome." 

“For 25 years, I've been the only woman on set, so I had no other women to talk to,” she said Saturday, according to TVLine. “They call it 'Smurfette Syndrome.' Because she's got a hundred Smurfs around her and she's the only girl.” 

She also expressed concern with some of the depictions of women she’s seen onscreen.

“Things have to change,” Witherspoon said. “We have to start seeing women as they really are … We have to see real women's experience. Whether it involves domestic violence, whether it involves sexual assault, whether it involves motherhood or romance or infidelity or divorce. We need to see these things.” 

Both Witherspoon and her co-star, Nicole Kidman, praised “Big Little Lies” for not just featuring several leading women, but for showcasing multi-dimensional, female characters.

“This piece is about women helping each other and women supporting each other, which was very important to Reese and I,” Ms. Kidman said.

The show tells the story of three women whose children attend the same school and who become friends. 

“It’s so refreshing to spend time with all of these women,” Witherspoon said. (The project also stars Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, and Laura Dern in addition to Alexander Skarsgård and Adam Scott.) 

In recent years, Witherspoon has made a concerted effort to select female-led projects. She co-stars with Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling in the upcoming movie adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava DuVernay, who in accepting the job became the first woman of color to helm a live-action film that has a budget of more than $100 million. 

Witherspoon's production company, Pacific Standard, which she co-founded with Bruna Papandrea in 2012, has been behind such female-led movies as “Wild” and “Gone Girl.” 

The actress told Variety in 2014 that she asked executives in 2012, “What are you developing for women?” 

“I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” Witherspoon recalled. “And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’ ” 

Pacific Standard is co-producing “Big Little Lies” along with Blossom Films, Kidman’s production company. The miniseries, which is based on the bestseller of the same name by Liane Moriarty, is scheduled to debut on HBO in February.