Little Fires Everywhere: Jade Pettyjohn and Gavin Lewis Tease a "Very Powerful" TV Adaptation
Hulu's adaptation of Celest Ng's novel Little Fires Everywhere is set to release on March 18, and fans are anxiously waiting to watch. Set in the '90s, the series will wrap viewers into the drama of Shaker Heights, Ohio, where the arrival of single mother Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood), change the life of prim and proper Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon).
Leading up to the familial clash, Pearl befriends Elena's children. Two of her closest comrades include the oldest Richardson child, Lexi — played by Destroyer's Jade Pettyjohn — and the second youngest, Moody — played by The Prince of Peoria's Gavin Lewis. As you'll see on the show (or have already read in the book), the young characters play a significant role in the course of action that fans a growing flame. Ahead of the series release, POPSUGAR chatted with Lewis and Pettyjohn about igniting the story of Little Fires Everywhere on screen.
POPSUGAR: Were you familiar with the Little Fires Everywhere book beforehand or was this show your introduction into the Shaker Heights drama?
Lewis: Both my aunt and my mom read the book, so I had heard about it. But I read it during the audition process, so I got to learn the story as I was auditioning.
Pettyjohn: I had the book, but once I received an audition, I dove further into it and looked at it from the lens of Lexie's character. It's such a potent story, and I was very excited to see it translated onto the screen, especially because we had Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon, and [screenwriter] Liz Tigelaar. They're brilliant storytellers who do an excellent job of bringing stories that are already beautiful pieces of work to life and adapting them. I was very excited to be a part of that.
PS: Having that background knowledge of the book, what was your instinctual reaction to reading the show's script?
Lewis: I thought they did a great job of translating the book and filling in the blanks for anything that would be helpful to know for television. They captured all the big moments and just made it really engaging.
"People will be really intrigued because there are some surprises coming for Lexie. You think you know her, but then you realize that you don't." — Jade Pettyjohn
Pettyjohn: I thought that it was so beautiful. It took the core ideas of the book and gave us more space to discover the characters. I love my character and her arc, and I think that it's a really powerful story to tell at this particular moment in time. This entire story was very brave. It's really looking at how we chase perfection and how far we go for ourselves and how far we go to maintain our safety nets.
PS: How would you describe your characters and the journey they go on?
Lewis: Moody is definitely a loner and has settled into the fact that he is a loner at school. He doesn't really have a lot of friends. But when the new girl, Pearl, comes into town, he really — I don't want to say he latches onto her, but he connects with her, and they start spending a lot of time together. So his story is about how that relationship unfolds.
Pettyjohn: In the first few episodes of the show, you're going to see Lexie and be like, "I know that girl." She's popular, ambitious, a bit egocentric, and ignorant. She's also driven and bossy, and, just like her mom, she's the perfect daughter. But as the series continues, you see that her idea of perfection doesn't exist. You see a character unravel, and life hits her in the face. At a certain point, she sees herself clearly, which is not perfect and not beautiful. She's definitely flawed in the way that she treats others and herself. You find more humanity in her but also the lack of humanity. People will be really intrigued because there are some surprises coming for Lexie. You think you know her, but then you realize that you don't.
PS: What was it like tapping into the complexities of your character and bringing them to life?
Lewis: It was fun because it's a lot different from some of the other roles I've played. Getting to work through all the steps I need to get that internal monologue was cool. Character research and writing down a bunch of notes is always fun as an actor. I discovered that this kind of acting is probably one of my favorites because of how much work you need to put in. It's more difficult, but I like the preparation that goes into figuring out a more complex character. The hardest thing for me has probably been trying to find a place to pull anger from because there's definitely a layer of anger with Moody. Some of the scenes where I've had to really get mad have been harder for me but really helpful. From an acting standpoint, that's been great. It's a tool I can use moving forward.
"Reese, in between takes, would make jokes and was just so much fun. She's an excellent role model for me in this industry." — Gavin Lewis
Pettyjohn: It was definitely something to sink my teeth into. Playing Lexi definitely changed the way that I look at my life, and it increased my empathy. She's very complex, but a lot of what she goes through is universal. We all have elements of her and being afraid to look at the parts of ourselves that are ugly and flawed. So it was interesting to look at it like, 'OK, if I was raised in Shaker Heights in this castle and away from any sense of reality, what would I do? How would I put all this emphasis and value on perfection and living the perfect life and make the stakes feel high in that particular way?' That was a really interesting thing to develop and define. It involved lots of conversations with Liz and Reese.
PS: What was it like working with Hollywood heavyweights like Reese and Kerry?
Lewis: It was amazing. It makes my job even more fun when who I'm working with is so good at what they do. They'd change up their reads, and it made me change what I'm doing. Reese, in between takes, would make jokes and was just so much fun. She's an excellent role model for me in this industry.
Pettyjohn: They are goddesses. They're so brilliant, powerful, and beautiful. They're both incredible leaders, executives, actresses, and human beings. I've looked up to them throughout my entire career. They are so passionate about their craft. They give you everything that you need as an actor. Seeing them in their element, creating what they do and then being able to work with them, it's very surreal, and it's been a blessing. It was a total lovefest working with them.
PS: Jade, you worked with Nicole Kidman in Destroyer, Laura Dern in Trial by Fire, and now Reese. Do you feel like an honorary member of the Big Little Lies squad?
Pettyjohn: I do feel like an honorary member of the Big Little Lies squad. I'm just knocking them down. Next is Shailene Woodley. We'll just keep it going.
PS: Yes, let's also get Meryl Streep on the line. We're going to make this happen.
Pettyjohn: Yeah, let's hit up Meryl, too. I'm ready!
PS: Now you clearly loved getting to share the screen with Reese and Kerry. But how was your chemistry with your fellow onscreen siblings?
Lewis: We got along superwell. It's a really good group of people. Every single person on this project has been incredible to work with. As an only child in real life, having a bunch of fake siblings was really fun. At the very beginning, we all went to Disneyland as a group, and we got a guide and walked around all day. It was great because everybody was getting to know each other. We got to spend so much time together.
Pettyjohn: It was so easy, which was incredible. We're not always in the same scenes together, and we all had our own storylines and would go off to shoot. But we had the TV room, which was kind of the main room for the kids, and in that particular room, we'd all come in and watch something together. We felt like siblings. It was also amazing working with Lexi [Underwood], who plays Pearl. The chemistry was just there.
PS: Now round us out with your best description of the series.
Lewis: This is one of the most exciting suspense shows in a long time. The cinematography is really good, and it tells an important political story. It touches on some of the more difficult topics that were relevant in the '90s and are still relevant today.
Pettyjohn: Every episode is intense, and it's important as far as things that we need to look at within ourselves. But it's also just really good entertainment. It makes you want to watch the next episode and the next one, so it's addicting in that sense. It generates incredible conversations, it's very powerful, and it's for everyone. It's the kind of multigenerational show that you can watch with your kids or with your parents. And it's very juicy.