‘Little Fires Everywhere’ add up to one big conflagration in Hulu drama

‘Little Fires Everywhere’ – A four-alarm blaze on Hulu

Kerry Washington (left) and Reese Witherspoon star in “Little Fires Everywhere,” premiering Wednesday on Hulu.

An upscale suburban home goes up in flames, its residents, a family of six, watching in horror from the street. Police determine it was arson because of the presence of “Little Fires Everywhere.”

And that opening scene provides not only the backdrop for the so-named miniseries based on Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel that premieres Wednesday, March 18, on Hulu, but also a recurring theme.

Backtracking four months, the drama tells the story of the Richardsons, an upper-middle-class family in a leafy Cleveland suburb circa 1997. Mom Elena (Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”) is the very embodiment of that privilege, an attractive, well-intentioned and well-ordered Type-A working as a part-time journalist at the local paper when she’s not raising four kids with hubby Bill (Joshua Jackson, “The Affair”) and exhorting them to play by the rules.

Her message of conformism is generally accepted without protest by offspring Lexie, Trip and Moody (Jade Pettyjohn, Jordan Elsass, Gavin Lewis), but the youngest, Izzy (Megan Stott), bucks her at every turn and plays with fire, figuratively and literally, as a show of rebellion – and maybe something more.

Into their lives come Mia Warren (Kerry Washington, “Scandal”) and her teenage daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood), who rent an apartment from Elena. Mia is a mixed-media artist who moves where the work is and takes odd jobs to pay the bills when there isn’t any, while Pearl is just sick of their nomadic existence and wishes her mom would make her well-being the priority.

Kerry Washington (left) and Reese Witherspoon star in “Little Fires Everywhere,” premiering Wednesday on Hulu.

But Mia’s main concern is, at least at the outset of the story, her art, which frequently incorporates fire – and filming those scenes proved an interesting quandary for cast and crew, as Washington told a recent gathering of journalists in Pasadena, Calif.

“It’s funny when I watch it now,” she recalls, “because when you watch the scene it’s like Mia alone in her studio, lighting her work on fire. But in real life it was like me and 17 firemen standing just off-camera all giving me lectures on how much time I had before I was gonna burn down the whole lot. So, it looks very different on camera than what it was like in person. But it was so fun. So, so fun.”

“Little Fires Everywhere” represents the first collaboration between Washington and Witherspoon, accomplished actresses and longtime friends who are also executive producers here, and the partnership turned out to be a pleasurable experience for both.

“The thing that I love about Kerry,” Witherspoon says, “is that she cares as much as I do. She works so hard, sometimes to the point where I’m like, ‘She works too hard,’ and people are like, ‘Look who’s talking.’ But I never had to worry ever a day where it was Kerry’s day, because we really shared all responsibility. That extends to every script, every nuance, every costume design, every cut of every episode. We are in it.”

“I trust her,” Washington says of Witherspoon. “There’s not a lot of people in this business that I trust with my full inner life the way that I trust Reese. And on a project like this, it was so important because … we had to explore some of our personal stuff. … Like we really held space for each other to reveal who we are for the betterment of this project. So, that’s not always true in the workplace that you have that kind of phenomenal trust.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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