‘It was intimidating’: Poorna Jagannathan on Big Little Lies season 2

It is a great time to be Poorna Jagannathan. The Los Angeles-based actor, who Indian audiences remember for her role as Menaka in the 2011 comedy Delhi Belly, is now part of the second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies. She plays Katie Richmond, a lawyer representing Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) in a custodial battle. Then, as she was opening up to the media about her role, comedy queen Mindy Kaling roped in Jagannathan (along with Priyanka Chopra) for her upcoming Netflix comedy series on the complicated life of Devi, a modern Indian-American teen. In a telephonic interaction, the Indian-American actor — seen in shows like House of Cards, Better Call Saul, Room 104 and The Night Oftells me why Big Little Lies was intimidating and made her aware of her ‘otherness’.

Trauma/PTSD has always been one of the major themes of Big Little Lies. Which character’s arc moved you the most as a viewer?

I’m not watching this season as a viewer anymore, so that’s a hard one to answer. As an actor, and as someone who has a lot of stake when it comes to issues like domestic and sexual violence, I was definitely subsumed by Nicole’s character, Celeste. As a performer, she really crosses over to the other side. She becomes the character. Watching her across these weeks and months felt more like filming a documentary than a TV show.

‘It was intimidating’: Poorna Jagannathan on Big Little Lies season 2

This season’s impending trial is also a hat-tip to the fact that mothers are perpetually on trial. Do you think this sense of scrutiny has become demonstrably worse now?

Definitely. I think when I was growing up, there was a certain disconcerting dynamic around motherhood. You can see something like that play out with the college admissions scandal (in America); it’s fascinating that the whole affair is in the news at around the same time as Big Little Lies. It has really magnified the lens on motherhood — how far would you go to give your child a leg up? Over the years, especially with social media, I think it’s gotten worse. Showing off how well your child is doing, or how many sports they’re good at, motherhood has come to be about earning badges.

At some level, the (mostly white) residents of Monterey Bay are disconnected from life outside. What would be your advice to people like them, who can see the emptiness but feel powerless to change it?

I think everybody’s emptiness catches up to them eventually. How you cope depends upon your circumstances, your background. For me, 30 was a big turning point. I used to work in advertising and I just could not get up in the morning and go to work anymore. All the things that society had told me to care about — where I worked, what I did, how much I made — would keep replaying in my head. When I decided to be an actor, it was the first time I’d ever taken time out for myself. So, sometimes, confronting your emptiness can be an empowering experience.

‘It was intimidating’: Poorna Jagannathan on Big Little Lies season 2

Your views on Meryl Streep’s character, Mary Louise. Do you see her more as a villain or an anti-hero?

Because we are so invested in the lives of the Monterey Five, Mary Louise comes off as a classical villain within the narrative of the show. The character who wants to tear stuff apart. I was very moved by how Meryl Streep dealt with this. She would not engage with any conversation that painted her character as villainous — not in a defensive way, just saying something like ‘Well, that’s not for you to figure out, that’s my problem’. As an actor, you always hear that in order to play a villain, you can never believe that you’re the villain. You have to bring humanity and truth in your performance. But I’d never seen someone deal with this sentiment actively, on set.

I recently read that you were part of a full-length film based on the short film, Share.

It’s the most extraordinary film that I’ve been a part of. Don’t get me wrong, I think being part of Big Little Lies was amazing. The cast and crew were welcoming. But despite that, it was intimidating, period. These women (Reese Witherspoon, Kidman et al) have been working together for such a long time, they’ve seen each other grow, that it’s a bit of a Hollywood family, and I could feel my otherness. Whereas with Share, it was just the opposite — the sense of belonging was very strong. The film airs in India at the same time as in the US, on July 27. It’s about a teenager who realises everybody at school has seen her in a sexually-explicit video. It is a subject that’s very close to my heart.

Season 2 of Big Little Lies is now streaming on Hotstar. The show will première on Indian television on Star World on September 15.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 10:47:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/poorna-jagannathan-on-season-2-of-big-little-lies/article28501824.ece

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