Little Fires Everywhere delves deeply into the role of a mother. Who is a mother? What defines motherhood? The series also reflects the impact of that struggle on children. How do the challenges of being a mother impact their own offspring? It’s a struggle best realized by Lexi Underwood’s role in the series. I had the privilege to speak with Underwood who plays Kerry Washington’s daughter, Pearl, in the Hulu limited series.
As the show progressed I loved getting to see Pearl and the other younger characters navigate their experiences with their mothers. Celeste Ng’s original story and the creative team who adapted that into Hulu’s limited series admirable delve into the complexities and complications of motherhood. I love that we also get to see how these struggles intersect with their children’s lives. This show clearly had a very supportive set, and it spurred one fantastic performance from Lexi Underwood, which showed the depth and vulnerability of Pearl Warren.
Read below for a more in depth look.
Awards Daily TV: How did you prepare for the depth of the material?
Lexi Underwood: I heard the story prior, like a year prior to the audition process. I read the Deadline article saying Kerry and Reese were doing this project. About a year later, I spoke to my agents, and said if there is a character that fits me I would love to audition. I found out about the character of Pearl, and thought it would be great.
The day before the audition, I had lost a pilot, and I wanted to give up. My mom helped pick me up because she knew I wanted that role. I got pinned that later night for the show, and Monday I found out I would get to read for the part. I read with Gavin (Moody) and Jade (Lexie) on Monday. We did did chemistry reads, getting to know one another, and it felt like everything clicked.
Right after the audition, I decided I wanted to get the go out and buy the book. I read it in a day. I was immediately obsessed with the story and Pearl. Usually you have to do an on-screen test if you get further in the process, but I signed the contract a couple days later. It was a whirlwind. It can be rare to get a part this fast with limited series, and I was very excited I got this role.
I started my preparation process and it last for over a week. It could be the Virgo in me. I wanted to go in and nail the character. My process for preparing was intricate. I know that Pearl is a poet, so I would write poems as Pearl. I wrote poems about every character in the show and the trial. The poems would helped me understand what was happening in the story, and get more centered with the story. I also made playlists of music that Mia would have played for Pearl in the car, things while hanging out with Lexie, or songs that would line up with Pearl hanging out with Moody. I had a binder with all 8 scripts. I had certain pages color coded by what scenes she had with a character. I mapped out what things would be like with different characters. It helped me think about how and why Pearl would do certain things in certain
ADTV: How did it feel to see micro-aggressions play out while you were acting?
LU: It was very different. I had never experienced a role like this before. Everyone on set was so incredible. If there was a line that had a deeper meaning or if there was context that needed to be explained, show runner Liz Tigelaar would have tone notes for the actors. There were times I would ask myself, ‘Why isn’t Pearl saying something to Lexie?’ The tone notes helped us understand the deeper meaning about the story.
People often question Pearl while watching, but she is also very smart. She is using the Richardsons just as much as they are using her (except for Moody and Trip). Pearl has never had the “perfect” mom who has given her the same level of attention. The Richardsons embody the perfect American family and what she wants. I feel like when Pearl walks in to the Richardson’s house she feels like she is walking into a John Hughes movie. When she is with Lexie, she is using Lexie in a way. As soon as she became friends with Lexie, she got better clothes, perfect boy, new friends. She is not a “loner.” Pearl is genuinely blind sided by Elena, there is good in her, but she also starts to see the ugly truth.
ADTV: Did this make you think about you own mother or mother figure in your life?
LU: My mom is my best friend. She was on set with me the whole time. I can’t say if the story changed our bond. The most knowledge I took away was what it means to be a mom. The thing I took away from this story was Bebe and Linda, both struggling to keep their child. There are different experiences that mother can have, and I am glad we told so many different stories about motherhood.
ADTV: What was it like to work Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon on this project?
LU: It was a dream come true and a blessing. The two of them are so incredible. I was so in awe of their work ethic. Their ability to be great actresses, producers, kind, selfless, incredible moms, bosses. They are truly all around incredible women. I am so blessed to have worked with them and learn from them. It’s a such a good feeling that when you have admired them for so long and they dedicated to their.
They brought something out of me that I did not know I had. Their where times where Miss Kerry would stop takes to give me the coverage because it was a scene where things wear raw and real for me. Same with Miss Reese. She is so incredibly kind.
Little Fires Everywhere is now streaming on Hulu.