Okay, a tiny spoiler…Mia didn’t burn down the house.
If you’re all caught up on Little Fires Everywhere, you’ll surely agree that although Mia Warren didn’t strike the match that set the Richardson family home ablaze, she definitely brought the smoke. In fact, it was her arrival in Shaker Heights—with her teenaged daughter, Pearl, in tow—that turned the tiny suburb upside down. Her mere presence got people talking, wondering, and needless to say, nobody was ready for all that the nomadic artist came with, including her tightly-wound spool of secrets.
Viewers have been holding their breaths since Wednesday of last week, when the drama between the Richardson and Warren families (and everyone in their paths) seemed to reach its peak. When Pearl stomped past her momma after learning the real story about how she came to be, the general consensus was that she was lucky to be alive and have the ability to walk! And that Mia didn’t run up on Elena Richardson for spilling the beans was just as shocking. Of course, there was more to come.
On Wednesday, the eight-part miniseries came to a conclusion and along with finally discovering who torched the Richardson house, we got a peek into what the future might hold for everyone else. While some once-frayed family ties were on their way to being mended, others were ripped apart in ways that seem beyond repair. Perhaps it’s all part of the larger plan? It’s anybody’s guess. But midway through the finale, Mia offered an interesting perspective.
“Sometimes you have to scorch everything to start over. And after the burning, the soil is rich and life can grow there,” she says in the finale episode. “Life that is maybe even better than what was there before. And people are like that, too. They’re resilient. Even from total devastation, they start over and they find a way.”
It gave us chills.
While her kids were taking a lunch break during homeschooling and just a few hours before hopped onto Twitter to chat-up fans, Kerry Washington, who embodies Mia Warren, rang ESSENCE to talk all things Little Fires Everywhere—from teaming up with the woman who plays Elena Richardson, Reese Witherspoon, to working with her young co-stars. She also dished on the lessons she learned from portraying the artist.
ESSENCE: Your scenes with Reese, as Elena, were so intense and at times, cringe-worthy. Talk about teaming up on the series as co-stars and executive producers.
Kerry Washington: I really loved working together. Along with being co-leaders, we were also able to be vulnerable, as artists. We really pushed each other and challenged each other and kept each other honest. I think Reese is stuck with me, for life!
The show has made quite an impact on social media. That exchange between Mia and Elena, when Mia yells, ‘You didn’t make good choices. You had good choices!’ is now a GIF.
I know! That’s the brilliant [writer] Attica Locke.
Viewers have been talking about this show all day, every day, while waiting on the next episodes to drop. And you’re live-tweeting!
You know, it’s tricky to live-tweet with a streaming service, but we are! Coming off of my seven years [on Scandal] and being in love with our Gladiators, it’s exciting to be a part of [another] show that is so vibrant on social media, despite it not being shown at the same time for everybody. Somehow, it’s managed to be kind of a fluid event!
I’m really so deeply grateful to everybody who’s watching and talking about it on social media. That’s how you create community. The conversations around the show—about parenting and LGBTQ kids, race, class and love—are the reasons why we made the show.
Speaking of social media, you tweeted a photo of yourself with showrunner/writer Liz Tigelaar, executive producers Pilar Savone and Lauren Levy Neustadter, and Reese. Then you wrote as a caption that ’embodying Mia, transformed my life.’ So, how did portraying Mia transform you? Do tell!
It’s hard to put into words. I think I took a lot from her and I’m still processing some of it. But one thing is how unapologetic she is, you know? Mia doesn’t apologize for who she is. She learns to apologize for the things she has done, but she doesn’t apologize for who she is as a woman, a Black woman…as an artist, as a mother, a working mother.
She stands firmly in her identity and I love that about her. I think she gave me a little bit of that and also, the willingness to deal with the truth and ask myself, ‘How can I be more honest with my family members about the truth of who I am, my past and my reality?’ I think that’s really powerful.
Can you talk about the experience of working with your young co-stars, mainly Lexi Underwood, who plays Pearl, and Tiffany Boone, who killed as young Mia?
Tiffany slaughtered it! I’ve never co-created a character with another actor before. Usually, I keep a lot of what I know about a character close-to-the-vest, so to be able to share that secret circle with another artist was really exciting. She did such a beautiful job of honoring what I was building for Mia, and also finding the version of her that had more innocence when she was at the beginning of her journey. I was blown away by her work.
And I think Lexi is a superstar. She’s just a phenom and it was fun to dance with all of that raw talent and help her discover the depths of her own talent. I think she surprised herself with the places she was able to go and it was so exciting to be on that journey, to push her in those directions and encourage her to dive deep.
Lastly, can you imagine what happened after Mia’s parents opened the front door?
Oh, I don’t know, but I know it’s not easy. What matters, for me, is that [in the end], all of these characters are at the beginning of a potentially-hopeful journey because they’ve stopped running from reality.
Both Mia and Elena are coming face-to-face with what their daughters need. These girls have their own hero’s journey and what’s so hopeful about the ending is that these women, who’ve really been so controlling about their lives and their daughter’s lives surrender to the needs of their daughters.
At the very end, they have to be willing to call them by their chosen names and take them where they want to go, to make contact with their family of origin. I think that’s such a powerful idea because so much of parenting is about surrendering to the needs of your child.
Regina R. Robertson (@reginarobertson) is ESSENCE‘s west coast editor, a scriptwriter and award-winning author of He Never Came Home (Agate Bolden).