Just when you thought you had Lexie Richardson pegged at the beginning of Little Fires Everywhere, the Hulu series changed it up. Episode 5, which dropped April 1, was a big one for Lexie, and Jade Pettyjohn was thrilled to get to the complex, messy core of her character's arc. Fans of the original source material were in for some surprises, though, since Lexi's story is different in Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere than it was in the 2017 book of the same name. The changes are subtle, but Pettyjohn explains why they're important.
Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from Little Fires Everywhere Episode 5, "Duo." In Celeste Ng's novel, Lexie's friendship with Pearl (Lexi Underwood) was much more understated in its insidiousness than it is on the TV screen. Rather than Pearl offering to write Lexie's college admissions essay like she does in the book, Pettyjohn's version of Lexie steals Pearl's story about being denied admission into a math class, only letting Pearl know what she'd done after the fact. Similarly, in the book, Pearl suggested Lexie use her name to check in at the medical center for her abortion, but in the show, Pearl found out about Lexie using her name after Lexie had already checked in.
For Pettyjohn, those changes were hugely important in presenting the truth of Lexie's relationship with Pearl. "I think it added a really beautiful level of complexity to that relationship," Pettyjohn says. "Because both characters look at each other and don’t really see each other as friends, but as like, 'OK, what can I get from that other person?' It just adds more tension and more conflict, and also more truth, because I think that is something that is real."
Another aspect of Lexie's story the series changed is how Pearl's mother Mia (Kerry Washington) acted toward her after her abortion. As in the book, Lexie asked Pearl to let her decompress at her house rather than going home, but Washington's version of Mia was much less receptive to Lexie than in the novel version. Rather than comforting her, Mia bluntly confronted Lexie for using Pearl, pointing out the inherent privilege she doesn't even recognize in herself.
"It was actually one of my favorite scenes to film in the entire series," Pettyjohn says. "It’s a definite change from the book, and as rough as Mia is to Lexie, I think it’s really one of the greatest kindnesses she can give Lexie, because there’s hope for Lexie in her being able to change and bring back the empathy that she's lost."
Of course, the other pivotal moment for Lexie in this episode came just before Mia's telling-off. Pettyjohn says it was, understandably, intense to portray the raw vulnerability of Lexie's abortion scene. "It was a closed set, which I’d never had before," Pettyjohn says. "They had a medical professional come in and talk to me as if I was one of her patients. It was such a surreal experience."
Little Fires Everywhere has not only given Pettyjohn the opportunity to flex her acting muscles with several complex scenes, but she also got to do so alongside seasoned professionals like Washington and Reese Witherspoon, who plays her mother Elena. Pettyjohn's prominent memory from set was how Witherspoon stuck up for her before filming a major scene in the finale: "I was getting direction from a lot of people, and she looked at me and saw that I had the emotion needed for the scene, so she said, 'Guys, she’s ready, she’s got this, she’s in it.' It was just a really sweet moment; she had my back."
Funnily enough, Pettyjohn's work with Witherspoon marks her third time working with a Big Little Lies star, after co-starring with Nicole Kidman in Destroyer and Laura Dern in Trial by Fire. "I’ve almost got the Monterey Five," Pettyjohn jokes. "I’m collecting them. It’s a hobby of mine."
Similar to what happened after Big Little Lies' first season, it's unclear if Little Fires Everywhere will continue after Season 1. "I think that the finale feels really satisfying," Pettyjohn muses about the prospect of the series continuing. "Maybe that’s something that can be expanded upon and maybe not. Who knows? I don’t."
Viewers can catch the rest of Little Fires Everywhere as it drops episodes on Hulu every Wednesday.