‘Little Fires Everywhere’ star Jade Pettyjohn says Mia shows ‘great kindness’ by telling Lexie off in Episode 5
'Little Fires Everywhere' actress Jade Pettyjohn spoke to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) exclusively about that explosive episode 5 and about bringing humanity to one of the most misguided characters on TV
Hulu's new limited series 'Little Fires Everywhere' is taking the world by storm, now dropping new episodes weekly. Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Celeste Ng, 'Little Fires Everywhere' is a story about race, classism, motherhood and family in the picturesque town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the late '90s. While the series stars some of Hollywood's biggest names like Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, some of the strongest performances come from the actors that play their children, specifically Jade Pettyjohn who plays Lexie Richardson. Many could argue that Lexie is by far the least likable character in the series, but in many ways is also the most fascinating to watch. MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) spoke exclusively to Pettyjohn who opened up about bringing some humanity to a character that appears to have so little.
"Because Lexie seems so inhuman at points, it's important as an actor to dive into all of those parts and find the reasoning behind them because as an actor you can never judge your character. It was just about really understanding how one can be the by-product of that kind of environment, of Shaker Heights and perfection. And I think once you have an understanding for someone, you find the humanity in them," Pettyjohn said.
The late '90s is the perfect backdrop for this story, which centers greatly on race. Lexie most certainly plays into the false progressive mindset that many people had back then, which really came from a place of toxic ignorance. That said, that kind of mindset is also blatantly condescending and overlooks the real issues at play, which Pettyjohn portrays beautifully. It also begs the question, is Lexie racist? Or is she merely ignorant?
According to Pettyjohn, "Lexie definitely has that '90s false progressiveness that she holds on to very strongly, with the idea that she doesn't see race, she's color blind. Those were the core values that she was raised with that her parents had taught her and so she holds on to that. She actually thinks it's a beautiful thing, but really, it's a great form of racism because you're completely nullifying a culture and an identity. The thing is, she doesn't even realize she's doing that. For instance, she's in an interracial relationship, and she genuinely loves Brian, but there's also a lot more there that's leaving her blind to who he really is."
Another central relationship for Lexie's character is with Pearl, played by Lexie Underwood. Once Pearl moves to town, Lexie quickly takes her under her wing, or so she makes it seem. Pearl feels as if the two are the greatest of friends, but to Lexie, Pearl means close to nothing to her. The saddest part about this storyline is that there is no hatred or ill will, but indifference which leads to self-serving behavior on Lexie's part.
"I don't think that Lexie and Pearl are friends and I don't think that Lexie sees her in a clear light until the very end of the series. Lexie does not see Pearl for who she is but for what she can get out of her. So there are no real thoughts about her, which is kind of the sad thing about it. It's not even this malicious, classic evil story where someone is going to take down the other person. Lexie just has a total unawareness of Pearl and an unawareness of herself and what she's doing with her actions towards others," Pettyjohn told MEAWW.
Episode 5 is when Lexie gets her first taste of the real world and real problems, something she has been sheltered from her whole life. In some ways, this is when the audience has a glimmer of sympathy for the young girl. However, Lexie quickly makes decisions that continue to prove that she has no one's interests at heart but her own. The situation itself brings light to who Lexie is at her core, what her true intentions are and how she uses those around her to her advantage. That said, Pettyjohn was able to understand who Lexie really was through this process and why she was this way.
She explained: "I think that women who've gone through what Lexie went through in this episode, especially at such a young age, can understand the isolation from that. Perfection, her mom's admiration and acceptance mean more than anything else and it's intoxicating to her. So she does some terrible things and she writes Pearl's name down and doesn't really understand the horror of that. So, it's a messy storyline and there's some real truths to it. I think that there are some things about Lexie that you look at and go, 'Oh girl, I understand that.' And then there's other points that are just horrible and you can't and shouldn't sympathize with her."
In fact, the scenes that followed Lexie's abortion were somewhat different than what was in the novel. In the series, Mia (played by Kerry Washington) puts Lexie in her place for the choices she made involving Pearl in all of this. However, in the novel that doesn't happen in the same way. Pettyjohn explains that she feels as though this addition to the story really helped her develop the character on an even deeper level.
"I think it was such a strong choice to include that harsh conversation with Mia and it is such a beautiful point. There would be no change in Lexie if someone continued to coddle her. I think the greatest kindness that Mia could give Lexie was to give her an ounce of truth. Lexie has been insulated her entire life, she's been told that she's perfect and she's amazing and she's done nothing wrong. So, to have someone really forcefully and candidly tell her what she had done, and not giving her any kind of love or admiration for it, is really beautiful because it pierces a hole in that insulation and that bubble for Lexie. It really is the start of Lexie's arc in the series of self-awareness."
Lexie will continue to go on quite the journey in the remaining episodes of 'Little Fires Everywhere', so make sure to tune in every Wednesday on Hulu!