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April 16, 2020 30 mins

In this next-to-last episode of Little Fires Everywhere: The Official Podcast, host Jamie Loftus talks to the actors who played the teens of Shaker Heights – the young Richardsons and Warrens – and speaks to writer Harris Danow, as well as family therapist Lesli Johnson, who leant her professional insight to the Bebe-Linda adoption storyline. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
M hellot Shaker Rights and welcome to the penultimate episode

(00:21):
of Little Fires Everywhere, the official podcast. If you're listening
to this podcast after watching episode one oh seven of
the show, how is everybody doing? No matter which character
you're rooting for it there is so much going on
right now. I am personally feeling a lot and there's
only one more episode of Little Fires Everywhere left to

(00:42):
tie up all the loose ends and resolve everything that
needs resolving. What's going to happen between Elena and Mia,
or to the Shaker Heights teams, or Linda and Baby
and of course the biggest question of all who burned
the house down? Who set the Little Fires? Now? I
can't spoil anything, of course, but I can do what
I always do, which is bring you behind the scenes

(01:04):
of the show to hear from the actors, writers and
wait for it twist. This week, on this episode, we
are speaking with the therapist Leslie Johnson, m f T,
who consulted on Little Fires Everywhere, particularly on the adoption
issues tat book in the series. We're gonna speak with
the writer for episode one oh seven, Harris Danew, But
first this is a conversation with Lexi Underwood who plays Pearl,

(01:28):
Jade Petty John who plays Lexi not confusing at all,
Megan Stott who plays Izzy, Jordan Elsass who plays Trip,
and Gavin Lewis, who plays Moody. They've got a lot
of great stuff to say, so let's take a listen
to our conversation. I'm Jade Petty John and I play

(01:49):
Lexi Richardson. I'm Gavin Lewis and I play Moody Richardson.
Hi am Megan Stott and I play Easy Richardson. Hi.
I'm Lexi Underwood and I play Pro Warren. Hi. I'm
Jordan nelson Us and I played Trip Richardson. For everyone
here who is very young, what was your knowledge of
nineties culture before you jumped into this project? Was it

(02:11):
was anyone into it? Was? There are a lot of
wait what is this? I definitely had some familiarity with
the nineties music, but there were other elements that I
had never watched or seen before. There was there was
a scene, I think in the first or second episode
where Liz had us improv our thoughts on real World,

(02:32):
and none of us had watched it before I knew.
I knew little to nothing about nineties culture. Actually, um,
I mean I had a gist of the music. You know,
it comes up occasionally and you listen to the radio,
but I knew practically nothing. I did all of my
research after getting the show and found out nineties culture
is actually a lot of fun I know anything. So

(02:54):
not only are you sort of like existing in this
world that is full of nineties culture and references, you
also had to put yourself in the character mindset of
someone who would be your age twenty or thirty years
ago at this point. What was your process for for
each of you in not just preparing for a role,
but trying to like put yourself in a specific place
in time. I think it helped that we had a

(03:15):
book to play off of. I think that was really
helpful for me at least because you get to hear
your character's narrative written for you. And Shaker Heights is
really interesting that it's it's takes place in the nineties,
which is you know, definitely much more aggressive, but it's
also in an environment that's so insulated from the rest
of the world, and so being able to create what

(03:38):
that would feel like and create that mentality and a
lot of that is built off of the conversations that
we all were able to freely have. Yeah, it felt
like a really safe place to sort of explore, uh,
you know, the arcs of of our characters and just
kind of like play around with it. And I didn't
feel bound to anything. From the beginning. I felt like
I could, Like like J was saying, I felt like

(03:59):
I could have conversations with whoever I needed to, and
if I wasn't educated, I could get educated. And that
was the beauty of the whole team, well for me
at least, tapping into the character of Pearl and like
really trying to like get in that mindset and relate
to her. UM. I made a playlist for her UM
of what songs I think that she would listen to,

(04:22):
and I had different playlists for like different occasions and
for different episodes. So I had like a playlist of
what she would listen to while she was, you know,
on her way to school, and what she would listen
to while she was getting ready for the school dance. UM.
So that helped. And then I also had a little
journal for her and I would do like daily logs
when it comes. When it came to every episode, for me,

(04:44):
the biggest thing was probably just the authentic black mother
and daughter relationship that Carry and I created because the
first thing that you see um in Me and Pearls
World is an encounter with the police, and I think
that especially a lot of black teenagers can look at
that in can relate to that. I know, even when
I was like thirteen fourteen, I had to have that

(05:05):
conversation with my mom too. I think, honestly, no matter
what race you are, even if you know we're in
the in, I feel like you can you can relate
to some character in the show. Absolutely, because this show
tackles so many issues that are still very very relevant today.
Were there any conversations that kind of stick out to

(05:25):
you of you know, I I'm so glad I was
able to have this conversation. Were there any conversations that
were kind of tougher to approach? I think because is
he such a complicated character we had. Liz and I
had a lot of conversations about her sexuality and things
like that, and we had to talk about what she
was feeling. It was nice to have conversations with her

(05:47):
because she's one of the writers, and she herself is
married to a beautiful woman and she has a beautiful son.
But to have that conversation, it was like you got
to really dive into what it was like for her
and what it translated too easy because she was a
young girl trying to figure out who she was and

(06:08):
Dizzy is just trying to find out who she is.
And we had several conversations where we cried a lot
about life in that time, and I thought it was
really special that we had to have those deep conversations
that really stood out to me and helped create the
role of Izzy. Yeah, and you acted it so beautifully.

(06:28):
It was so cool, especially to you. That's material that
wasn't in the book. So where you did everyone read
the book before production started. Once I found out it
was being produced, I started. You know what's funny is
I actually decided to read it after I wanted to.
I wanted to sort of bring my own take to

(06:48):
the character and just go based off the scripts because
I noticed, uh, you know, there are some discrepancies between
the book and TV shows usually, and I didn't really
want to know the differences. I just wanted to go
with it. Yeah, absolutely, So this one's for Jade and Lexi.
Watching Pearl and Lexi was was that confusing? Yes, we

(07:10):
so confusing. Okay, So, character wise, Lexi meaning Jade and
Pearl meaning LEXI have this very complicated friendship, and I'm
curious about how you, I guess, prepared for that portion
of the role where I mean we have Lexi meaning
Jade's character acting out some pretty severe microaggressions and then

(07:33):
aggressions towards Pearl, and also maintaining this friendship where Pearl
is able to support her through the abortion narrative. So
I mean, that's a lot going on. How did you
prepare for that? Um? Individually and together? The first time
I read that, Um, that's scene, especially where they're in

(07:56):
the dressing room and um, Lexi is talking to Pearl. Um,
I don't see it. Really, it's not a friendship. It's
Lexi is manipulating Pearl, and especially when she takes the
when she takes advantage of Pearl with a story and
even with abortion, I feel like it's honestly, at the

(08:16):
end of the day, I feel like it's kind of racism.
But Jade and I on set, we were like so cool.
It was super weird to like act out those scenes
because like we're so cool. But Jade absolutely killed it.
But I don't I don't necessary I don't necessarily know
if that has if it's a friendship. I think it's
more just like a one sided manipulation of Lexi seeing

(08:36):
Pearl as a pawn so she can get what she
wants at the end of the day. I completely agree
with you, Alexi. And and it's it's definitely an interesting
thing when you have a lot of love and admiration
for the other actor to to suddenly turn around and
play something that's so divided, you know what I mean.
And I think that approaching a character that is so

(08:57):
morally gray, you know, such an age old saying amongst
actors to never judge the character, your character right, otherwise
you're not able to actually play it authentically because no
one really believes themselves that they're wrong inherently, you know. Um.
And that was hard for me to look at because
you look at the page and you're like, oh my god,
this is so heartbreaking, and she's just nullifying the other individual,

(09:20):
you know what I mean, Whether she's aware of it
or not. She is And and so for me it
took a lot of like, Okay, I need to understand
how she got to a point of of completely lost empathy.
This next question is for Gavin and Jordan's sort of
going off of some changes made from the book. I
think that both of your characters are portraying a very

(09:42):
specific kind of masculinity that is, maybe, let's say toxic.
So are these traits that you had recognized previously, whether
it be in your friends, family, yourself, and then and
what is the experience like kind of acting that out
and being the whole? I mean, it's just a lot
of observing. Like I played a brother, I'm an only child. Um,

(10:05):
so it's a lot of of just watching it was
a toxic person that I think he believed Pearl owed
him for. Um, he sort of gave her what he
felt like was enough to deserve a relationship. And preparing
for that was just a lot of watching. Like there's
a lot of that in society today. Still there shouldn't

(10:26):
be what there is. I would agree with that, I think,
And I think what's what's cool about it too is
that it was, like you said, two totally different kinds
of toxic masculinity. And it starts out as the Moody
is sort of the good kid with the good heart,
and then it sort of flips as you get further
on and it's like, oh, well, maybe Trip actually is
the good guy, and then Moody starts to sort of

(10:47):
become this like more frowned upon, but you feel bad
for him at the same time. Both of them are
in the wrong in a lot of ways, and I
think that Trip starts to sort of figure out that
there's more to him than the label that's been placed
stow him, which is sort of this like player gets
all the girls, but like breaks their hearts and doesn't
really care about their feelings, doesn't desire these personal relationships

(11:08):
with with girls, and sort of treats women as if
they are objects, which obviously you see loads of today.
It's perpetuated in our culture, and it's it's really ingrained
in our culture. Unfortunately, Kevin, you sort of alluded to
it being an only child and all of a sudden
having three TV siblings building out. I think for the
Richardson's and the Warren's very realistic, grounded feeling TV families

(11:31):
and TV families that don't feel like TV families. So
I wanted to ask both representatives from both families how
those relationships were built. Lexie let's start with you and
building the relationship between me and Pearl. What was that
process like for you and carries? Like at the very
beginning of filming, she took me out for lunch and

(11:51):
we sat down and we actually had a conversation about
how we were going to play the authentic relationship of
a black mother and water because in the book, you know,
me and Pearl aren't black, where you don't necessarily know
their race. So for us, we knew that we had
to we knew what we had to do, that we

(12:12):
had to really take one that job of making sure
that it was you know, authentic. So for building the
Richardson family dynamic with Ree and Joshua Jackson and all
of you, I mean are so convincingly like the way
you would interact, You're like, oh, I do that with
my brother all the time. So what was building that
a family dynamic? Like we were able to go when

(12:35):
we were able to like go bowling, We had events
where we were able to build those relationships in a
conducive way where it wasn't like we were stressed about it.
We weren't like just doing it on set. We had
times where we could really get to know each other
and know what our interests were. Yeah, I think, like
Megan is saying, it's a lot of it's just spending
time together. And on top of that, I feel like

(12:56):
we had really good chemistry in real life too. I
don't know if I agree. Yeah, everybody just got along
really well, which I think translates really well to the
on screen chemistry. Um. So it was just a really
nice cast. Thank you all so much for talking to us,
Thank you, thank you for having us. Of course, thank

(13:19):
you again to Lexi Underwood, Jade Petty, John, Megan Stott,
Gavin Lewis, Jordan's Elsas for sitting down with me. And
I think I speak for everyone when I say respect.
It is not just any cast that can bring this
level of performance Opposite Kerry Washington and Reese Weatherspoon and
the cast absolutely destroys and the material that they're performing

(13:41):
is no joke either. Both author celest Ing and the
Little Fires Everywhere writers from tackle every conceivable issue in
the world of this story. So to hear a little
bit about writing episode one oh seven and building that
tension between me and Elena to a climax, I got
to speak to writer Harris Dano let's hear them of
the conversation. I'm Harris dan Now and I was a

(14:08):
producer on the show and I wrote episode seven picture Perfect.
So when this episode airs, people will have, in theory
just watched it, and if you haven't watched it, spoiler alert. Um.
So when you were writing this, were there specific parts
that you're like, Oh, I can't wait to write this scene?
Where there're scenes where you're like, Oh, I'm kind of nervous,
how do I approach this? Or yeah, what was your

(14:29):
mindset going into it? I think I was really excited
to write that Reese and carry bathroom scene happens early
in the episode because they hadn't had screen time together,
I think for a couple of episodes until that moment.
And while that's a great scene and I'm proud of
how it came out, um, there are other scenes that
I wasn't thinking of quite that way that when I

(14:51):
watched the episode now are much more meaningful to me.
When thinking about the episode, I wasn't really thinking about
Izzy all that much, But when I watch the episode now,
she's it's such a huge episode for her, and and um,
I don't know, I'm very proud about how her scenes
came out. I mean it, yeah, it's it's written incredibly well.

(15:15):
She performs the hell out of it. Megan like kills it, Like, yeah,
that's that whole. I mean, I think people will definitely
have a lot to say about Izzy storyline in this episode.
It's really exciting. So I wanted to ask you specifically
because this is a show that centers around women's stories
and a lot of different types of women and the

(15:35):
themes of motherhood. But behind all of that and sort
of subtly influencing some of that, is the show's concept
and approach to masculinity, which I feel like comes out
mostly through the Richardson men, where you've got you know,
Josh Jackson's Bill, and you've got Moody and Trip as well,
and um, all three of them had their characters pretty

(15:58):
significantly deepened and explored in the show. And so I'm
curious about I guess, your experience with that specifically, And
and then also just what were those conversations like in
the room of finding Okay, what do we want Bill's
character to be saying because he doesn't do too much
in the book, or Yeah, there were conversations I think
about Bill in particular, And I think in the next episode,

(16:20):
when you watch the finale, you really get Um. I
think how we've thought about Bill's relationship with Elena as
a husband as a man really comes out in the
next episode. UM. So I'm excited for people to see that.
But we were very much aware of especially I'm gonna
speak about Bill in particular. This being a show about
women and mothers and wives, it's like, what is a

(16:42):
man's role in this? And and I think you can
watch Bill um through everything you've seen so far, and
he's kind of takes a hands off approach anything. It's
kind of like, Elena, this is your problem, and like
I I do my part, but you know, I let
you make all the decisions. He can kind of like
wash his hands of the whole thing. And you know,
Elena can you can be the crazy one and I

(17:02):
can be the same one, even though you're doing of
the work here. Um. And I'm very much aware of that.
There's a scene you talk about in the writer's round
Table that you wrote that I eventually got cut out
that it seems was pretty well loved in the room.
What what was that scene? There was a scene of
Bill going to pick up Izzy, and he has this
moment with Mia where she's basically thanking him in a way.

(17:28):
I don't think she says the words thank you. But
there's this realization, you know, that you had, you could
have destroyed me, um by bringing up this my past,
that um that I've been so desperately keeping secreting, and
you decided not to and why and UM, I think
it's like you don't have too many moments between Bill
and Mia UM, and I think that's why I missed it.

(17:50):
And it wasn't It was what I think. I think
Bill says something to the effect of, it doesn't matter,
we're gonna win anyway. But he also this acknowledging that
you know, ruining your life isn't going to make my
life better, and besides, we're gonna win. I didn't need
to do it, but UM, I don't know. I thought
it was a nice moment between two of them, but

(18:10):
I totally totally understand why that's to take it out
there's no room. And then my last question is about Moody,
and I really really really liked the direction that y'all
chose to go with him with kind of challenging I
think a stereotype that is very well recognized of like
the good guy gets the girl, and in in this

(18:32):
story where at this point we know that you know,
Pearl is not interested in him in that way and
seeing the retaliation that takes place. Where where did that
come from? Well, I think it's I mean, it's in
the book. It's it's it's very much in the book.
But we were totally aware of that. And listen, the
truth is that I probably related most of all the

(18:52):
characters to Izzy into Moody, but to Moody in particular.
So I because I feel like I was that guy. Um.
I don't think I as quite as UM. I didn't
think I did all the things that Moody did, um,
which you will see, just just that mentality. And I
think it was very important for us to to for
everyone feel like they're really rooting for Moody and to
see what happens when um, a boy like that doesn't

(19:15):
get his way and the way he responds, and UM, yeah,
absolutely there's a sense of entitlement going on there. You
owe me if I've been so good to you. I've
been so nice to you to the point where I
feel like even audiences are kind of conditioned to be like, oh,
of course Pearl has to go with him when it's like, well, no,
what does she want? You know? Yeah, and it's and

(19:36):
it's like, you know, um, he's entitled to be upset
about it. I mean, who wouldn't be. But but how
do you take that out on the other person? I
think is is the question how do men take it
out on women who reject them? Yes, which is like
a fascinating discussion that we don't see happen enough with
people that you would see in the normal world. That's

(19:56):
usually you know, like this big looming villain that no
one's ever actually met, and this is like, no, this
is a kid that you have known, um, and yeah,
just seeing that play out was really Yeah. And if
you think about sort of you know, for the hundred
years now or whatever, particularly what I'm thinking about the
movies that I watched growing up, they're all written almost entirely,
all written by guys like me who were probably like

(20:18):
pretty nerdy or certainly wasn't the guy who was um
attracting all the girls in high school. And so so
many stories we've been conditioned to watch about like these
boys who were who are just these underdogs, sweethearts who
are trying to get with, you know, the the popular girl,
and and in the end she sees him for the
prince that he really is. And it's a weird revisionist history,

(20:41):
right right, it's all it's all like, it's all nerd,
white boy wish fulfillment. Um. And so I'm glad you
said that. I hadn't thought about it in a while,
but we were very much aware of, um, how Moody
was going to react. And again it wasn't seless books.
She she handles it in a beautiful point there, Chris,
thank you so much for coming in and then we're
talking with us. Yeah, yeah, I love talking about Thanks

(21:04):
so much to Harris Dane for his time and for
the wonderful episode. So to round out our podcast episode
exploring the depths of Little Fires Everywhere this week, I
got to speak to a very unique consultant who worked
on the show. Leslie Johnson, m f T is an
l A Area marriage and family therapist who specializes in
working with families on all sides of adoption as well

(21:26):
as children who have been adopted. And if you've seen
the show, you know this made her invaluable and expanding
on the storyline following Baby Chow, her daughter may Ling,
an adoptive mother Linda McCullough, and the politics of adopting
across race and class lines in the ninet nineties. As
Leslie has worked with people on every side of this issue,

(21:48):
and I got a chance to have a conversation with
her about the process of bringing her knowledge into the
series recently. So let's take a listen. We are joined
right now by Leslie Johnson. Welcome, thank you. So let's say,
how long have you been working in this field. I've
been licensed therapists since two thousand and three. So how

(22:11):
did this project end up coming to you? So? I
was contacted by Liz and she reached out specifically to
ask me to comment on some of the adoption related
themes in Little Fires. So I have have you worked
with clients who were adopted or were adoptive parents in
the past, many, many clients. That's probably sevent of my

(22:32):
clientele is UM, people who were adopted adults, kids, teenagers, UM.
I work with adoptive parents, perspective adoptive parents. I also
work with first parents or biological parents, depending on the
term you want to use. And so I felt very
um able to offer offer some changes and and some

(22:54):
insight into the experience. Um I myself was adopted, so
I can definitely lend some of that experience as well.
Um And in the book, UM I guess where did you?
What is your gut instinct if you're if you're the
judge in the mailing case, So that's a really good question.

(23:15):
I tend to to be trying to be very child centric,
so what is in the best interests of the child?
And I think that if there's a way to look
at adoption as rather not not not in either or,
but more of a both hands. So a child who
was adopted has two sets of parents, right, So if
I can help my work adoptive parents understand that and

(23:37):
see that and accept that they're then going to be
their child's best advocate. Have you ever encountered a situation
that was similar to BABS where a biological parent was
or a first parent was trying to establish a relationship
with an adopted with a child that had been adopted. Yes,
absolutely absolutely, And I think part of it is and

(23:58):
against I'm speaking very really but that people make decisions, um,
you know, out of desperation, A lot of times where
they're not where they don't believe they have the tools
or the resources to parents, and they make a decision.
I definitely am not anti adoption, um, but I think
that it's just more complex than than looking at it

(24:20):
as you know, someone did something bad by giving up
their child. Another theme that is kind of effectively expanded
on is the role of where race and class factor
into this adoption process, and particularly with class, where you know,
Bob's character was so destitute and did have so few

(24:45):
options when she chose to give up mailing that it's
very understandable that that's the choice that she would make.
And then the question being now that you know she
has more options and more of a support system. Have
you found it can be a positive thing for an
adopted child to have a relationship with both sets of parents. Um.

(25:06):
Absolutely so. Again, if we're thinking about it from the
child's perspective, when when it's healthy and when it's safe
for them to have there no their biology and no
there um biological roots and information, I think it's in
the best interests of the child because what I've found

(25:27):
is that it frees up so much bandwidth, so you know,
very very short example is a little family that I
worked with who had a child that was six and
was brought in because he was having a lot of
trouble in school. And when I asked the parents how
they talked to him about adoption that, they insisted that
this what had nothing to do with adoption. It was
just he was having you know, he was having issues

(25:50):
in school and they really wanted help to figure that out.
And when they brought him in to see me. So
I met with the parents first. But when they brought
him in to see me, Um, he knew that I
was adopted in and I asked him if he knew
he was there, and he said, he was there to,
you know, work on issues in school. But I asked
him to talk to me. He said, well, I know
you're you were adopted. And I said, I was adopted

(26:10):
and I know you were adopted. I said, tell me
about that. So I said, tell me about that. I
didn't specify anything else, and he said, well, I think
about her when I wake up in the morning. I
think about her when I'm getting ready for school. He was,
I don't think about her too much at school, but
I always think about it right before I go to bed.
And the parents were flabbergasted because they didn't think he

(26:31):
you know, they didn't think he was even on his mind,
and so once they started talking about it, it really
cleared up and cleared out a lot of space for
him to just be. That's wonderful. Also speaking to the
way that Mailing's adoption isn't just across class boundaries, it's
also across race lines. Um, you dealt with clients said

(26:52):
that's the situation. Yes, absolutely so. When I worked with parents,
and I do a lot of parent coaching, UM, I
think it is really important. Um. There's two pieces to
it that I think that stand out is same race
or in race adoption allows parents to maybe not talk
about it as much because it's not as obvious. Um.
Transracial adoption makes it a little bit more obvious. Um,

(27:14):
to have those conversations. And I think it's important for
the parents to be to be educated and to be
very mindful of that they have a child that's from
a different culture. UM. You know a lot of times
people say, and I know this was part of it,
at least in the scripts that I read, was you know,
the adoptive parents, Mark and Linda saying, we don't see

(27:36):
race to me. When I hear that, I guess as
I'm sitting here as a white person, and I know
that I hold that privilege. But to say we don't
see race to me is saying we don't see you. Um.
So I think it's really important for parents to be
educated not only about racial difference, but about just their
their child's birth country. I wanted to shift a little

(27:58):
and talk about Mark and Linda. I feel like Mark
and Linda are very much products of their time. You
just mentioned refusal or not even recognizing that it would
be important to educate themselves on on mailings culture and
her origin. How would you have advised them if you
had been their therapist? You know part of the language

(28:21):
I often help parents with the language run adoption and
and you know using um this idea that that choosing
to form a family by by adoption is not you know,
adopting a child is not as substitute for a child
who has died or um miscarriage. It's another way to
form a family. And so if you go into it

(28:43):
that way, um, there's it's much healthier. So Leslie for
people who have seen the show and want to educate
themselves on adoption more. Where would you direct them for
a good resource. There's a great podcast called adoptees on
that's become a lovely resource, and I have a website
called ask adoption dot com. There are some resources that

(29:05):
are growing, but again there's still some much room for growth.
So thank you so much for sitting with us great
thank you for the opportunity. Of course, thank you again
to Leslie Johnson for the interview and for all the
amazing work that you do and that is going to

(29:28):
do it for this episode of Little Fires Everywhere at
the official podcast, and much like the series itself, it
is the next to last episode, So tune into the
podcast next week for one last action packed drama laten
episode looking behind the scenes of the show, and tune
into the final episode of Little Fires Everywhere this series
where all will be revealed and true fans will be

(29:50):
tweeting their reactions late into the night until then. I'm
your host, Jamie Loftus. Follow Little Fires Everywhere on all
social platforms at Little Fires Hulu and try not to
set any fires this week. See you next week. M
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