If you’re anything like us, you’ve been eagerly lapping up every episode of “Little Fires Everywhere” as soon as Hulu makes them available. There are so many great elements to this show — a strong story, realistic characters and TONS of drama and tension. While we’ve really been loving watching Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon and the rest of the cast play out their issues in Shaker Heights, OH circa 1997, Episode 106 has had the internet really buzzing as the series travels back over a decade to young Mia (played brilliantly by Tiffany Boone) and young Elena (played by Anna Sophia Robb) and explains A LOT about who these young women become. We have Nzingha Stewart to thank for the amazing direction on the last episode of “Little Fires Everywhere.” Bossip caught up with the acclaimed director to chat about working with Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon, Hollywood’s gender bias and why “manfirmation” is a real thing.
BOSSIP: How did you end up directing on “Little Fires Everywhere?”
Nzingha Stewart: I had actually read the book already and when I saw the announcement that they were making it I was like, ‘Ha, I wonder how they’re going to turn that into a series?’ Because so much of the book is what they’re thinking and looks. I was like, ‘I wonder how that’s going to work?’ But I was curious because I loved the book. And then I’d worked with Kerry on “Scandal” a couple of times and of course was hoping I’d get the call. I put it out there to my agents, like ‘if there’s any open directing I’d love to meet on it.’ But I was also scheduled on something else and that thing wasn’t quite ready, but they weren’t quite ready to let me do anything else when we did get a call. So I was like, ‘we HAVE to make this happen.’ We gotta bargain, we have to do whatever we can to get this other job to give me the time to let me do that one.
So they did and I was super excited about doing it and again I’d worked with Kerry, so I knew how great she was. I hadn’t worked with Reese. I was a little intimidated, like ‘what is this going to be like? Is it going to be a whole different thing?’ Because she’s a huge movie star. She was wonderful.
BOSSIP: What was your first day on set with Reese Witherspoon like?
Nzingha Stewart: My first day with her was actually one of my worst nightmares come to life. I have that dream that we all have where we’re in school and we didn’t study for the test, but my nightmare as a director is that I show up on the set and I’m not prepared, I don’t know what we’re shooting or what the scene is, so I’m not ready for it. When I showed up here, I literally had been here for like a week and was kind of walking around the stages, checking them out and thinking of ideas for my episodes, kind of figuring them out. Then I saw they were filming something for another episode and someone was like, “So are you ready for your scene?” I was like ‘WHAT?!’ They were like, ‘ Yeah we’re going to shoot your scene in a half hour. I was like ‘What are we talking about?’ and they were like, ‘Ohhhh, did they not send you that email?’ I was like ‘UH, no, nobody sent me that email, I don’t even know what we’re talking about right now.’
And it wasn’t my AD, it was the AD from the other unit so, he was like, “Oh, I thought somebody had communicated it.” I was like, ‘Well what is the scene?” So he told me what it was. So I was like, we have 30 minutes, I have to figure out what we’re going to do with one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. It worked out fine. Luckily it was a very short scene and I did have the time to pull it together so I didn’t embarrass myself. But that was how it started. She [Reese Witherspoon] was so incredibly gracious. She was like, ‘ Wow I can’t believe you didn’t know we were shooting this scene today.’ It obviously got better from there. That’s my worse nightmare. Showing up not knowing what was going on. But it worked out fine and everybody was fantastic.
BOSSIP: What was it like working with the two of them together, Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington?
Nzingha Stewart: I felt like I learned so much from working with the both of them [Witherspoon and Washington] and felt so inspired by their level of commitment that it felt like, ‘If they’re bringing it like this, I can’t make an excuse, even to myself, when I come home at night, ‘like I’m tired, I worked hard today, I’ll figure it out in the morning.’ I felt like if they’re bringing that level of commitment to it, then I can stay up another hour and work as hard as I can to make sure that I’m prepared tomorrow and especially if I can like make Kerry and her team, who brought me to the table look good.
BOSSIP: So what was the scene that you shot that first day?
Nzingha Stewart: It was in 107 and it was just a scene where Reese gets a call and has to react to hearing Izzy’s been bad again. I always like to think, ‘where does this scene fall chronologically,?’ because they’re shooting scenes out of order and you’ve got to be able to tell them, ‘the last time we saw you — in this episode you were doing XYZ, this is where you are in your trajectory with Izzy, this is how you feel coming in this moment from the other scenes, because sometimes they’re like, ‘what was I doing in the last scene? what was happening when we shot in the scene right before this? So it was just rushing that work through.
Check out Nzingha chatting about episode 106 with Kerry Washington, Anna Sophia Robb and Tiffany Boone below, then hit the flip for more of our interview with her!