Big Little Lies’ Music Supervisor on How the Finale’s Songs Were Chosen

Photo: HBO

Spoilers ahead for the finale of Big Little Lies.

It all culminates with a shove. At the near-end of Big Little Lies’ highly anticipated finale, we finally discover once and for all that Bonnie — surprise! — is the murderer at the elementary school’s trivia night, pushing the abusive Perry down a flight of concrete stairs. It’s a great scene that’s sure to satisfy viewers, but murder aside, BLL’s finale once again served up another excellent dose of soundtrack from the minds of music supervisor Sue Jacobs and director Jean-Marc Vallée — in the span of 55 minutes, we hear everything from an array of Elvis Presley tunes to a haunting Rolling Stones cover. Vulture called up Jacobs last week for another chat to hear the stories behind the finale’s song choices.

Studio musicians performed the cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which was chosen because it fit the ending’s “surrealist” vibe.
The end is very much how Jean-Marc wanted to end it. I like that song so much because it speaks to what everybody’s feeling at the end. And also, it’s this really strange, surreal cover and the whole thing ends, for me, in such a surreal way. You don’t realize and learn what really happens until way later on the beach in that flashback. You don’t realize Bonnie’s role until the very end.

It was always important to have that last scene be soundtracked by a female vocalist.
Everything on that beach is about the women and the ocean. That is an ongoing metaphor — the ocean is very female for Jean-Marc and very much a metaphor of female power, and he keeps coming back to that ocean throughout the series. So having a woman sing it, and also having a surrealist, almost jazz version of that song was ideal — it was a familiar song, but it gave it an evolution. When they’re standing there on the beach with all their power, they’re really collectively together for the first time, after having gone through something pretty tragic together. But also for the first time, they’re having a realization that not everybody’s life is what it appears. By the time they’re on that beach at the end, everybody’s seeing each of them differently. They all know something about them, and then they didn’t. That’s especially true for Nicole’s character. She was the envy of everybody and then people realized she was living in an amazing amount of pain. So to relate that back to the songs — this goes back very much to Jean-Marc’s style — the songs again are being very, very, narrative to what’s going on in the narrative.

The Elvis Presley songs performed at the trivia night carry major narrative weight for all of the characters.
We know that it’s an Elvis night and that everybody is getting up to sing Elvis, but everybody is really singing about the whole narrative of their characters. It’s actually scoring a lot of what’s happening. That’s how Jean-Marc uses the music — it’s what makes it so special. During all of those trivia-night scenes, we’re on camera for both sequences that are going on simultaneously, and the songs continue way under all of the narrative that’s happening in the background. The songs that were super important to Jean-Marc were “How’s the World Treating You” — that’s the most important narrative, really — and “The Wonder of You,” which is very heartbreaking. When Ed performs that one, Reese looks over and realizes that this is a really wonderful man. He may not be the sexiest, nastiest, glitziest guy, but he’s solid and he’s there. He’s got a lot of heart. He loves her, and she’s really taken advantage of that. That really hits her for the first time, and she reacts like, Oh my god, this guy’s great. He’s singing this beautiful song that he’s worked on so hard to sing, and it’s stunning, and all of the performances are stunning. And then when Nathan gets up there, singing “How’s the World Treating You?” that’s very much highlighting the competition between the two men, but we don’t stay on that very much. What Jean-Marc does is take that song right into the backdrop of one of the biggest moments in the series.

… and many more popular Presley songs were considered before settling on the perfect trio of tunes.
We certainly played around with lots of different songs. Some were super popular, some were not. But at the end of the day, we asked ourselves, What’s going to be the best for storytelling? Jean-Marc is using the music to score, and that’s what makes it pop. So, if “Suspicious Minds” had worked equally as well as “The Wonder of You,” he would’ve done it. Jean-Marc is weaving in the story with the music — and to do that, he needs to play around with the tempo and the melody. A lot of it was just getting the right feeling. It was all about the picture that was going on in Jean-Marc’s head. He’s really the painter here, saying, go a little to the left, to the right. He’s directing the feeling that he wants. He has the visuals in his head.

Zoe Kravitz did her own singing at the trivia night performance, while Adam Scott and Jake Tupper were dubbed.
That’s sort of movie magic for those scenes. It was a casting process to find the other two voices. I’ve done it a lot, and it’s a really fun casting process. We had the great luck of two amazing singers coming in and singing the songs for the gents. The most important thing is that those voices had to match the body, and even when we got right down to Ed’s singing, we had to keep getting the key right. It’s just one of those things that you know when it feels right. It’s all tweaking — I was on-set for all of this with Jean-Marc, and so it was a constant back-and-forth between us. Maybe let’s try half-step higher or half-step lower. We were tweaking all the way to the end to get those things perfect. There isn’t anybody who gets up there and can’t sing.

Big Little Lies’ Music Supervisor on the Finale’s Songs