Why Renata is the Real Star of Big Little Lies, According to Renata

Laura Dern’s Renata Klein isn’t a mere villain. She is the id of Big Little Lies, the Joan of Arc of Monterey who sets the show’s entire plot in motion.

by R. Eric Thomas

Renata Klein is the star of Big Little Lies and if you disagree I want to fight you. And not only do I want to fight you, but Renata wants to fight you, too. She wants to destroy you. She wants to rip you to shreds and then put those shreds into a taro root and chia seed shake and then throw that shake into the ocean.

Renata is not an angry woman. She is not a vengeful woman. Renata is a righteous woman. She is, at least in her mind, the Joan of Arc of Monterey. Except if anyone ever tried to burn her at the stake she’d sue their asses.

It should have been obvious from the beginning that Renata would turn out to be the secret weapon of Big Little Lies. And it shouldn’t have been a secret, anyway. She’s played by Laura Dern, an actress with a preternatural ability to show the fringes of the human psyche—the edge of desperation, the peak of self-confidence, the valley of grief. I go back and forth daily between being preemptively ecstatic about Dern winning every acting award available to her next season and being furious at the injustice of a loss to some equally extraordinary actress. I’m giving a Dern-worthy performance over her performance. Recognize us, dammit!

No one does unhinged quite like Laura Dern, here as Renata Klein in HBO’s *Big Little Lies*.

With only a few scenes in the first episode, including one where she screams in a child’s face, it would have been easy to lump Renata into the villain category. But villain is far too reductive a descriptor for Renata. She is the pulsating id of the show. She is an attachment parent in a pantsuit; a CEO holding conference calls about a kid’s birthday party. She can do it all and do it all well. And, it bears repeating, she screamed in a child’s face with no reservations! She doesn’t need to be popular; she just wants to be right.

What’s so interesting about Renata is that while she is a woman who seemingly has it all—the career, the kids, the power, the house—her struggle is not rooted in juggling everything. That’s rare for television. When Renata struggles it’s with larger, moral questions. She’s activated by the choking of her daughter, Amabella, but she’s propelled by a basic confusion over why her daughter—and by extension she herself—can’t receive justice.

Through that lens, everything becomes a justice issue. Yes, even a Disney princess birthday party. We get treated to possibly one of the best Renata moments—and there are so many from which to choose—when she cannot cajole Madeline into letting her daughter, cool kid Chloe, attend Amabella’s party. We see her boardroom-honed negotiating skills skid off the rails in the face of Madeline’s refusal, not because pettiness is her kryptonite but because what Madeline is doing isn’t fair. And when things aren’t fair, Renata levels up in ways that are absurd, extraordinary and terrifying.

She offers Madeline the works, a “weekend trip to Disneyland, all expenses paid” which is insane even for some as wealthy as she is. But reaching an impasse with Madeline, Renata shifts into high gear, telling her “I’ll even get Snow White to sit on your husband’s face. Maybe Dumbo can take a squat on yours. You’re dead in this town, as is your f—ing puppet show.” Even Renata’s escalation is Type A. Joan of Arc wishes she’d been this fierce.

Laura Dern as Renata Klein delivering a priceless line in HBO’s *Big Little Lies*, which ends this Sunday.

And Joan isn’t the only one. The other leads on Big Little Lies would probably throw themselves into the ocean before admitting it, but there’s a part of Renata that they all want, too. While they struggle with self-doubt and make tentative stabs at the life they want, Renata storms through every situation, all declarative sentences, sharp angles and crosswords done in ink.

From a plot standpoint, Renata sets off the other leads in a way that no one else does. You see this most directly with Madeline, but the threats to the production of Avenue Q bring Celeste back into the legal world. And deliciously, in the second to last episode, when Jane gets wind of a petition to kick Ziggy out of school, it brings out a strain of violence in her that had, up to that point, been a steady but silent undercurrent. Of course, not to be outdone, when Renata is attacked she dramatically flips, like a basketball player faking a foul, claims an injury to her eye and next shows up in a dramatic patch like Darryl Hannah in Kill Bill. You can’t outdo Renata Klein. You never will.

Renata Klein, perhaps channeling a certain *Kill Bill* character, in a recent episode of HBO’s *Big Little Lies*.

And while it’s true that the petition, and by extension Jane’s latent agency, are the work of one of the chorus of parents, Renata’s fingerprints are all over it. She’s the one who cast Ziggy as the villain—again, out of a sense of injustice, not malice—and, from her flow all the other parents’ assumptions about the little boy. She is the whisper that travels like breeze through the Greek chorus of parents. They think these are their own opinions. They are not. Renata is legion.

It’s a testament to the writing on Big Little Lies and to Dern’s perfect performance that the character comes through as clearly as she does, especially in a show packed to the gills with talent. But Renata Klein plays second fiddle to no one, not even a career-best Reese Witherspoon or a haunting Nicole Kidman. This is Renata’s show. And if you don’t agree; you can meet us outside.

Related: Read about Celeste and All the Other Women of Big Little Lies

Nicole Kidman Has Taken a Lot of Risks on the Red Carpet, and They Always Pay Off

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood, California.

Ron Galella/WireImage

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise during “Eyes Wide Shut” Los Angeles Premiere at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California, United States.


Nicole Kidman during 9th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman during 53rd Annual Golden Globe Awards at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States.

Ron Galella/WireImage

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (Photo by Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage

Nicole Kidman in Tom Ford for Gucci. (Photo by Gregory Pace/FilmMagic)

Gregory Pace/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman

S. Granitz/WireImage

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

S. Granitz/WireImage

Nicole Kidman at the The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Actress Nicole Kidman arrives for the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2008.

AFP/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman arrives at the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton January 20, 2002 in Beverly Hills, California.

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Nicole Kidman during The 76th Annual Academy Awards – Arrivals at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, United States.


Nicole Kidman during The 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards – Arrivals at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, California, United States.


Actress Nicole Kidman arrives on the red carpet for the 68th annual Golden Globe awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on January 16, 2011.


Actress Nicole Kidman arrives at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

Barry King/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 27, 2011 in Hollywood, California.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman arrives at The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

Steve Granitz/WireImage

Actress Nicole Kidman arrives at the 45th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.

George Pimentel/GettyImages

Nicole Kidman attends the “The Paperboy” premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2012 in Cannes, France.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman attends the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Larry Busacca/WireImage

Nicole Kidman attends the World Premiere of “Paddington” at Odeon Leicester Square on November 23, 2014 in London, England.

Karwai Tang/WireImage

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Nicole Kidman arrives at Women In Film 2015 Crystal + Lucy Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman attends the opening ceremony and “Grace of Monaco” premiere at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2014 in Cannes, France.

Tony Barson/Getty Images