Big Little Lies star Douglas Smith on Corey and Jane's relationship
Note: This story contains spoilers from episode 3 of Big Little Lies, ‘The End of the World.’
Coffee Shop Tom (Joseph Cross) has become just a faint, espresso-scented memory (where have you gone Coffee Shop Tom?!), and Jane finds herself drawn to her aquarium co-worker Corey (Douglas Smith). After all, if there’s anything that working at an aquarium teaches you, it’s that there are plenty of fish in the sea. Corey is a cute surfer, who seems like he might be on the spectrum (at least by Jane’s estimation), but in spite of his abrupt approach to her at times, episode 3 finds them taking their flirtation to the next level.
They go on a date where Corey interrogates the waitress about their seafood sourcing — that is when we’d be texting our friends to call us with an “emergency” but apparently, Jane thinks it’s cute. Walking the streets of Monterey, Jane confesses she has a son, and instead of sending Corey running for the bay, he immediately offers to meet Ziggy (Iain Armitage) and then gives the kid surf lessons. Jane is still struggling to overcome her trauma, resisting a kiss from Corey, but he tentatively breaks down her walls and by episode’s end they’re slow dancing in her driveway.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Monterey Five struggle to conceal their not-so-little lie. Jane is simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), both craving the familial connection and horrified by Mary Louise’s demand for a paternity test and victim-blaming behavior. Celeste (Nicole Kidman) continues to struggle to let go of Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), possibly even self-harming in an effort to rekindle the memories. Madeleine (Reese Witherspoon) desperately tries to save her marriage with Ed (Adam Scott), attending counseling with Celeste’s maddeningly enigmatic therapist. But Ed is still nursing the wound, even lashing out by suggesting he might take refuge in Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz).
Oh, and Otter Bay is once again the center of a controversy courtesy of the show’s Shakespearean second-grade mothers. Gordon’s (Jeffrey Nordling) legal woes are temporarily set aside, while Renata (Laura Dern), the “Medusa of Monterey,” eats Principal Nippal (P.J. Bryne) for breakfast after a lesson on climate change sends Amabella (Ivy George) to the hospital with an anxiety attack. And a school assembly brings Madeleine to the brink of a full-on emotional breakdown courtesy of a Muppets song.
While the ladies stew on the Lady Macbeth mess of their own making, we called up Douglas Smith to get the details on Corey’s relationship with Jane — what fosters their connection, what surfing in Monterey is really like, and whether this pairing could lead to a “happy ending” of sorts. So, let’s take a bite out of some locally sourced seafood, and slow dance our way to some answers (all to the tune of “The Rainbow Connection”).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Corey is clearly very into Jane and a bit eager, volunteering to meet Ziggy immediately. Should we assume he’s incredibly serious about her already if he already wants to meet her kid?
DOUGLAS SMITH: Yes, that’s a very good assumption. I liked when I read that. That [this] was the way they were imagining this guy. You always cringe when a different response happens in a movie. You know the stereotypical, “Oh ok, catch you later.” That’s not what you want to read.
He clearly can tell something is going on with her – do you think he suspects trauma of the level she’s experienced or where is his head at by the time they’re slow dancing in her driveway?
Yes, he’s very empathetic…He’s somebody that has gone through therapy and had lots of diagnoses thrown his way, and I think he is more sensitive than the average guy you see running up to you on the beach with a surfboard in their hands.
Jane has already told us Corey is a bit weird, and that’s definitely true. Even things like his obsession with the seafood sourcing are pretty intense. Should we and Jane trust him? Or might there be something darker in his own history?
Anything is possible. We’re all these complicated humans that have the propensity for good and bad, and this show is really good at exploring that. And just like any of the other people in this world, you never know.
On the flip side of that, we rarely see women trying to date after trauma in film and television, because it is such a delicate thing. We see Corey trying to be respectful of that; is it something you think he’s good at? Beyond that, is it powerful to be playing a character that is trying to set this example in a way?
Setting an example is a tricky thing because I don’t think there’s a clear thing to say when it comes to something as nuanced as this, but this is one particular situation and one particular set of people. But I will say I found that to be the most interesting aspect of when I first auditioned for the role. I got a bunch of scenes, and one of the scenes that was on that subject was instantly the thing that I found my brain ping to like a magnet. When it came to conversations with Shailene and [director] Andrea [Arnold] and our own private research and sharing, that was the thing that I feel dominated the most conversation.
There’s this adorable surfing lesson – were you really surfing?
Yeah, that’s me. I started surfing when I was younger, and it’s always been a real therapy for me to get out there. That was a fun part of the job because I’ve never really gotten to do that in a job. But I live by the beach in Los Angeles, and I go in the water most days. I don’t surf every day, some days I just go and swim and float on my back and just hit the reset button, but yeah, it’s a big part of my life.
Was Iain Armitage really out there with you? Monterey is such an iconic setting, but you’re really the only one who’s been out there in the water thus far.
Yeah, he was really good. He was really, really brave. We played around in the water; it seemed like all day. He was wild and running up and down the beach. I remember they also had a hot tub; they basically rigged a makeshift hot-tub and had it set up right on the boardwalk there because the water is so cold. So, it was pretty nice. I sent a photo of that to my wife, and she was like, “This is your job, this is ridiculous. You’re ridiculous.”
Bonnie tells Jane that Corey needs to know who she is/her history. There’s the rape on one level, but there’s also this other secret. What’s the likelihood she tells him either of those things or he somehow finds out about the big secret these five women are keeping?
That’s a tough thing to be able to answer without breaking the rules…He’s got a high EQ, an emotional intelligence. Whether Jane’s able to get there is something that will remain to be seen.
Does Corey pose a threat to that secret getting out? With that emotional intelligence, might that lie be something he can’t excuse?
He knows she’s one of the Monterey Five, that’s how he first comes up and addresses her on the beach. That’s already out there. I don’t think I can really say if the truth of that is too much for him to handle or not.
Corey is obsessed with the environment clearly, and the school is having some issues with discussions of climate change traumatizing the kids – could those two issues intersect down the line?
I don’t really think you’re barking up the right tree. It’s an interesting theme. It’s in all of our lives, and there’s also a nice metaphor between the violence of the waves crashing on the rocks and the violence we as humans do to the earth and the violence we do to each other. I took it as a more metaphorical connection, but as a literal one, I didn’t so much.
Mary Louise is being so cruel to Jane. Victim-blaming her and such — might Corey prove to be a line of defense in that case down the line? How dangerous might she be to Jane – we know she clearly is suspicious of her?
I love that scene. I’m not going to be able to say anything about that. But I can say that for me, I really loved watching the complexity that was there and just seeing how those two great actresses unpacked it. I remember reading it thinking it was interesting, but that was probably my favorite part of watching the episode.
Corey knows she’s part of the Monterey Five. If things get serious, will Jane introduce Corey to her friends? What does that look like for him?
Yeah, there’s a likelihood that she’s going to be taking that next step, [and] maybe that’s introducing him to other people in her life. Because she’s now introduced him to Ziggy, so that’s a reasonable expectation.
These women all have a lot going on, but is Corey the possibility of a “happy ending” of a sort for Jane? Or is that too much to hope for?
I don’t know. I hope so. (Laughs). Are there happy endings in life? I think the show’s a little more nuanced than just that simple happy ending.
Is there a scene you can’t wait for audiences to see?
There’s a few. There’s a party I think in next week’s [episode] – I’m looking forward to that. I’m really loving the Gordon and Renata stuff. I really like watching those actors do those scenes. Just the first episode with him with his train set, that cracks me up. It’s sad; I know it’s sad, but I don’t know why, I find it really joyfully funny. There’s something wrong with me. Is it schadenfreude?
Can you tease something for Corey and Jane in next week’s episode or something overall?
I believe it’s an important part of the healing process to try and explore a romantic relationship with somebody after you’ve been a victim of assault and to not let that keep you from enjoying those things and that aspect of your life. Zoe had a lot of wisdom when she was talking to Shailene on the beach about that, and that’s as much as I can say.
Big Little Lies