Wait, have you met Pearl Warren?
She’s the new kid in town—Shaker Heights, Ohio, to be exact—and despite her bohemian mother’s impulse to pick-up-and-move, constantly, Pearl seeks to have some normalcy, some stability, in her young life. She also yearns to experience the simple pleasures of adolescence, like decorating her bedroom, staying-up on trends and just chilling with her friends. That’s not too much to ask, right?
“We’re such kindred spirits,” says Lexi Underwood, who, at 16, is just a year older than her only-child character on Little Fires Everywhere. The first three episodes of the eight-part series premiered on Hulu last Wednesday.
“I’m an artist, I’m a poet, I’m a little shy and I’m resolute in knowing what I want, just like Pearl. I wrote poems, as Pearl, and even created a playlist of songs that she might listen to on a daily basis or when she’s feeling sad or happy or in love.”
Based on Celeste Ng’s bestseller of the same name and starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon, Little Fires Everywhere, popped up on Underwood’s radar a year prior to casting. “A friend of mine told me about the project and that Miss Kerry and Miss Reese would be producing and starring in it. My friend thought I should audition and told me to write it in my notes and I still have that note on my phone!”
When it came time to audition—a process which, by her own admission, was “super-fast”—she did chemistry reads with her fellow, young castmates and then, began reading the novel. “I thought, ‘Okay, if I read the book, then book the job, it’ll be like I started prepping early. If read it and don’t book the job, at least I got to read a pretty phenomenal story,’” she remembers.
The series features a plethora of characters and as many intertwined storylines, and while the on-screen tension between Washington and Witherspoon can cause shivers, Underwood’s scenes with Washington, who portrays her mother, Mia, escalate from tender to explosive in record time—and then, back again.
“We clicked immediately, so the bonding scenes weren’t too hard,” she says of working with Washington, “but when it came to the harder scenes, I got super-nervous.” Then, between takes during a particularly emotional exchange between the two actresses, Washington offered Underwood some words of advice. “Miss Kerry looked at me and said, ‘Do it like Olivia Pope would.’ In that moment, my whole life was made!”
A native of Washington, D.C., Underwood’s name and face might seem new to some, but her credits suggest otherwise. From Criminal Minds and Raven’s Home to The Good Doctor and Family Reunion, she’s been putting in work since venturing out west nearly five years ago. A multi-hyphenated talent (she acts, writes, sings, dances and plays the flute and piano)
Underwood credits her parents for introducing her to the arts at an early age. By the time she hit double-digits, she was auditioning. At 11, she was starring on Broadway as young Nala in The Lion King and joined the show’s national tour in 2015.
While she’s certainly looking toward the future—mainly seeking out diverse stories to tell via her aptly-named company, Ultimate Dreamer Productions, which she launched last year—Underwood remains overjoyed about being a part of the series, as well as how it’s being received. She’s also adjusting to having so many eyes on her work. “I’ve never experienced this before and I’ve never live-Tweeted before, which was different and so fun! This is a dream role and I’m just…grateful.”