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Latter-day Saint/Mormon Characters
in the HBO series:

Big Love (2005)

"Big Love" (2005)
Pilot episode (series premiere) written by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer
Pilot episode directed by Rodrigo García
Executive producer: Tom Hanks

Starring: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny (Chloe Sevigny), Ginnifer Goodwin, Harry Dean Stanton, Amanda Seyfried, Daveigh Chase, Garrett Gray, Mitchell Gray, Spencer Gray, Douglas Smith

"Big Love" is an HBO series created by Mark V. Olsen and gay screenwriter Will Scheffer. The series premiere was directed by Rodrigo Garcia ("Six Feet Under", "Boomtown", "Nine Lives"). When production on "Big Love" was announced it generated considerable news coverage, partially because the series was to be produced by superstar Tom Hanks' production company, with Hanks as executive producer.

The "Big Love" series is about a business owner in Salt Lake City (played by Bill Paxton) and his three wives. Paxton's character is a polygamist, whose unorthodox lifestyle is based on his background as what is sometimes known by the misnomer "fundamentalist Mormon."

HBO originally ordered 11 episodes of "Big Love" produced. Amanda Seyfried was cast as "Sarah Henrickson," a teenage daughter of Bill Paxton's character. Some of the audition sides for this part are shown below. Cast as Paxton's three wives (all major roles in the series) were Chloe Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ginnifer Goodwin. Other actors cast for "Big Love" were Harry Dean Stanton, Daveigh Chase, Garrett Gray, Mitchell Gray, Spencer Gray and Douglas Smith.

The series was originally set to premiere in August 2005.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rarely comments on specific media productions, but it did issue a press release on 17 October 2005 after new magazine articles began appearing in anticipation of the debut of "Big Love." From: "'HBO's "Big Love', posted in the "Comments on the News" section on the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (,15331,3885-1-22339,00.html; viewed 20 October 2005):

HBO's "Big Love"
[A response to articles published in] Various media outlets, 17 October 2005

The Public Affairs Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement in response to media inquiries regarding the upcoming HBO show "Big Love":

"Polygamy was officially discontinued in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1890. Any Church member adopting the practice today is excommunicated. Those groups which continue the practice in Utah and elsewhere have no association whatever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and most of their practitioners have never been among our members.

"The Church has long been concerned about the continued illegal practice of polygamy, and in particular about reports of child and wife abuse emanating from polygamous communities today. It will be regrettable if this program, by making polygamy the subject of entertainment, minimizes the seriousness of that problem.

"Through its Los Angeles Public Affairs office, Church representatives have asked the producers at HBO to consider a disclaimer at the beginning of the program, dissociating the practice of polygamy today from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The producers have said they are willing to consider that request."

[direct link to the article] "Three's Company", [published in] Time, 16 October 2005 [,9171,1118360,00.html]

"Big Love" executive producer Tom Hanks was himself a Mormon for less than two years when he was a child, but he was part of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was not a "fundamentalist Mormon" or part of polygamist culture. Hanks' frequently-disrupted family life put him in a number of different denominations while growing up. In high school, Tom Hanks joined a Fundamentalist Christian (Protestant) denomination, but did not remain active in it into his twenties. When Hanks married Rita Wilson, he joined her denomination: the Greek Orthodox Church. It is not known whether Hanks' background provided any impetus for his deciding to produce "Big Love."

Although "Big Love" is ostensibly about polygamy, much of its subject matter and themes are actually a veneer for presenting the non-LDS writers' GLBT themes and gay apologia.

The Biblical practice of polygamy was banned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the late 1800s, and anybody who attempts to practice polgamy is not allowed to be part of the Church. Wary of stirring up negative controversy, and wishing to avoid accusations of anachronistic or dishonest storytelling, HBO publicists issued statements early in the series' production cycle that "Big Love" was not about Latter-day Saints and would not be filmed in Utah.

However, excerpts from the teleplay for the pilot episode of the series make it clear that at least some of the characters in "Big Love" are written as mainstream Latter-day Saints. Series star Chloe Sevigny told reporters that the show's producers intended to film in Utah. In the excerpt below, some characters are members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They discuss Church-related topics with a daughter of the central polygamist character. This girl has clearly spent time in the mainstream Church, although her family is apparently now separated from the Church.

The teleplay excerpts contain two cheers or chants spoken by a teenage Latter-day Saint girl named "Jordan." (Jordan is not from a polygammist group; she is a member of mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Jordan's chants would strike most Latter-day Saints as strange, and might even seem like yet another indicator that the script writers were out of touch and were inaccurate in their portrayal of Latter-day Saints.

Yet these chants were actually copied directly from a fireside outline written by a regular Latter-day Saint Young Women's leader. The fireside outline was not published by the official Church, but it was posted on an independent website dedicated to providing supplemental materials for Young Women leaders. (The "Young Women" organization in the Church is for female Church members ages 12 through 18.)

On the "YW Connection" website (, there is a Young Women Camp section ( On the index page for the Young Women Camp section there is section with the heading "Camp Themes." Some of the themes in this section include: Everyway Heroes; Heroes of the Heart; Hold Your Torch High; Field of Dream; Like A Lighthouse; Millennial Bugs; Mission Possible; Olympics; On Safari, Searching For Heaven; We Three Queen; Quest for the Best; Shoot For the Stars; To Know Ewe is to Love Ewe; Unity in the Hive; United We Stand.

One of the Young Women Camp themes is "Major Leagues." It is a baseball theme, and the page describing it ( features a detailed outline of a fireside, complete with some camp cheers.

One of the cheers from this Young Women camp fireside touches on the Word of Wisdom:

Drugs are an abomination.
We're the Mormon congregation.
That should be an indication,
Heaven is our destination!
Note how this cheer is repeated in the "Big Love" script:
         (deadpan, understated)
    "We're the Mormon Congregation.
    That should be an indication.
    Heaven is our destination. Yeah."
Another cheer used during the "Major Leagues" camp fireside is about the law of chastity (moral purity):
We can wait! We can wait! We can wait to procreate
'Til aaaaaaaaaaafter marriage!
This cheer was also repeated in the "Big Love" script:
         (the same throwaway irony)
    We can wait. We can wait. We can
    wait to procreate. Till
    aaaaffffffter marriage. Yeah.

Excerpt from Teleplay for "Big Love" series premiere (pilot episode):

WARNING: The following excerpts from the teleplay may contain objectionable language.

[Page 37]


ON Sarah, orange and brown work uniform, in the 
back of the downtown SLC fast food joint she works in. 
She holds a burger wrapped in foil in one hand, 
punches her time card with the other, then proceeds 
out a back door into an alley.


She joins three other fair-haired Mormon teens, 
coworkers on break, seated at a table, DONNA, JORDAN 
and HEATHER, all in orange and brown uniforms. 
She slides in next to Jordan:

[Page 38]

    Mr. Woodcock says you guys have two more minutes.

    Man, that name.

    Who's closing tonight?

    I am.
       (pointing to Donna's soda)
    Diet or regular?



Donna indicates yes: Sarah sips. Jordan, eating 
fries applies ketchup from packets on each fry 
individually, then pokes them into her mouth. 
She eyes a clean-cut blonde family, Mother, Father, 
Four Children, proceeding into the drive in:

         (deadpan, understated)
    "We're the Mormon Congregation.
    That should be an indication.
    Heaven is our destination. Yeah."

She pops a fry into her mouth.

         (rattling ice in her cup)
    I was out with my boyfriend last night.
    We were at like first base heading
    to second and he goes--
    "What's that smell?
    It was me. Like a big vat of fries.

    Don't you hate it?


    So did you do second?
        (off Donna's nod)
        (off Donna's nod)
    How third?

[Page 39]

    I let him finger me.

      (eating her burger)
    Donna, gross!

    Heather gives Donna a reproachful look:


         (the same throwaway irony)
    We can wait. We can wait. We can
    wait to procreate. Till
    aaaaffffffter marriage. Yeah.

    Do you have a boyfriend, Sarah?


    What's your position on chastity?

    Who wants to get pregnant or an STD
    or something? I don't think it's
    such a bad idea to get past your
    hormones and not screw every penis
    that will allow you to mount it.

The girls break into surprised LAUGHTER. Mr. Woodcock, the
Manager, inside, RAPS on the window and points to his watch.

    Back to the grease pit.

Heather, Jordan and Donna file back inside.

As Sarah eats she glances up and sees Heather, now inside,
staring out at her with interest.


[Page 47]


Sarah and "new friend" Heather with Diet Cokes at the Cashier

       (to Sarah)
    I'll get it.


The Cashier smiles at Heather as she pays; Heather looks at her name tag: "Katie":

    Thank you, Katie.



             HEATHER (O.C.)
    What kind of music are you into?

ON Sarah and Heather gazing at the window.

    Lots of stuff. I like Jazz. I like Linkin Park.

Heather smiles and shrugs, then:

    I like Bobby McFerrin.

Heather catches her reflection in the glass and tugs her short skirt up higher.

They start walking THE BUSY MALL.

    When I'm 21, I want to do a
    Mission. I've decided I want to go
    to an Islamic country. My Dad's
    against it, but I think post 9/11
    that part of the world needs our
    help the most, don't you?

    I think the whole world needs help.

[Page 48]

    See. That's what I like about you,
    Sarah. You're so thoughtful. You're
    not boy-crazy or all screwed up.
    You don't talk about family much.

    Not much to talk about. They're
    just average.

    Are they involved in Church

    They used to be. They're pretty
    busy now. My Dad's a businessman
    and my Mom's a teacher. Substitute.
    She's taking classes to be full
    time accredited.

    What about you? Are you in Young
    Women's? Mia Maids or Laurels?
        (Sarah shakes her head)
    What ward are you in?

    Fourteenth. But I'm not really into
    the Church. I mean, I think they're
    right -- their take on morals and
    honesty. But I think they spend too
    much time trying to convince
    everyone else they're the one true
    religion -- like underneath they
    kinda doubt it themselves.

An awkward beat.

    No, I know what you mean.
    Hey, you know what? Why don't you
    give me your phone number? I can
    call you next week. We can hang out
    some more.

    So, what do your parents do?

[Page 49]

    Mother's a homemaker. She served as
    YW counselor in our old ward.
    She's pretty active in Relief
    Society. She's great.
         (sips her Diet Coke)
    Dad's a State Trooper.

OFF Sarah's nod: In her eyes, a tiny hint of trepidation.

Webpage created 25 February 2005. Last modified 20 October 2005.