NEW YORK – Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on her own terms, draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life. Portraying Jo and Amy March, the film stars Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, with Timothée Chalamet as their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. We joined a Q&A with the main cast and the director.
Greta tell me little bit about the process: you were hired to write the script first, so how did you sell your vision to the studio, also to direct it?
Greta: «To me the book was about women and money and women, art and money and how do you make arts if you don’t have money. The first line of the book is “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, it’s so dreadful being poor” and it’s just a theme that continues the whole way. Then, I spent a lot of time learning about Louisa May Scott’s life and what she did as a writer and as someone who saved her family economically; she made these different decisions than her heroine did, she didn’t get married, she didn’t have children, but she made the very savvy economic decision to have Jo March get marry and have children because that’s the thing that was going to sell. When I went in to talk about the book I said this is what I see this film is all about and it feels so incredibly pressing, modern and important to tell the story of these ambitious girls who want so much more than the world is able to provide them at this moment. When I read the text again I think people remember it as being this kind of pre Victorian morality where everything has a period and it’s all tied up, but embedded in that there’s a lot, you forget how messy and wild it is. Even some of the lines of Amy saying “I want to be great, or nothing” and Marmee saying “I’m angry almost every day of my life”, these are from the book and I also just read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own that reminds you that to write you need a room of one’s own and 3,000 pounds a year that are unattached to anything, which means intellectual freedom depends upon material things and poetry depends upon intellectual freedom so women haven’t had a dog’s chance of writing poetry and I feel Little Women is the intersection of all of this».
Saoirse, you have said that your relationship with Greta allows you to do things that you never thought you’d be able to do and I was wondering how did this collaboration felt different from your previous one and how did she push you in different ways?
Saoirse: «I suppose the difference with this one was that we were both coming to this character for the first time. Lady Bird was such a personal thing for Greta and I was absolutely petrified every day that I was messing it up, not that I wasn’t with Little Women but I also think so many amazing people have played her in the past and she is Louisa and I think what was really wonderful for me about being involved in Greta’s Little Women is that Louisa was sort of infused in our character and she was channeled through us. We felt that on Lady Bird as well, this character sort of come through us and the same thing started to happen with Jo. I guess what was so wonderful about working with this girl with Greta at this time was that we were both in a place where we had both shown a movie that neither of us had done before; it was Greta’s first film and we were going into this new thing really excited to just sort of keep going and to have the structure that Greta gives you from one scene to the next is so helpful because within that you’ve got so much freedom to play and to mess it up. I think I was at a point sort of as an actor where I had been doing it since I was 8 and I finally felt I was ready to kind of go like “I’m gonna just mess it up a bit and see what happens” and I wasn’t afraid of that and I think that was because I was with someone that I trusted so much».
Laura, from Amy Jellicoe to Renata Klein you have played more than a few women who’re angry every day, but doing it with such grace and artistry. How does the way that anger manifests in Marmee reflected the era in which she lived and how did she use that anger? What can we learn from that?
Laura: «Thanks to Greta, it began with the truth of allowing us to be invited into the memory of Louisa and her family. We had the privilege of filming in Concord, Massachusetts where the memories that played out in the story are inspired. The book allowed us into the truth of what it is to be a mother raising these girls and yet I’d missed it as a child, I’d seen so much else and yet I remembered Marmee as this angelic omniscient being somehow. Greta broke her wide open like she did with all of these characters and yet revealed the thing that was in the book, which was what was so extraordinary and a level of understanding, compassion, tolerance and openness about the things that are still complicated for people today. From my perspective, rereading the book through Greta’s words and then back into Louisa’s words it was about everything, tolerance, sexuality, race, complication, revolution and doing it without money and without men in the home, and what that looked like. It was so raw, true, bold, punk rock, Shakespearean and also an homage to Louisa May Alcott. I don’t know how she did it, but I just got to dive into that world with these extraordinary people. To be angry, there’s so many ways to be angry as we’ve seen so many different versions of that on-screen in each of these characters, there’s an anger but it’s an anger for a purpose, it seems working towards something and not just for the virtue of being closed in; and poetry as understanding and really wanting to allow what you see in your children to come forward because you let them be all that they are instead of trying to truly raise them into something you’ve defined as what they’re supposed to be. That’s a kind of mother I’ve never seen and never really understood in the book, so Greta truly gave us that Marmee and that relationship with the girls in a way I’d had not really understood and was so lucky to be part of that».
Meryl, I would love to know what do you think it is about the way Greta directs that you think reflects the way she herself performs as an actor. How did that seep into her approach as a director to do that you felt?
Meryl: «Well [pause] she let me do what I wanted [laughs]. We talked quite a bit about the underpinnings, my character Aunt March is all about the money and she is the reality check on all the airy-fairy, highfalutin, idealistic people that populate her family and that she basically under writes their life. Like many people who are thwarted in her own life, she gets her own back, she gets a revenge and that’s it because women didn’t have agency. At that time in the Civil War a woman could get divorced but everything including the dress on your back was your husband’s property by default, including your children so you could leave but you left with nothing. They had nothing and for a woman to marry was the only thing they could do to support themselves and so Aunt March is looking at these girls like “what’s going to happen to them” and she’s picking winners».
Florence, your characters so verbose and a little bratty at times which makes her endearing, I would love to know how you helped to develop her cadence, her speaking style and her presentation.
Florence: «I didn’t I go through extensive lessons. One of the coolest things about getting to read for this job and to meet Greta and Amy [her character] was that I knew straightaway and everybody that’s read the book knows that Amy is seen as the best but the worst child, she’s a brat, rude and she says all the right but the wrong things. The most amazing thing about doing this job was Greta saying “I don’t feel like Amy had the moment to express herself as to why she felt the way that she did” and that was it. Everything about Amy came from the scenes that I was allowed to read earlier early on to do the audition tapes I had an idea of who she was in my head and I had a way of standing and I had a way of speaking, I sent those tapes in and I’m happy to say that those tapes that I sent in were pretty similar in terms of who I was in that moment to what we did as Amy on the day. I think that’s just one of those magical moments where you see a character the same way that the director and the creators see the character and that doesn’t always happen, and I think I was very lucky in finding a team that totally supported who I am and what they were all thinking. In terms of the accent, we all had an amazing dialect coach and we would just talk to each other in the accent, not 24 hours but I think we all had a very similar way of how we wanted them to speak;
we didn’t want them to be too uppity, we didn’t want them to sound like they were in corsets».
Timothée, Laurie and Joe’s relationship for me is one of the most beautiful and groundbreaking ever written because of its bucking of feminine and masculine norms in terms of their energy and the way they relate to each other. I hear you and Saoirse swapped clothing during filming, how did that affect the way you sort of started to perceive Laurie and learn more about him?
Timothée: «I can’t say that was our idea I think it was Greta’s, we also had an amazing costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, who was giving me three clothing options and she would kind of let us mismatch and that was cool. The things I learned were in absence of and not so much that were conscious. What I love about this character is there a new formulation of being a modern, it just is and when you’re young you kind of figure out your personality, people are your mirrors and you see yourself in the mirrors and I think Laurie is giving these girls as much mirror they’re giving him and an ability to figure himself out and absent whatever our modern norms of toxic masculinity would be».
Little Women will be release on December 25th, 2019 by Sony Pictures