The star-studded cast of “Little Women” drew a not-so-little crowd to The Wing Boston in Back Bay Wednesday night.
The crowd’s excitement was palpable as the film’s director Greta Gerwig, producer Amy Pascal, and actors Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, Florence Pugh, and Laura Dern arrived to discuss the new movie, which opens Dec. 25.
Much of the conversation, held at the posh women’s co-working space, focused on bringing Louisa May Alcott’s classic book to the screen in ways that offered a robust and complex depiction of the characters.
Gerwig explained the importance of dedicating ample resources to the film. Giving the cast all the “toys” that “the boys get if they are making a war movie” reflects the importance of the story, she said.
“[‘Little Women’] is treated like it’s less than. It’s treated like it’s an asterisk. We’ve got ‘Moby-Dick.’ We’ve got ‘The Great Gatsby.’ And, over there, you have whatever this is, ladies,” Gerwig said. “It makes me angry. We read those books, and they don’t read ours. They don’t consider them worth enough to read, and it’s part of our American literary tradition.”
Dern made a point parallel to Gerwig’s, describing the common narrative that when men go to war or work, women just sit by the fireplace. Dern said Gerwig wanted to see the revolution that is “the women of this country, the mothers, the daughters, the sisters, the abolitionists, the true citizens who keep community together.”
Pascal commended Gerwig’s vision for the story, saying that Gerwig had come to her wanting to write an “epic” story for girls because “girls deserve it.” Filming in the Concord area, where Alcott grew up, makes the movie even more special, Pascal said.
When adapting the story to the screen, Gerwig said she chose to make the narrative nonchronological in order to focus on the women’s adult lives. Gerwig realized once the sisters were leading separate lives, they would never be together again, and she wanted the audience to feel the ache of missing something that has already passed.
The cast also shared a laugh about the fact that none of the actresses playing the March sisters are American, which Gerwig admits she didn’t consider before casting. She did say, however, that each actress has an essence exactly right for their character. For example, Gerwig loves the way Ronan, who plays Jo, is both beautiful and handsome, a trait she said cast member Timothée Chalamet (Laurie) shares.
“They are able to shape-shift in that way. In the book, Laurie is a boy with a girl’s name and Jo is a girl with a boy’s name,” Gerwig said. “She spent the entire book saying she wants to be a boy, she wants to go to war. He’s going through the entire book buying neckties.”
Ronan described the culture created by the predominantly female cast. She laughed as she recalled how loud and excited the women would get when they filmed together. But the energy did more than just create a sisterhood, she said. It fostered a safe space for the actresses.
“Somewhere in your subconscious you’re like, ‘Oh, I can suggest things that maybe I wouldn’t usually,’” Ronan said. “It was really interesting when the boys came back into the room. Nothing to do with them because they are all wonderful, but we would all sort of pipe down a bit.”
When asked to give advice to budding actors and writers, the cast members offered a variety of ideas. Scanlen recommended acting classes to keep skills sharp. Pugh said actors should sit down with others and share their work. Dern’s advice was for women in film to take the future directly into their own hands.
“Write yourself your dream role. Keep your budget down,” Dern said. “Get all these women to help you shoot it on your iPhone. Make it genius. Be your own boss.”