She was originally hired to write the screenplay, but then insisted on directing, too. “I told them no one else could direct it; I must direct it,” Gerwig recalls on Thursday’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast. “They were like, ‘Alright. Well, you’ve never directed anything or … you’ve never solo directed anything.”
This happened before Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, “Lady Bird,” was released, but Sony was willing to take the chance. “I was hell bent on it,” Gerwig said. “It’s funny because I have never quite gone after something like that. I felt the confidence I had was, in some ways, the confidence of the character Jo and Louisa May Alcott as Jo. Then similarly when Saoirse [Ronan] heard I was thinking about making the movie, she just told me she was going to be Jo. It wasn’t like, ‘I’d like to play Jo.’ It was, ‘I’ll be playing Jo.’”
In addition to Ronan, Gerwig’s adaptation stars Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg, Eliza Scanlen as Beth, Laura Dern as Marmee and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie. Rounding out the cast are Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, James Norton, Chris Cooper and Bob Odenkirk.
“Little Women” also marks Gerwig’s first big-studio film. “The belovedness makes it terrifying, but the terrifying is also part of what makes it also attractive to me,” Gerwig said. “Also what a big canvas it was, how complex the story was, how sprawling it was.”
“Every single day on set was a huge day,” she said. “It’s like, ‘What day is this today? Oh, the day when Beth dies’ or ‘What day is it today? Oh, [Jo] almost kills [Amy].’ There was never a day that was small.”
While Gerwig was eating for two (she was pregnant with her first child with Noah Baumbach, but kept it a secret from the cast and crew during filming), she the cast, “all lost so much weight doing this because we were just running them ragged. They all got gaunt by the end of it. They were like shadows of their former selves. By the end, I felt like, poor Saoirse. Her skirts were just hanging off of her.”
And then there was Chalamet’s wardrobe. To prepare for the role, Gerwig asked him to read essays about dandies and flâneurs, and the writings of 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire. “The truth is Jacqueline [Durran], the costume designer, said, Timothée has such a fabulous sense of style that she basically would just let him do what he wanted. She did hang a bunch of different costumes in his trailer and say, ‘Whatever you want to put together.’”
While “Little Women” only earned two Golden Globe nominations for Ronan for best actress and Alexandre Desplat for score, and was completely shut out of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Sony hopes things turn around with the Oscars. (This interview was conducted before any awards nominations were announced.)
The Academy certainly fell in love with “Lady Bird.” It was up for best picture, with Gerwig picking up noms for director and original screenplay. Ronan earned a nom for lead actress and Laurie Metcalf was up for supporting.
Next up for Gerwig is a return to acting in a production of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” with Oscar Isaac at the New York Theatre Workshop, while also co-writing a script with Baumbach for a live-action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie.
And Gerwig is also working on a musical, but is tight-lipped on details. “One thing I feel that the world is really missing right now is tap dancing,” she said. “I’m just going to say that.”
You can listen to the full interview with Gerwig below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.