Because of the rigid voting rules for the Oscars, Greta Gerwig was not able to vote for herself for best director for “Little Women.” When Gerwig was asked to be a member of the Academy in 2016, she was invited as an actor, and therefore that’s the sole branch in which she votes — even after a year when she wrote and directed a movie that ended up being nominated for best picture.
Gerwig remembers this Academy oddity while discussing not being nominated in the director category, an omission that was widely perceived, by everyone from Hillary Clinton to the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” to be the single biggest snub of this year’s nominations. Though Gerwig says she had no expectations of being nominated, “there was clearly a chance,” she says with a laugh. “There’s probably a handful of votes that went that way. I mean, mine did — oh no, I can’t!”
She does plan to switch categories. “I think that the directors branch could probably stand to bolster its lady numbers,” Gerwig says over truffle fries at the London hotel in West Hollywood. “This will go to the top of my to-do list!”
Had Gerwig been nominated, as she was for 2017’s “Lady Bird,” she would have been the first woman ever to be nominated for best director twice — an outrageous statistic given the Oscars’ 92-year history.
But “Little Women” did receive six nominations, including Gerwig for adapted screenplay. She’s happiest about the best picture nod. “It felt like it was for everyone,” she says. “So there was a lot of ecstatic texting among the ‘Little Women’ chain.” She had awakened that morning to feed Harold, her 10-month-old baby, with her partner, “Marriage Story” writer-director Noah Baumbach. “Noah’s across the room, and he was like, ‘I got six too!’” Gerwig says. “I don’t know, it was an amazing day.”
Also amazing has been the film’s box office performance: “Little Women” is hovering at $100 million domestically, and has made more than $150 million worldwide.
In 2014, Gerwig overheard her agent talking about how Amy Pascal, Robin Swicord, and Denise Di Novi were going to do a new version of “Little Women.” “And I was like, ‘They what?’” Gerwig recalls. “I had just reread it. And I had an idea, and it felt fortuitous.”
Gerwig actually had many ideas for a new “Little Women,” among them to merge the lives of Jo March and the book’s author, Louisa May Alcott, to begin the story with the March sisters as adults, and to adjust the emphasis on the book’s ideas. “The very first meeting I had with Amy, I said this book is about women and art and money,” she says. “And it’s very much about money — I felt like it was just sitting there on the surface of the whole thing.”
She was hired, and wrote three or four drafts of the screenplay before going off to make “Lady Bird.” She would also occasionally mention that she’d like to direct: “I got what I call a ‘Hollywood no’ — nobody really says no to you, it just doesn’t go anywhere.” But the five Oscar nominations for “Lady Bird” — including best picture and two for Gerwig (original screenplay and director) — got her the “Little Women” directing job as well.
In speaking with Gerwig about the “Little Women” screenplay, she gets swept up talking about the movie’s first scene, quoting Jo (Saoirse Ronan) as the character sells a story to a publisher: “‘What compensation?’ which just kills me when she says that — the embarrassment of bringing up money! The way Saoirse does it is wonderful.”
After the Oscars, Gerwig will return to New York to begin rehearsals on Sam Gold’s revival of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” with Oscar Isaac. When the play opens, she says, she will begin writing her next project, which she declines to detail. “Hopefully by the end of the play, I’ll have a lot of material that then I can go away and start shaping more properly. But I’m not going to direct something until 2021.”
“Little Women” — Gerwig’s first-ever wide release — opened on Christmas Day, causing her holiday to “become a little tense!” she says. She found herself riveted to watching the box office returns come in, likening the experience to the old-fashioned “fantasy of being in a theater production, where you’re waiting for the papers.”
“I guess some people just check out, and they say, ‘It’ll do what it does, and I’ll see later,’” Gerwig says. “But I don’t know. That’s not my way. It also dictates whether or not you get another at-bat,” she continues. “And that’s the whole thing — another at-bat.”