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Interview: Eliza Scanlen Talks ‘Little Women’, Working With Greta Gerwig & More

Going to the screening for Little Women was an absolute joy! A story not shy of film adaptations, Greta Gerwig truly invigorated the timeless novel with her stunning direction. The film is a delight from start to finish, elevated by the incredible performances of a stellar ensemble cast. Easily one of my favorite films of this year, I can’t recommend it enough! 

I got the opportunity to speak to Eliza Scanlen, who plays youngest sister Beth March, during their press tour back in early December. We spoke about working with Greta Gerwig, the electric chemistry between the cast, and why the story of Little Women continues to be relevant in 2019. 

Hi Eliza, thank you so much for talking to me today! I’m Sabrina with Geeks of Color, this interview means a lot to me because I absolutely enjoyed this film from start to finish! First I want to start off by asking what it was like to work with Greta Gerwig on her second feature, especially after the huge success of Lady Bird?

Eliza Scanlen: You know, it was so cool that I was doing a film with Greta Gerwig. It was something that every young actor, especially female actor, dreams of doing and being a part of the community that Greta has created. It was such a special experience and I’m having a lot of fun looking back on and remembering it as we’re doing press. She is also such an incredibly talented human and hearing her speak is, I always learn a lot. It’s been great!

That sounds like an incredible experience! So, Little Women is not shy of adaptations, have you read the novel or seen any of the other films?

Scanlen: Unfortunately, I didn’t read the novel as a child but I have seen the Gillian Armstrong version of the story, which I would say is the most popular. It feels beautiful to see Louisa May Alcott brought to life, which is why I think it deserves to exist.

Was there something that initially attracted you to Greta Gerwig’s specific vision of this story?

Scanlen: For sure, I think that this film doesn’t romanticize and it is not an idyllic version of sisterhood and family. It’s also about art and money, and how the two intersect, especially in a period of time where there were limited opportunities for women to make a living. Also, at a time during war, which every decision made was underpinned by finance. This version was also about memory and how you reckon childhood. It is one of the most remarkable studies of nostalgia, it is done in such a tasteful way. That’s what makes Greta’s version of the story so relatable to everybody.

So your character, Beth, is the center of many of the emotional scenes in the film, I would even go so far as to say a lot of the emotional core of the film! What was it like preparing to portray this character?

Scanlen: It is an honor to portray this version of Beth, I think Greta gave her the complexity she deserves. She’s not just a saint created in death, she is an artist in the truest sense. She never stops creating, and she’s a dreamer. And in many senses, sometimes dreaming is better than the real thing. She learns to come face to face with the thing that some people fear the most, which is death. I think she has a proper development in the story of Little Women, and that’s what I found really rewarding about working with Greta and creating this version of Beth. She is deeply ambitious in her own way, and like I said, an artist in the truest sense.

Cast of Little Women
Eliza Scanlen as Beth, Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg and Florence Pugh as Amy in Little Women. (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

You, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Emma Watson authentically feel like sisters as we’re watching the film! How did you guys create such organic chemistry together?

Scanlen: I think there was no effort to have that chemistry; from the get go we were all over each other. I think we all have a very similar sense of humor, and you know, I think that there is a prerequisite of playing sisters that needs to be there. Underlying chemistry is something that you can’t replicate, and it’s something that you can’t fake. Everything you see in the film is authentic and between takes we were all over each other. We just enjoyed each other and fell in love with each other’s company, really.

It sounds like you guys really enjoyed your time on set together, speaking of each sister, one thing that stood out to me so much is the characterization that’s portrayed in even the fashion that each of the sisters wear in the film. The costume design is incredible and tells a story in itself, what were some of the costume tests or fittings like?

Scanlen: Our costume designer, Jacqueline [Durran], was really collaborative with us and we had a lot of conversations with her about our costumes. Each sister had a color, which I thought was really wonderful! Beth’s color scheme was a lot of pinks and browns. There are often times in the film where clothing is shared, like sisters do in real life, we share certain pieces of clothing. Also, a lot of Marmee’s clothing involved all of our color schemes, each thread in her garment were the colors that represented each sister. Which I think is a beautiful touch. So, the costumes do definitely play a part in representing each character.

It’s so important to have stories told from different perspectives, and this film is centered around sisters with powerful female voices! Why do you believe this is a timeless story and still relevant in 2019?

Scanlen: I think that, like you said, it is not just a story. It is an epic, and the reason why people are taking a liking to this film so much is that we can relate to Jo but we can also understand the storyline of every other character in the film. I think a lot of the time, a story like this is very important in this day and age. Also, it is kind of acting against this idea that feminism is one sided, feminism really means women’s empowerment and inclusivity. I completely agree, that’s why Gerwig’s modernized version of the classic story really resonated with me!

Little Women is in theaters now.

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