The “Women” behind Jo and Amy: Saoirse Ro­nan, Florence Pugh play the sis­ters in Greta Ger­wig’s adap­ta­tion of the Louisa Al­cott novel.

Play­ing Jo and Amy, Ro­nan and Pugh share de­fi­ant spirit

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - By Amy Kaufman

Florence Pugh is rapidly swip­ing her in­dex fin­ger across her iPhone, search­ing for Pam.

“Hang on, hang on,” she says. “I’m go­ing to get it. Where’s Pam? Oh, this is killing me.”

Pam is the name that Pugh as­signed to her costar, Saoirse Ro­nan, on the set of Greta Ger­wig’s up­com­ing “Lit­tle Women” adap­ta­tion, which opens on Christ­mas.

Pugh be­stowed the al­terego upon Ro­nan after shoot­ing one of the most mem­o­rable scenes from Louisa May Al­cott’s clas­sic novel: when Jo March (Ro­nan) re­veals she has cut off her long tresses. Her three sis­ters are hor­ri­fied — “Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one true beauty!” cries Amy (Pugh), the youngest — even though Jo sac­ri­ficed to earn money for their ail­ing father’s re­cov­ery.

En­ter Pam. When she started film­ing, Ro­nan had lus­trous blond locks that curled nearly to her waist. Post-hair­cut, how­ever, she was forced to don an un­sightly wig: al­most a mul­let but more of a shag.

“And that’s when Flo came up with this char­ac­ter called Pam,” re­calls Ro­nan, 25. “Pam is from Aus­tralia, and Pam’s got a lot of opin­ions about what’s go­ing on.”

“She knits in be­tween takes,” Pugh, 23, says, sud­denly sound­ing as if she’s from Mel­bourne in­stead of Ox­ford­shire. “Saoirse would sit with her Ugg slip­pers twid­dling her foot be­tween takes with this ridicu­lous look, and it was wild.”

This is the seventh fea­ture film ver­sion of Al­cott’s 1868 novel. Ger­wig — who wrote and di­rected — has taken a non­lin­ear ap­proach, view­ing the March sis­ters’ for­ma­tive child­hood days through the lens of adult­hood.

While all four sis­ters fol­low de­cid­edly dis­tinct paths — Jo wishes to defy so­ci­etal con­ven­tions by re­main­ing un­mar­ried; Meg wants noth­ing more than a hus­band and chil­dren — Ger­wig’s adap­ta­tion treats all their choices with re­spect.

Ro­nan first met Ger­wig when she starred in Ger­wig’s di­rec­to­rial debut, “Lady Bird.” She loves that “Lit­tle Women” was di­rected “not only by a film­maker who’s al­ready be­come so im­por­tant for our gen­er­a­tion but a lady and one who was preg­nant at the time.”

“The four girls who lead this story are all very, very dif­fer­ent, and they all al­low a young girl to see them­selves,” con­tin­ues Ro­nan, who is joined by Emma Wat­son (Meg) and El­iza Scanlen (Beth) in the film. “‘Lit­tle Women’ gives you the op­por­tu­nity to re­late to as­pects of all the girls, be­cause they’re all dif­fer­ent ages and want dif­fer­ent things.”

It’s easy to un­der­stand why Ger­wig cast the ac­tresses in their re­spec­tive roles. Ro­nan has been preter­nat­u­rally ma­ture since she was a girl, earn­ing an Academy Award nod at 13 for one of her first movie roles, in 2007’s “Atone­ment.”

Pugh is a new­comer in

Hol­ly­wood. Her star­ring role in a 2016 Bri­tish adap­ta­tion of “Lady Mac­beth” earned her a BAFTA nom­i­na­tion, and she was about to shoot “Mid­som­mar” when Ger­wig was putting to­gether “Lit­tle Women.”

“I moved the shoot be­cause I wanted her to be in it so badly,” Ger­wig says.

Ro­nan says she “grew up” on 1994 Gil­lian Arm­strong ver­sion of “Lit­tle Women,” but Pugh was more fa­mil­iar with Al­cott’s book. Her grand­mother would read it to her ev­ery week­end.

“She hated Amy,” Pugh says. “She’d al­ways say, ‘What a wicked, wicked girl!’ It’s so easy to love Jo, be­cause she rep­re­sents ev­ery­thing that we want to be. She has a voice, and she goes out there and she doesn’t re­ally give no (craps). But com­ing to the book later on in my life, I re­al­ized that ev­ery sin­gle thing Amy says is per­fect. I love a naughty per­son in a book. It’s my most fa­vorite thing to see some­one cre­ate havoc. We all want to be Jo, but re­al­is­ti­cally, I def­i­nitely think there are prob­a­bly more pieces of me in Amy.”

Amy, Ger­wig the­o­rizes, has long got­ten “short shrift” by the public, which has of­ten fo­cused on her van­ity. As a girl, Amy tries to mold her nose so that it will have an­other shape, and she is open about her de­sire to marry a rich man and have nice things. Jo, mean­while, in­fa­mously turns down a mar­riage pro­posal from a hand­some, wealthy suitor — Lau­rie, played now by Ti­mothee Cha­la­met — and is more in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a great writer than cen­ter­ing her life around a man.

“I think Amy is so much more pro­found than peo­ple give her credit for,” Ger­wig says. “And in terms of fem­i­nin­ity, nei­ther one of them are fem­i­nine in the sense of hav­ing it merge with their iden­tity. Both of them are mas­cu­line. Jo wants to be a boy, and Amy per­forms fem­i­nin­ity be­cause it’s ex­pe­di­ent for them to get what they want.”

Ger­wig’s take on Jo evolved for 2019 too. She and Ro­nan had dis­cus­sions about how the char­ac­ter was a mix of both Jo and Al­cott, and the ac­tress read “Marmee & Louisa,” a bi­og­ra­phy that of­fered in­sight into Al­cott’s mind.

“It talks a lot about Louisa’s dad,” Ro­nan says. “...

When she started to do well, he was al­ways very, very hard on her. He was great with the other girls but not with her, I think be­cause she was sort of this asex­ual or bi­sex­ual tomboy girl who wrote about mur­der­ers.

“I think it’s quite pow­er­ful ... that an au­thor who wrote a beau­ti­ful, ro­man­ti­cized Amer­i­can clas­sic could have po­ten­tially been at least bi­sex­ual. She mar­ried off her sis­ters and her lead char­ac­ter to a man, and the fact that the woman behind all of that wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­ested in men? I think for her own spirit, she needed to paint her life in this sort of light, as op­posed to what it was ac­tu­ally like. And that’s kind of heart­break­ing, you know?”

Ro­nan adds: “Amy and Jo are quite sim­i­lar, ac­tu­ally. … They’re both very de­fi­ant in spirit.”

“They both have very stub­born per­son­al­i­ties,” Pugh says. “But I don’t think they’re ene­mies or ri­vals.”

“I think they’re both as fem­i­nist as each other,” Ro­nan says, “be­cause they both know what they want and stand by that.”


Florence Pugh, from left, Saoirse Ro­nan and Emma Wat­son in di­rec­tor-writer Greta Ger­wig’s new adap­ta­tion of Louisa May Al­cott’s novel “Lit­tle Women.”

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