Oscars: 10 Things to Know About Best Picture Nominee 'Little Women'

8:26 PM 2/8/2020

by Katherine Schaffstall

Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel is up for six Academy Awards.

Wilson Webb

Little Women is heading to the 2020 Oscars with six nominations: best picture, adapted screenplay (Greta Gerwig), actress (Saoirse Ronan), supporting actress (Florence Pugh), original score (Alexandre Desplat) and costume design (Jacqueline Durran).

Based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel, the film follows the March sisters Amy (Pugh), Jo (Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Meg (Emma Watson) as they navigate young adulthood.

The cast also includes Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel and Chris Cooper. In addition to penning the script, Gerwig directed the film.

Since Little Women's release in December, Gerwig, the cast and production team have spoken about how the film came together. From Gerwig's childhood love of the novel to Ronan's history-making nomination and a conversation with Streep that inspired a scene in the movie, here are 10 behind-the-scenes facts, including some spoilers, about the acclaimed film.

  • The Novel Played an Important Part in Gerwig's Childhood

    Getty Images

    While participating in The Hollywood Reporter's Director Roundtable, Gerwig said that Alcott's novel was an important part of her upbringing and that she relates to Jo's journey of becoming a writer.

    "Little Women, the book, meant so much to me [as a child]. I don't ever remember not knowing who the March sisters were. They became part of the inner landscape of myself. They felt like my memories," she said. "And the scene of her [Jo March] trying to sell a story — I know exactly what that is, to sit in front of somebody and try to sell them a story and they're telling me that I need to make changes, and I am figuring out how many changes I can make and still live with myself."

  • Gerwig Referenced Alcott's Letters and Diaries as She Wrote the Script

    Wilson Webb

    Gerwig wrote the screenplay in a cabin in Big Sur. She used Alcott's letters and diaries, along with 19th century paintings of young women, as inspiration to pen the script.

    She told THR that she was struck by how relevant the story still is, despite taking place in the 1800s. "To me, the book was so clearly about women, art and money," she said. "I felt like there were all these spiky things that I could really dig into."

    The writer and director also felt that the portion of the novel that touches on the March sisters' adult lives had been left largely unexplored in the culture's collective memory, so she decided to tell her version of Little Women in a nonlinear fashion. Gerwig's version starts with their grown-up points of view and flashes back to their childhood memories.

    Gerwig took some creative liberties with her script. For instance, Jo doesn't exactly get married at the end of the film. When Alcott wrote her novel, her publisher insisted on a happy romantic ending. Meanwhile, Alcott herself never got married. Gerwig weaved that history into the movie with a meta twist. When Jo writes her novel in the film, her publisher insists on a happy ending. Gerwig then includes a book-within-a-movie sequence that mimics an over-the-top rom-com moment. The book scene is complete with backlighting and a rain machine.

    Producer Amy Pascal revealed that not everyone initially understood the scene. "It took a minute for everybody to understand what it was Greta wanted to say," said the producer. "This is not a movie that studios are making these days. It's not your typical period piece, it's pretty meta, pretty subversive."

  • Ronan Is the Second-Youngest Four-Time Oscar Nominee

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    Ronan's portrayal of Jo March earned her a fourth acting Oscar nomination at just 25 years old. She is now the second-youngest performer, male or female, to ever receive that number of Oscar nods.

    Jennifer Lawrence currently holds the title of the youngest performer with the most acting nominations. Lawrence was also 25 when she scored her fourth Oscar nomination for her role in 2015's Joy, though she was about four months younger than Ronan was when she earned her fourth nod for Little Women.

    Ronan was nominated in the best actress category in 2016 for Brooklyn and in 2018 for Lady Bird. Back in 2008, she was up for best supporting actress for her role in Atonement when she was just 13. 

    She is currently up against Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Charlize Theron (Bombshell) and Renée Zellweger (Judy) for the best actress honor.

  • Gerwig Wanted Pugh to Play Amy After Seeing Her in 'Lady Macbeth'

    Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

    Before Gerwig cast Pugh in Little Women, she was introduced to Pugh through her performance as the insubordinate young lady of the house in 2017's Lady Macbeth.

    "I was struck by her confidence, solidness in her own person and her own art. She's so young, but she's also so incredibly sure in her skin. Not to mention, she's wildly talented," Gerwig said of her first meeting with Pugh.

    While Gerwig felt that Pugh was the best choice to play Amy, she had to convince Sony that the relatively new actress had what it took to work alongside the well-known cast. "I had her put herself on tape so that I could prove to everyone at the studio that she was who I knew her to be: a stone-cold movie star as well as a top-notch actress," Gerwig said. "The tape she delivered was essentially the performance she gave as Amy. She had figured it out entirely."

  • The Costume Designer Was Inspired by Paintings

    Wilson Webb

    Durran, who is nominated for best costume design, looked to the vivid works of Massachusetts painter Winslow Homer and the soft portraitures of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron to find inspiration for the March family members' outfits.

    Gerwig noted that Durran should consider that Amy, Jo, Beth and Meg "lived in genteel poverty" when creating their ensembles.

    Character-defining contrasts and color palettes were created for each sister. The costume designer used a fiery red and indigo blue palette for the energetic and creative tomboy Jo, who was ultimately dressed in corset-free clothes that she could easily move in. "Her evening dress for a party was as plain as it could be and undecorated and even that feels too much for her, as she can't wait to pull it off," explained Durran.

    As the most image-conscious of the sisters, Durran chose for Amy to wear light blue and rich tones. "She had the boldest costumes as she was the most open, showiest and would make the biggest statement in the group," Durran said.

  • 'Little Women' is the Third Best Picture Nominee Written, Directed and Produced by Women

    Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

    Little Women is the third best picture Oscar nominee written, directed and produced by women. Prior to the 2019 film's nominations, Winter's Bone and The Piano were the only films with all-female teams to achieve this accomplishment.

    Pascal was surprised to learn the fact after the Oscar nominations were announced. "Are you kidding? That's crazy," she told THR. "It didn't feel any different than the other movies that I've produced, but it was a joy in every way. Women don't make movies differently than men. Contrary to popular belief."

    Pascal added that she was thrilled about the film’s six nominations. "I'm so proud of Greta. I'm so proud of Saoirse and Florence and Jacqueline and Alexandre. We've all been texting each other like crazy. I got all the 'woo-hoos' this morning."

    The producer also spoke about working with Gerwig and said that she had never been more inspired by a director. "Her brain is on fire constantly. Talking to her is like being on Wikipedia. She is firing on all cylinders at all times. She's incredibly well read. She knows everything about literature, theater, mathematics, geometry — I've never met anybody like that. She gets ideas and they spring out of her head and flower in a way that is truly exhilarating," said Pascal.

  • Gerwig Wanted Amy to Appear as Multidimensional in the Film

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    While Amy has been viewed by many as the least favorite March sister, Pugh told THR at the film's premiere that Gerwig wanted the character to be multidimensional in her adaptation.

    In the novel and film, Amy marries Jo's best friend and love interest, Laurie (Chalamet).

    "From the get-go, Greta wanted to create a reason for Amy to develop and to have a moment to explain herself and to become the woman that she is in the book," Pugh said. "Coming to that as an actor, that’s amazing. I had an opportunity to re-create how people feel about this character. For so many years and for so many adaptions, people have hated her because she's the person that burns the book and the girl that gets the guy. And it’s a wonderful moment to be given the opportunity to, I suppose, change the face of Amy."

  • Streep Inspired a Powerful Scene

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    Gerwig shared that a lunch conversation with Streep inspired the dialogue for an enlightening scene in Little Women.

    In the film, Amy delivers a powerful monologue to explain to Laurie how she is hindered by a woman's place in society. She tells him that she plans to marry for money because her husband would own everything she has and her children.

    "When I started working on this project, Meryl Streep did just tell me that she was going to be in it. Because she loves the book and she told me...'I'll be Aunt March.' She said, 'Write me some good lines.' I was like, 'I will,'" Gerwig said at the Teen Vogue Summit in Los Angeles in November. "We had a lunch and she said, 'This is what you have to communicate to the audience about the position of women, that they don't even own their own children. It's not just that they couldn't vote, it's not just that they didn't have jobs. They didn't own anything. If you wanted to leave a marriage, you could leave but you would leave with nothing, not even your kids. So it is the decision.' So I basically verbatim took that and gave that to Florence."

    Gerwig also recognized that the challenges women faced in the 1860s are still relevant today. "Although we're in a different position now, I think the disconnect between what Laurie sees as options and what [Amy] knows to be the truth of her life is just as true today," she said. "That chasm is something that needs to be bridged all the time."

  • The Production Design Team Wanted to Give the Film a "Small Town" Feel

    Wilson Webb

    While Little Women is set in Concord, Massachusetts, production took place in Harvard, Massachusetts. Production designer Jess Gonchor spoke to THR about how the production design team constructed additional buildings "inside and out" to resemble the Civil War-era setting of the novel.

    "This small town of Harvard was the perfect setting," explained Gonchor. "There was a big, empty lot on the street [where] I could build a few facades and use a town square that was already there and period correct to tie it all together. It was the perfect marriage of location and construction."

    Gonchor added that the team wanted a "small town" feel. "First, to contrast between the big city of New York [where an adult Jo March lives]. Second, to know that the girls had more than just the March home to grow up in to get the sense of community," he said. "One of the main things Greta and I wanted to do with this version of the film was to give it a wider scope and to create a world that had variety and possibilities."

  • Gerwig's Adaptation Brings 'Little Women's' Oscar Noms Tally to 14

    Photofest/Courtesy of Films

    The most recent adaptation of Alcott's novel earned six Oscar nominations, though previous iterations have taken home a few wins at the Academy Awards.

    The first feature-length adaptation of the beloved novel was a silent film released in 1918, while the second version, starring Katharine Hepburn, was released in 1933 and was the first to be nominated by the Academy. The movie earned nominations for best picture and best director, while the writers Victor Heerman and Sarah Y. Mason won for best adapted story. The win made Mason the second woman ever to win an Academy Award (the first was Frances Marion for best original story for 1930's The Big House).

    The 1949 version earned two nominations for cinematography and art decoration and won in the latter category.

    The next adaptation to earn Oscar buzz was the 1994 version, which was nominated for best costume design, music and actress in a leading role for Winona Ryder. The movie ultimately left the awards show empty-handed.