'Little Women' Stars on How Classic Books, Madonna Inspired Performances

Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman's daughter, Maya, makes her acting debut in the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel, which also stars 'Big Little Lies' actress Kathryn Newton.
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Maya Hawke, Kathryn Newton and Heidi Thomas at the 'Little Women' premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival

Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman's daughter, Maya Hawke, is set to make her acting debut as Jo March in a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women. 

The three-part miniseries from PBS Masterpiece and Britain's BBC, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, also stars Big Little Lies' Kathryn Newton and is executive produced by Colin Callender and Rebecca Eaton. Heidi Thomas penned the latest version of the March sisters' coming-of-age story, with Vanessa Caswill serving as director. 

Hawke and Newton, who plays youngest sister Amy, were both on hand for a screening of the series' first episode at New York's SVA Theatre on Friday, April 27, where they talked with The Hollywood Reporter about how they got into the mind-set of their 19th-century characters.

“I think that every actor sort of has a different process, and there’s lots of things that really help -- like you read the books, and you read the books that the character would read," Hawke said. "I read the Bible, and I read…Emerson and Thoreau’s writing, and all sort of what would be happening in Louisa’s mind when she was writing Little Women and what Jo would be reading when she was a kid. I sort of tried to infuse my body with those ideas and thoughts, and that really helped me a lot.”

Hawke, who battled dyslexia as a child, was also inspired by Jo's efforts "to read and write the way she wanted."

Newton, meanwhile, listened to the music of her youth to embrace Amy's immaturity. “I actually listened to a lot of Gwen Stefani and Madonna -- 'Material Girl.' I listened to the things I listened to when I was 12," Newton said. "Because in the beginning of the novel, when Amy does her horrible thing that she does, she’s very young. As an actor it was a big challenge to always have my emotions on my fingertips. It really made me get connected to my inner child again.” 

She added, “At 12 years old, your heart is on your sleeve. You love everything, you dream really big. You don’t understand why people tell you ‘no.’ That’s what I loved about Amy -- she never really lets go of that."

Thomas, who had read Little Women multiple times over the years, developed a new appreciation for the March sisters' mother, Marmee, who's played by Emily Watson.

“To come back to the novel as a grown woman, I’m in my 50s now, I really appreciated the novel as if for the first time," she said. "I saw it through new eyes; I saw it through the eyes of a mother. That really opened up Marmee to me as a character.” She was less focused on the four sisters and saw the story as more about all of the female characters, including their mother.

Hawke, who's set to appear in the upcoming season of Stranger Things, revealed she sometimes reads lines with her parents and often seeks words of wisdom from them. She said, “I look to my parents for advice all the time, I would be stupid not to -- they have a lot of information.” 

Little Women premieres on PBS on Sunday, May 13.

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