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Saoirse Ronan: Playing Jo March In 'Little Women' Was A Confidence Boost

Saoirse Ronan plays Jo March in Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's <em>Little Women. "</em>The only people that I really envy, I think, are kids because they have the best of everything," Ronan says.

As she played the role of Jo March in the new film adaptation of Little Women,Saoirse Ronan started to appreciate just how much the story is about memory and childhood.

Louisa May Alcott's novel follows four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, growing up during the Civil War. Their father has gone off to fight for the Union Army and they're at home with their mother, Marmee.

Little Women is "shining a light on childhood memories and how we are so desperate to hold onto them," Ronan says. "And I think that there's a sort of sadness that comes with getting older and leaving that behind."

The story is also about pursuing one's destiny; Jo refuses to act "like a lady," she wears pants instead of dresses, she doesn't want to get married. She wants to make a living as a writer, which is a tough thing to pull off in a time where women don't really earn their own money.

But Ronan believes that themes of family and memory help this 150-year-old story feel timeless.

"There's moments near the end of the movie where they realize that lovely little bubble that they were in for years that Marmee created for them kind of isn't there anymore — and that's just kind of part of life," Ronan says.


Interview Highlights

On how playing Jo helped her loosen up

I really am a perfectionist and just physically to be able to sort of mess up this character a bit was really great for me — to be so animated, to gesticulate as much as I did, to shout, to make, like, sort of odd facial expressions and be as expressive as I wanted to and not worry about it. I don't think I really had the confidence to do that before.

On the myth of girls being "put together" and "poised"

They're so similar to the way boys are, I think, when they're in this sort of pack. That's the way I've always been with my girlfriends. And so that's a very natural dynamic, I think, for girls to have, especially when they're sisters.

On Amy wanting to create art and marry rich, and Jo not wanting to marry at all

[Amy] says, "I want to be the best or I want to be nothing." But she's like, this is something that I have to consider: Any material that I produce, any children that I produce, they don't belong to me. So I need to marry well. ...

What I love about Little Women and what I love about all the girls is that, especially with Amy and Meg, they take control of their destiny and in a different way. ... I think Jo is obviously a very relatable woman to people now: There's a lot of girls out there that are very similar to Jo March. But I think it's also just as empowering and just as interesting to see a character like Amy that's like, no, I'm going to marry and I'm going to make it work for me.

On women working, then and now

In this day and age, for men and women, there is a lot of pressure to not only get a job like our parents did, but find your career and, like, really figure out who you are and to be your authentic self 100 percent of the time. But I also think that what has come with that is agency and independence. And [young women] can flourish, maybe in a way that women weren't given the opportunity to back then.

I'd imagine, for someone like Louisa, there must have been so much frustration that ... there's so many battles that you have to face as well as just doing your job, you know? And I think that's something that people still face now.

Victoria Whitley-Berry and Denise Couture produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.