LOS ANGELES, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Following on the heels of her 2017 Golden Globe Award-winning feature Lady Bird, actor-writer-director Greta Gerwig returns to cinemas Christmas Day with Little Women, an adaptation of the 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel.
A revered classic to generations of readers, Gerwig's new adaptation of Women -- the eighth major film version to date -- stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, among others, with Gerwig serving as both writer and director.
Amy Pascal serves as producer, having also worked in a production capacity on the Gillian Armstrong-helmed 1994 version.
Following a recent press screening of Women in Los Angeles, both Pascal and Gerwig addressed an audience of Hollywood awards voters, sharing insights into the history of the production -- and the process by which this new version of Women was brought to the screen.
As Pascal explained, Gerwig's involvement with Women dates as far back as 2016, well in advance of her success with Lady Bird.
"Greta, who had not written any work at that time, barreled into my office and said, "I want to make Little Women for you guys, and I'm going to direct it,'" Pascal recalled.
"She had a different way of telling the story. She wanted to go back to the book, because the book is a lot more esoteric and complicated and satirical than has been portrayed in film."
Though Gerwig initially was assigned to write, it was not until her success with Lady Bird that Pascal began to seriously consider Gerwig as director for the project.
"We all saw Lady Bird and thought, 'Oh, yeah, she probably can do it.' She had a very clear idea about telling stories, and she also had a unique, interesting take on the material," Pascal said.
When it came to casting the project, Pascal and Gerwig said, a host of notable actors were anxious to sign on. Saoirse Ronan, who stars as Jo, and Meryl Streep, who plays Aunt March, were among the first to join the cast.
"Saoirse knew I was thinking about Little Women," Gerwig recalled. "And she tapped me on the shoulder one day, and said, 'I know you're working on Little Women. I'll be playing Jo. And I was like, 'Terrific.'"
Meryl Streep also signed on immediately.
"We didn't have to cast her because she just told us that she was going to do it," Pascal said. " She said, 'I'm going to play Aunt March. I'm going to play the battle-axe, and I'm going to be the voice of the movie. I'm going to be the practical one, who actually tells everybody what this movie is actually about.'"
Pascal said Gerwig told her the film is about money.
"The first line of the book is that Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," Pascal recalled. "It's so dreadful to be poor. And if you really study it, every motivation is about money, and it's about how impossible it is to be an artist if you're poor."
The novel's themes of poverty -- and the significance of marriage as an economic prospect for 19th-century women -- is a recurring theme of the film, with the topic most strongly embodied in the character of Meg, played by Emma Watson.
"It often feels like Meg gets married and has children, and that her story ends with marriage -- as if nothing happens after that," Gerwig said. "Yet, in the book, I found all these riches.
"She has a spending problem. She spends way too much money because she's really stressed out being home with the twins all day. I just felt like there was so much there to explore."
Pascal added: "It's a point of not having any money, and wishing for things, and sneaking behind your husband's back to buy them, and having to apologize.
"The interesting thing about Emma is that she's a pretty big feminist. And she wanted to play the part of Meg because she wanted to bring dignity to the part. Because that's a valid choice, too, when somebody falls in love and wants to be a mother."
In exploring the individual lives of the March sisters -- and the ways in which their lives intertwine -- Gerwig chose to employ a complex narrative of shifting timelines throughout the film's progression.
Pascal said Gerwig is a very determined person and knew how she wanted to tell the story.
"As young women, they are all filled with ambition, and all the things that we hope that we're going to be when we grow up and she wanted to tell the story of the adult versions of those characters and the young girls side by side," she said. "So that it was always about being infused by the young girl that you were."
Pascal also said that it was about the passage of time and how your memory works.
"Did something actually happen, or is it the way that you remembered it?" she asked rhetorically. "So the movie's actually quite a bit about how you remember things, and I thought that was a really beautiful way of telling the story."
Added Gerwig: "In the way I went about writing it, I felt that if I started in their adulthood, then their childhood could be this common language for all of us as women."
"I think that the world is still hard on ambitious women," Pascal said. "And Greta had a way of talking about the material that was really different. She wanted to make it about Louisa May Alcott. She always says that Jo March was her hero when she was a girl, and Louisa May Alcott was the girl as an adult. And she wanted to infuse the movie with who Louisa May Alcott was."
Added Gerwig: "One of the things that I discovered while I was researching Louise May Alcott is that, unlike Jo March who does get married and have children, Louisa May Alcott never got married. And she never had children. She was convinced that she needed to have Jo get married and have children in order to sell the book. But she never wanted that for her heroine. She wanted her to remain, as she called it, a literary spinster.
"The publishers convinced her that approach wouldn't sell. So she did it the other way. Part of what I wanted to do -- 150 years later -- was give her an ending she might have liked. And I thought, if we can't do this now, then we really made no progress and we should all hang our heads."
"I love this book," Gerwig said. "So many women love this book, and they know this book. I wanted to make something that worked for them -- that worked for everyone. I wanted to make something that could bring a new audience to the story. But, also if you know the story, I wanted to make something that could bring it to you in a new way."
Little Women opens in theaters Wednesday.