Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
When people try to pick a favorite character in Louisa May Alcott’s iconic novel, Little Women, there’s usually a pretty common theme. Everybody wants to be Jo.
Jo: A castle in the air is a place where you go to dream, Laurie Laurence. This garet is a chamber of industry. Page 156.
Jace: And why wouldn’t you want to be the strong-willed, sharp-witted, second-oldest March daughter? She’s perhaps the most fully drawn of the four March sisters, and she lives the most modern and independent life of any of the characters at the heart of the book. Of course, for some readers, the dashing boy next door, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, might be the most interesting — or appealing — character in Concord. An honorary member of the March family, Laurie is able to pursue educational opportunities unavailable to the March women.
Jo: You have a tutor?
Laurie: My grandfather insisted. He wants me to go to Harvard, but my grades aren’t what they need to be.
Jace: In the new MASTERPIECE adaptation of Little Women, talented young actors Maya Hawke and Jonah Hauer-King play Jo and Laurie, respectively, and they joined us in conversation to talk about what it felt like to bring new life to such dearly beloved characters.
Jace: And this week we are joined by Little Women stars Maya Hawke and Jonah Hauer-King. Welcome!
Jonah: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Jace: Now Maya, I had read that you are dyslexic.
Maya: I am.
Jace: And Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was the first book you read yourself, cover-to-cover.
Maya: Cover-to-cover, by myself where I read all the words on the page. I’d done some audio book listening. I’ve been read a lot of books, and I’d half-read, and lied, about a lot of books. Meaning that I read five pages of them, and was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t like that one.’ But yeah, Little Women was the first book that I really read.
Jace: And what did it mean to you as as a book, and as your first book?
Maya: As the first book that I read, the reason I think I got through it and was inspired to get through it is because I was inspired by Jo’s determination — by her hunger and her fervor for language, how viscerally she felt stories and felt language. I really was inspired to make it through the book because I love language, too, and I love storytelling and her love and her perseverance inspired me to persevere.
Jace: Now how familiar were you, Jonah, with the book?
Jonah: I hadn’t read it. I had not read it which is a shame because I’ve since read it, obviously, in preparation for this, and there seems to be a common theme that this is a book that’s read by a lot girls and women and not as much by boys and men. And I really hope that this series will inspire more boys and men to read it, because there’s so much to be enjoyed and learned from. If it’s a story about goodness and friendship love and tolerance and all of those things, those are all part of the human experience and the human condition. And just because they’re being experienced by four young women shouldn’t alienate a boy or a man. And so I really encourage people, and I think we should encourage boys to be reading it.
Maya: I just read the other day in the New York Times Book Review, Francis Ford Coppola was the featured artist — they like pick one person in New York Times Book Review to talk about the books they’ve been reading and what’s on their nightstand and what they’ve been thinking about lately to sort of put into context the new books that have been published, and the book that Francis Ford Coppola said he had just read was Little Women.
Jace: That’s great.
Maya: And it was the book that he said had most sort of influenced him this year, and broadened his thinking the most and that it had sort of given him kind of a Buddhist sort of hopeful, spiritual experience. And so I was really happy to read that, because that’s a full on grown-up man reading it for the first time.
Jace: Moving from the novel to Heidi Thomas’s script. What was your reaction upon reading the script, what did you make of Heidi’s adaptation?
Jonah: I think what she has done very beautifully and what was also then supported by Vanessa’s direction, is that it feels incredibly close and truthful to the book itself, but also feels very contemporary. But I don’t think that that’s that contemporary feeling has been sort of magicked out of anywhere. I think it’s because it’s very much in the book. I think that’s partly because Louisa May Alcott was ahead of her time, and was modern. And I also think it’s because a lot of the things that the teenagers are experiencing like falling in love and friendship and how they feel jealousy and anger and passion, those are all quite timeless, and they are things that we as teenagers feel now. And Heidi tread a really beautiful line between making these characters feel relatable and close to ourselves, whilst also being in keeping with the period.
Maya: Yeah and I also think the wonderful thing about Heidi’s adaptation is that in a lot of the other adaptations, because they have more limited time, the story really became Jo’s story. And in this one, it really is much better balanced. We really get to see all the ways that the different sisters grow and conquer their bosom enemies and change and find themselves and don’t and make mistakes. It’s a much more ensemble piece.
Jo: Got them!
Meg: Jo, those are the kitchen scissors!
Jo: They’re goo and sharp.
Beth: Please don’t make me be the first.
Jo: No…Amy’s first.
Amy: If I must make the sacrament, I do it gladly. But you dare take more than a half inch!
Jace: Now I heard you begged to audition for the role of Jo.
Maya: Yeah I did.
Jace: After initially going on for the part of Meg.
Jace: What is it about the character of Jo that has resonated with you for so long?
Maya: I think two things kind of, basically both sides of her personality, which is the parts of her that make her strong are things that I wish that I was and I want to be. Determined, brave, unencumbered, creative, she’s very productive and she gets things done and she knows she sits in her garrett and she’s like, ‘I won’t talk to you, Laurie, until I finish this story,’ and I don’t think there’s ever been a day in my life where I’ve decided I wanted to work more than I want to talk to a cute boy. So that part of her I really admire and have seen aspects of myself and have always wanted to be more of. And then there was another side of her personality which is that she has a temper, and she’s clumsy, and she sometimes puts her foot her mouth and gets herself into a situation that she doesn’t want to be in or misses out on an opportunity because she can’t contain herself. She can’t behave the way she’s supposed to behave. She can’t make herself small to fit in. And that’s something that I’ve always really connected to, and related to. So those two sides of her personality really inspired me both to grow and also to like, have forgiveness and love for myself.
Jace: When you mentioned missing out on opportunities, you dropped out of Julliard…
Maya: I did.
Jace: To take on the role of Jo in Little Women, which seems to me like something Jo herself might do.
Maya: Might do, yeah, maybe.
Jace: Did that irony crossed your mind at the time that this was sort of the most Jo thing that you could do in playing Jo?
Maya: I mean I don’t know if it’s the most Jo thing that I could, do because Jo really longs for an education. I mean she she looks at Laurie with a lot of jealousy when his relationship to college, and the fact that he gets to go, and she always says, if she were a boy she would like get on a boat and sail away or go to college and learn as much as she can. But she is very impulsive and she is very passion-driven. And so I think that she might have done that. And she especially as if there was something she loved as much as I love Little Women and as much as I love acting, I can’t imagine that any expectation or institution could have held her back from that. But that said, studying at Juilliard is the most exceptional educational opportunity I’ve ever had in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful for it or recommend it more highly to anyone who wants to be an actor.
Jace: Jonah, for a lot of female readers, Laurie Laurence represents an ideal. Did you have any trepidation about stepping into those rather daunting shoes?
Jonah: I see that up to a point, in that he’s so full of love and warmth and in the book he’s described as being very dashing, but I think what’s interesting to Laurie, and probably what I found most challenging about doing it is not so much rying to enter the world of the ideal, but trying to make sense of the fact that this is a young boy who is an orphan and who then went to an all-boys boarding school and he lives with his grandfather and has not had really any female presence in his life, and trying to somehow assimilate the fact that he’s so vibrant and full of life and kindness. But then also having such a deep sadness and grief, and I think that was probably the most daunting part of it, rather than just you know trying to be a very sort of well-spoken and good looking Laurie Laurence.
Jace: So when they meet in this first episode, Laurie is sort of lonely staying at his grandfather’s house. He meets Jo, who seems sort of vivacious and there are instantly sort of platonic, non-platonic sparks. What do they represent to each other in this first episode?
Jonah: I think the family in general, but Jo most of all represents something that Laurie has been missing in broad terms — it’s a female presence. But I also think it’s about friendship, and about being able to be himself and being able to be a teenager. He went to a boys boarding school, which I think wasn’t the best environment for you to express yourself. And at the beginning of the story he’s living with his grandfather who as well is not inclined to encouraging him to express himself and play piano and create music ,which is what he most wants to do. And so I think interestingly though Jo is a bit jealous of a lot of Laurie has, I think Laurie is a bit jealous of Jo and he feels that she is somehow more free, interestingly, more free to express herself, more free to be creative and to play. I don’t know if Laurie has ever played before.
Maya: Yeah, I think that Laurie to Jo is very emblematic of what she wants to be, and what she wishes she could be, and…And also Laurie gives her permission to be that. In Lori’s company, Jo is productive and feisty and brave and is allowed to be who she is which is why I think it feels like such a betrayal when he asks her not to be. It’s a true friend full of all the complications of true friendship and all of the wonderful blessings.
Jace: What was it like up acting opposite each other, and what did each of sort you bring to the scene?
Maya: It was really hard.
Jonah: It was really hard.
Maya: Yeah yeah. Not a lot to play off. Just…Yeah, I know, no chemistry.
Jonah: Next question…It’s annoying that Maya’s here. So she has to hear this.
Jonah: But Maya, as you may or may not know, this is her first professional job, and I remember before we started, her really genuinely asking me for help and advice of you know, ‘What happens when the camera rolls and what where do I stand, will they tell me what to do?’ And as soon as we started filming, it came so naturally to her and she was so comfortable and felt so experienced, she felt like one of the wisest, most experienced souls on the set. And I felt like I learned so much from her. And felt it was really kind of joyful whenever I knew I was doing things with her that day I was massively looked forward them, and they were some of my favorite experiences. Okay. Uncover your ears.
Maya: I’m gonna pretend like I didn’t hear any of that because if I had heard it my heart and mind would have just totally exploded and fallen onto the floor. But I couldn’t agree more with the last part of what you said, which is that when every morning I would see the call sheet or every night I would get the call sheet and I would look and see that we had a scene together, I would be very happy and very excited to come and play with you, because whenever we were acting scenes together, it all felt a lot like play. When they did a little like blooper reel at the end where we got to see some little clips about funny things that happened that onset while they were rolling, and basically the whole blooper reel is Jonah and I making eye contact and laughing.
Maya: It was only us.
Jonah: It was only us. They said it was a blooper reel, but it was really just Maya and Jonah messing around.
Maya: Yeah, mostly just like looking each other trying to start a scene together and then going, ‘Hahahahaha!’ And we just had a lot of fun together. And not only was like in the beginning Jonah a great like resource and help because of his experience. And he was also just very flexible and open scene partner. So you know sometimes we’d have hard scenes to do together where we you know we would be on a slightly different page than the director, different page from each other, and we were just like look into each other’s eyes. And then for like a minute after they called action, and then go into it and it always made me feel like safe and grounded and like I was free to make mistakes, and free to succeed and it really gave me permission to try to be my best self. And I tried to do the same. And I couldn’t have wished for a better scene partner, and a better friend.
Jace: I did read that you tortured him mercilessly on set.
Maya: I did say that in a Q and A, torture might be a strong word.
Jace: I mean it does beg the question, what exactly did this torture consist of?
Maya: Oh just mockery.
Jonah: Just healthy mockery.
Maya: We all just so much fun together, teasing each other and playing and laughing.
Jonah: And it was like any good friendship involved a lot of making fun of each other and and laughing at each other and with each other. I didn’t feel torchered. I had I felt so you know that it’s not necessarily an easy thing to be the only boy into a group of many women and I couldn’t have been made to feel more comfortable and included as part of the family and the whole dynamic was it was kind of amazing.
Maya: We really became a family really quickly. I mean, like we, you know, like we all became brothers and sisters. We lived in the same hotel. We played music together every night we danced every day at lunch. We talked for hours and we had dinner together every night. We hung out every weekend. I mean it was like two and a half months of like a real bonding experience where we really became each other’s family, and family loves each other and teases each other and is honest with each other, and we talked about the silliest, most trivial things and the deepest most personal secrets. And so it was just…I was mostly kidding when I said that. But but we did have a really diverse experience.
Jace: Now I want to talk about the scene where Amy goes crashing through the ice and Jo and Laurie have to save her.
Amy: We’re supposed to be trying to be good people. And you, Jo March, aren’t going to get anywhere when you ignore someone who’s trying to set a virtuous example.
Laurie: Amy! Amy! Jo, stop, you can’t walk on it, it’s too thin.
Jo: She didn’t know. You told me and I didn’t tell her, she didn’t know!
Jace: What was it like filming the scene, particularly as it was shot in Ireland in the summertime and not during the winter?
Jonah: Well there’s a lot of movie magic going on. Kathryn who plays Amy did really get into very cold water and she was a real trooper. And it was an intense day because there was so much to get done. And it’s
Maya: It was the only scene we filmed all day.
Jonah: Yeah, yeah yeah, yeah, exactly. And I remember everyone — crew, cast — feeling quite daunted at the beginning of it and feeling hugely relieved and accomplished by the end of the day as well. There were lots of trickery, in terms of how we ice skated, and what we ice skated on, and how we created a lake, which I won’t reveal.
Maya: Yeah. Why not? Why reveal it? But we will say that we did it in preparation for the ice skating scene. Get to have some amazing lessons with a professional Irish hockey team.
Jonah: We met this one guy who was going to teach us, and it turned out that about five of them showed up, because I think all of them were just really curious and fascinated to see what was going on. And so we all had we have like two teachers each, and it was kind of ridiculous. I’ve stayed in touch with one of them.
Maya: You stay in touch with everybody, makes a person really not feel very special.
Jonah: He sends me messages, saying ‘What’s up man?’ and I send him one back saying, ‘I’m great. How are you? How’s the skating?’ No, they were really fun.
Maya: They were so fun.
Jonah: That was that’s one of the one of the pretty fun and silly things about acting that you get to know these different skills.
Jonah: And this one this job in particular was great for that. I got to learn horse rides and I got to learn how to row. So it was quite a good good job from my tool set.
Maya: We had one lesson. It was just the two of us, and we were like super relaxed and calm and it was really chill. And then one lesson where Kathryn came with us, who plays Amy, and it became a vicious battle to the death.
Jonah: Very violent.
Jonah: At one point. Kathryn sort of rugby tackled me. I don’t know what that was about. Yeah, it was fun
Maya: Yeah it was great.
Jace: Do you have a favorite moment from this first episode of Little Women?
Maya: My favorite scene that I remember acting in from this first episode is definitely the scene where Amy burns Jo’s book, and not when she does it, but the scene where I find out that she does it. That was a really like fresh scene. It was one of the first scenes we filmed, where I was like oh like something is happening in the room, like we’re getting close to telling some kind of human truths like we’re all reacting honestly here and building something real. It was really exciting. Kathryn’s a really fun actor to work with. She’s has more talent in her little finger than most people do in their whole body. And so that was a real fun thing.
Jo: Amy, did you burn my book?
Amy: I said I’d make you pay for being so hateful and I have.
Marmee: Girls! Jo!
Jo: You wicked, wicked girl, I will never write again. And I’ll never forgive you as long as I live.
Marmee: Jo, stop, stop!
Jo: Why should I, It’s too late to stop her!
Jonah: My favorite moment in the actual episode not that I’m involved in the end it’s about what we spoke about when Joe reveals her that her hair was gone. I found incredibly powerful and really moving. I just remember being so affected by it because Maya is really brilliant in it and it’s just really kind of complicated part of the story.
Jace: Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
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Jace: The scene where Jo sells her hair her one beauty. In order to raise money for Marmee to travel to Washington it is heartbreaking. How much of a sacrifice is this for her, and what does it say about her character?
Maya: I think it’s two things. I think that it’s both a sacrifice, because it is what everyone says is her one beauty. And it is you know in a time your hair is really important as a woman. You always keep it long. The hairstyle she gets, though it does look chic on me, is not a popular hairstyle of the time at all. And so it’s a it’s a big sacrifice and it illustrates. Jo’s sort of like feisty and quick decision making. Like she just looks in the window and she sees that there is a wig maker and she’s like that’s how many to get the money that’s how I’m going to help my. Whatever I have to do I need to be the man of the house. And but also I think that Joe feels very oppressed by the weight of womanhood, by the tightness of her corset by the weight of her petticoats, by the length of her hair. I don’t think Jo wants to be beautiful or cares about being beautiful, and so to chop off her one beauty. I think she also feels proud of it.
Jonah: I think she kind of revels in it.
Maya: She’s like…yeah.
Jonah: It’s opportunity for her to kind of throw that off.
Maya: Exactly And to embrace her freedom and her boyishness and to say goodbye. You think I’m pretty because of my hair? Like let me show you what I am. I’m not my hair. I’m not pretty. I’m so much more than that. I think that scene was a very fun and complicated one to act because I both where she takes off her hat and her sisters see it because they both wanted to show what a big deal it was and how hard it is to have your family be so disappointed and proud at the same time. And also how proud she is, how excited she is, and how good she feels. Because I think she does feel good.
Jace: How would you describe her relationship with Marmee? And what does Jo see in her own mother about her future?
Maya: I think Jo’s relationship with Marmee is really special. I think Marmee is a real confidant of Jo’s. I think Jo feels like she can show her worst self to Marmee, like her most vulnerable pieces the parts of herself she’s the most embarrassed about? She can be real with Marmee? I think it’s really Laurie and Marmee that Jo feels most comfortable being herself around. And I also think Marmee exposes a lot of her vulnerabilities to Jo. There are a lot of scenes that Marmee actually leans on Joe and I think that that balance of how to be a parent and to be infallible and strong and dependable and how to also expose your children to the fact that you also are vulnerable. You also have weaknesses, you also have anger and pain and that that actually forgives them theirs, gives them permission to also have those experiences — they’re not imperfect, they’re just like you. And that’s also a wonderful gift you can give your kids. And so I think that the relationship with Marmee is one that brings Jo a lot of healing and a lot of love. I don’t think that Jo wants to be like Marmee or wants to grow up to be like Marmee. But I also don’t think she looks down on Marmee. I think she admires Marmee and worships her and wishes in some ways that she could be like her but know’s fundamentally that she’s a different kind of person and needs to follow her instincts and her her true self to fruition.
Jace: Now, playing Laurie Laurence has you working alongside not only the great Maya Hawke but also Sir Michael Gambon who plays Laurie’s grandfather. What did you learn from your time with Sir Michael?
Jonah: I spent all in all, not that much time with Michael. But what I did learn so much and so quickly, is so much I think about what it is to be on set and what it is to be a gracious actor and gracious person on set. I think we all know what a exceptional actor he is, and he didn’t disappoint. But what really struck me was how warm and kind and how interested he was in everyone around him, despite the fact that people were only interested in him and they didn’t want to talk about themselves. But he would constantly ask questions. And you know , on the one hand he told us stories and I learned from the way he moved and the way he spoke and studying his every facial expression.
Maya: Oh, his voice.
Jonah: But what was kind of even more fascinating and sort of exhilarating was just seeing a nice human being, is and how he treats people. That was something that was really inspiring, and something that I want to take with me through my life in all aspect of my life. He was such a good person and we are when we also, we got a lot of that from Angela, too. Again, she’s such a great, and to watch her was such a privilege but seeing her and how she interacted with those around her was really special, and kind of life-affirming as well. They were both magnificent people.
Jace: Now Maya, you are the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
Maya: Are you sure?
Jace: Making you essentially Hollywood royalty. You’ve said, ‘Both my parents think being a professional child actor is poisonous.’
Maya: Oh I did say that, I know.
Jace: What did they make of your plans to follow in their footsteps?
Maya: So, so let me just say a lot of things about that, one of which is, poisonous is a very strong word. They didn’t recommend that I go into acting before I graduated high school, because they think that the experience of being with your own peer group and learning about different kinds of things, and being relatively anonymous and free to make mistakes and to learn is a really important part of childhood, and that often the overexposure of young child actors and the over-praise can be a really difficult thing to cope with. And they both dealt with it in their own ways, my dad started acting when he was about 12 or 13, and my mom when she was 15 or 16. And they both have dealt with that exposure early on and not actually as extremely as some people do. They really got into their stride in their mid-20s. But they both really recommended that I be patient and that I take my time, and I’m really grateful to them for that. I think that being relatively as much as possible sheltered from the public eye and left to make my own choices and my own mistakes in my own bubble and in my own real world and with my own peer group was a really wonderful gift that I was given. And so and I am not now a child actor. I did my first job two days afterI turned 19 so that’s like that’s like basically almost a grownup. I feel really lucky about that. And then since I took my time, I feel really ready. And I feel for the good and the bad of what this art and craft and industry has to offer, and my parents are really supportive of me.
Jace: Which is all you can ask for.
Maya: Which is all you can ask for.
Jace: And Jonah what about you? I mean your father is a very well-known restaurateur. What did what did your parents make of your desire to enter the entertainment industry?
Jonah: My dad, through his work, has a lot of friends are actors. My mum for a long time in documentary films she doesn’t anymore. So they were both connected to the industry and I think in some ways were discouraging at the beginning because they knew what it meant, and I think they were more discouraging not because it was a bad profession, but they wanted to be sure that it was actually what I wanted to do. And as soon as I was completely set in my mind, they really couldn’t have been more supportive. I went to university after I left school which was a really wonderful experience. And I think quite a grounding thing. But yeah they were quite keen for me to do that but aside from that they have been nothing other than supportive and generous and really yeah quite proud that I have chosen to take this career on because it’s not the easiest in the world and you make yourself vulnerable and so it’s it’s a career that is so full of up and downs and so full of uncertainty. And I’m very happy that I have them to lean on and to rely on, because of its craziness.
Jace: Do you have an actor’s career in mind who you would love to emulate?
Maya: Jack Nicholson.
Jace: Love that.
Jonah: Judi Dench.
Maya: Hey! Way to go, cool answer.
Jace: What do you hope that viewers take away from Little Women?
Jonah: I hope that they take away some of the lessons that I learned from the book, some of the lessons and some of the themes that we’ve been talking about, about trying to be the best versions of ourselves and not punishing ourselves when we fail that. And I hope they find it funny and are moved by it, and find it powerful and love those characters as much as we loved them.
Maya: My favorite kinds of movies are our movies and television that remind you how much magic and beauty is available to you in your own life. So many films are about how much sorrow and devastation is available on this earth and so much is about things that you never have access to. Like superpowers and magic and wizard worlds and alien planets and my favorite kind of stories are really ones that remind you about the magic of art and the magic of nature and the magic of love and and family and how much powerful potency and joy is available to us and even in grief even in loss those feelings come from places of love come from. You know feelings that feel feel beautiful to have in our bodies. And so I really hope that people are reminded to enjoy their life. I hope that they kiss their girlfriends and and tell their mom that they love them and go look at a waterfall and a tree and the sky and appreciate all the beauty.
Jace: Now let’s pretend we live in a world where we don’t know what is going to happen in LIttle Women, and we have no idea what can you tease about what’s coming up in these next two hours?
Maya: A cream glove.
Jonah: A hair piece for Laurie.
Maya: A sunflower.
Jonah: A very nice cream suit.
Maya: Oh a wonderful, some wonderful piano,
Jonah: a brilliantly bearded man that Jo meets.
Maya: A very funny scene outside of a party with Jonah and Willa.
Jonah: Involving champagne and ice cream.
Maya: My favorite scene in the whole thing. They’re very funny in it.
Jonah: And then lots of sadness and grief and loss.
Jace: Maya Hake and Jonah Hauer-King, thank you so very much.
Maya: Thank you.
Jonah: Thank you, thanks for having us.
Jace: If you stuck around on MASTERPIECE after Little Women, you likely have more than a few questions about the dramatic season two finale of Unforgotten. As the case unravels, Cassie Stuart and Sunny Khan are placed in a terrible moral quandary. In a special bonus episode of MASTERPIECE Studio, actors Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar join us to look back at a wild episode, as well as anticipate the upcoming third season of Unforgotten.
Nicola Walker: I see the end as something surprisingly realistic and pretty subversive of Chris to have written for a TV drama. And I was really surprised when I read it.
Jace: That’s Wednesday, May 15, right here in your podcast feeds. And next Sunday, May 20, actors Annes Elwy and Willa Fitzgerald — Little Women’s Beth and Meg — join us to look at the Little Women finale, after the special 8 PM Eastern / 7 PM central broadcast time. Don’t miss it!
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