A new Little Women means it’s a good time to talk about old Little Womens, and there will never be a better time for an oral history of the 1994 version.
In advance of the upcoming Greta Gerwig adaptation, Ashley Spencer at the New York Times talked to the major players in the beloved 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. It is full of absolutely incredible details, like the fact that Reese Witherspoon was the leading candidate if they decided to have the same person for young and old Amy, and Hugh Grant could have been Professor Baer—as could John Turturro:
FRAZIER The only time I felt we’d gone off the rails was when somebody was talking about Hugh Grant to play Professor Bhaer [the older German tutor who courts Jo].
DI NOVI We all had a huge crush on Hugh. He sent in a self-tape, and he was actually quite good. But it was so important to us to be true to the book in terms of Professor’s Bhaer’s age and what he was like. Hugh was too stunningly beautiful. John Turturro lobbied very hard for that role, too.
Amy Pascal still remembers Claire Danes’s screen test—Beth’s death scene, prominently featuring Danes’s famous quivering chin—and also Danes’s hair caught fire at one point and was saved by a quick-witted Ryder. But the absolute best image is that of a screening room full of grown men absolutely wrecked because they were unprepared for Beth’s death. The studio guys who came to watch the rough cut were apparently surprised at how good the movie was, and also they cried, because that’s what you do—you cry when Beth dies:
ARMSTRONG Fifteen men in suits watched [the rough cut], and one of the most moving, memorable moments of my life was when the lights came up and they said, “We were dreading having to come and see this little girls’ film, but we loved it and we cried. We want to give you some more money.”
DI NOVI The funny thing about the movie in general was that men would cry and be so surprised. Women know that Beth dies, and are more prepared for it.
They weren’t ready.