Comparing the Casts of Little Women, Then & Now

Little Women stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet take over for Winona Ryder and Christian Bale from the beloved 1994 adaptation

By Tierney Bricker Dec 20, 2019 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Emma Watson Reveals Biggest "Harry Potter" Fan in "Little Women"

"I think every generation deserves their own Little Women."

That's what Winona Ryder, who played Jo March in the beloved 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, told The New York Times about the story of the four March sisters. And now, 25 years after her version became a surprise hit that went on to earn three Oscar nominations, audiences are being treated to a new generation, with a new cast of Oscar nominees and and rising stars taking on the roles of Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth.

Critically acclaimed writer and director Greta Gerwig, who earned an Oscar nomination for her debut film Lady Bird, is responsible for this new take on Little Women, which already earning rave reviews. The AP called it a "new classic," the BBC dubbed it a "triumph" and Slate said it was the best adaptation of the enduring 1868 novel. 

To pull off her modernized take on the beloved coming-of-age story, Greta—who told The Hollywood Reporter that LW as "just a part" of her, saying it was "the book" of her childhood—assembled a stacked cast, reuniting with two of her Lady Bird stars and bringing in the one and only Meryl, who holds the record for most Oscar nominations of any actor. 

Comparing the Casts of Little Women, Then & Now

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, here's how the 2019 cast compares to the 1994 version's line-up of the literary classic's characters...

Jo March

Then: "Columbia said, 'If you get Winona Ryder, we'll maybe consider it.'" That's what the studio said when they were pitched a Little Women adaptation, telling the filmmakers they would only greenlight the project if the It Girl of the moment, thanks to Edward Scissorhands and Heathers, would star. Fortunately for them, Winona grew up obsessed with the novel. 

Now: Two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse was the first March sister cast, reteaming her with her Lady Bird director. But when the project was first announced, Emma Stone was also attached to star, with no mention of which actress would play which role. 

But for Greta, pairing her Lady Bird muses Saoirse and Timothee again was essential, telling Entertainment Weekly, "There is some true pairing between them that feels like [it's] in the tradition of a great cinematic pairing. I don't know what they do—I mean, it's magic."

According to Saoirse, however, she asked for the role of Jo while promoting Lady Bird, telling THR, "I've never done this before, but I went up to her and aggressively tapped her on the shoulder and said, 'So I know you're doing Little Women. I really think that I should be Jo.'"

Classic Jo move, right?

Meg March

Then: Aside from her turn as Meg, Trini Alvarado is known for starring in Peter Jackson's horror film The Frighteners, which has since gone on to become a cult classic, and in The Christmas Tree, Sally Field's directorial debut. Before Trini was cast, the filmmakers were interested i n Mary Louise Parker for the part "but there was a sense that we wanted someone who felt less edgy," writer Robin Swicord told the New York Times.

Now: Harry Potter star takes on the role of the eldest March sister after Emma Stone dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with her promotional duties for The Favourite. Emma's social activism inspired the updated version of the very proper character for Greta. 

"Meg March is a character that is long misunderstood," the writer and director explained to EW of Meg, the first March sister to get married. "In terms of what [Watson] did with the character, she has so much open-heartedness and so much love combined with that much intelligence, it's heartbreaking and potent."

Amy March

Then: Fresh off of her scene-stealing turn in Interview With a Vampire, a then 11-year-old Kirsten Dunst played the younger version of the talented painter. Also up for the role were Christina Ricci, Thora Birch and Natalie Portman, but Armstrong told the Times, "Kirsten Dunst really blew [other Young Amy candidates] out of the water."

Samantha Mathis, who is now the vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, took over the Amy duties after the seven-year time jump, though producers initially envisioned Reese Witherspoon in the role of the youngest March sister.

Now: With Little Women and the highly anticipated Black Widow standalone movie, Florence is poised to be the breakout star of 2020 (with help from Midsommar, the sleeper hit of the summer). In LW, the 23-year-old plays youngest sister at both ages. 

"My favorite thing is that everything she gave me was gold and I knew it," Greta said of Florence's work. "For me, it was this present I got every day on set."

Beth March

Then: The Homeland star's turn as the musically-inclined Beth came at the same time as her breakout performance in My So-Called Life, her TV series that ran for just one perfect season. Little Women was her feature film debut and she reportedly beat out Alicia Silverstone for the part. "I'd never done a feature film before," Claire told the Times. "This felt like a beginning for me."

Now: The last of the March sisters to be cast, Gerwig found her sweet-natured and compassionate Beth in the 20-year-old Sharp Objects scenestealer. 

Marmee March

Then: Susan Sarandon was the first actress the filmmakers had in mind for the part, which she took under one condition: it didn't keep her away from her young children, who were in school. "I had a pretty strict policy about not leaving my young kids," she said. "But they worked it out."

Now: In addition to earning rave reviews for her turn as the kind and compassionate March matriarch, Laura Dern's incredible 2019 run includes a nominated supporting role in Marriage Story and stealing every scene she was in in Big Little Lies season two. And Laura quickly became a real-life mother figure to her four onscreen daughters while filming the movie. 

"Off-set, every single one of the girls actually did come to Laura with their heartaches and their problems," Greta told EW. "Everybody had a good cry with Laura...she was a rock for everyone."


Then: Thanks to Newsies, Christian Bale was one of the hottest actors of his generation when he joined the cast of the 1994 LW, the first choice for Theodore Laurence aka Laurie. (Fun fact: he reportedly met his wife Sibi Blazic on the set, as she was working as Winona's assistant.)

"He and I were very, very close," Winona told the Times. "We had kind of that Jo and Laurie dynamic, but without romance or unspoken feelings."

Now: Internet Boyfriend of the moment Timothee Chalamet reteams with his Lady Bird director and leading lady as Laurie, Jo's neighbor-turned-best friend who's in love with her. And for Greta, Timmy was her Laurie from the start.

"He was always the person to play this part for me because has that—he's beautiful," she said during a Teen Vogue Summit panel. "He's handsome, but he's also beautiful. To me, he was always the Laurie."

Friedrich Bhaer

Then: Before Gabriel Byrne, 21 years Winona's senior, was cast as Jo's German tutor love interest, Hugh Grant was in talks for the part and John Turturro "lobbied" for the role as well, according to producer Denise Di Novi. 

"We all had a huge crush on Hugh. He sent in a self-tape, and he was actually quite good," Di Novi recalled. "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."

Now: The French actor and filmmaker Louis Garrel, 36, plays an aged down version of the professor who (centuries old spoiler alert!) becomes Jo's husband.

John Brooke

Then: The same year the Some Kind of Wonderful leading man appeared on Pulp Fiction, he played Laurie's tutor-turned-Meg's devoted paramour and he actively purposed the small but important role. 

"I'd read the book and Robin's script, and I told them I'd do anything," he told the Times. "Even though the Mr. Brooke role wasn't large, everything about it felt right."

Now: British actor James Norton, known for his turns in the War & Peace miniseries and Granchester, plays the impoverished but passionate suitor opposite Emma. 

Mr. March

Then: Canadian actor Matthew Walker is best known for his turn as the March family patriarch who is gone for most of the film, fighting in the war.

Now: Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk takes on the fatherly duties in Gerwig's version.

Mr. Laurence

Then: Well-known for starring in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, John Neville, a theater actor, went on to  play a pivotal role in The X-Files after playing Mr. Laurence, Laurie's grandfather and the March family's wealthy neighbor. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 86. 

Now: The Oscar-winning Chris Cooper not only appears in Little Women as Laurie's kind grandfather who forms a deep bond with the ill Beth, but he also stars in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, another awards season contender. 

Aunt March

Then: Mary Wickes, who also starred in the Sister Act films and had over 50 years' worth of supporting roles on her resume, sadly passed away the year after playing the March sisters' wealthy (and unmarried) aunt. 

Now: With her comedic supporting turn as Aunt March, Streep reunited with her Big Little Lies co-star as her sister-in-law.  

"When I started working on this project, Meryl Streep did just tell me that she was going to be in it. Because she loves the book and she told me...'I'll be Aunt March,'" Greta recalled at the Teen Vogue Summit. "She said, 'Write me some good lines.' I was like, 'I will.'"

Little Women hits theaters on Christmas Day.