The women-take-charge, narcissistic attitude has become increasingly prevalent in films, and writer-director Whit Stillman is the latest filmmaker to take part in the trend. His new comedy ‘Damsels in Distress,’ which is now playing in select theaters, isn’t afraid to present its female leads as smarter than their male counter-parts. The women are also classier than the men, in a school where male barbarism is still in effect, decades after coeducation was implemented on American college campuses.
‘Damsels in Distress’ follows a trio of girls-dynamic leader Violet (played by Greta Gerwig), principled Rose (portrayed by Megalyn Echikunwoke) and sexy Heather (played by Carrie MacLemore)-as they set out to revolutionize life at their gungy East Coast college, Seven Oaks. They decide to take a new transfer student, Lily (played by Analeight Tipton), under their wing as they set out to also help depressed students at the school’s suicide prevention center, which they run. In the process, the girls must also cope with the men they’ve become entangled with, including slick Charlie (portrayed by Adam Brody), the seemingly romantic Xavier (played by Hugo Becker) and frat boys Frank (portrayed by Ryan Metcalf) and Thor (portrayed by Billy Magnussen).
Echikunwoke and MacLemore generously took the time to discuss ‘Damsels in Distress’ with us during a roundtable interview at New York City’s Regency Hotel. The two actresses spoke about, amongst other things, what they think of the new trend in independent female lead characters, and what it was like working together on the independent film.
Written by: Karen Benardello
Question (Q): How did you both become involved in the project?
Megalyn Echikunwoke (ME): I auditioned like normal actors audition for things. (To MacLemore) Did you get to read the script before you went in?
Carrie MacLemore (CM): No, I read the sides as the different roles I read for, as they came in. I read the sides, and that was it, until Whit said, okay, I want you to read for Heather. Read the full script, and we’ll read through all those scenes. That was the first time I read it. It was at the end of the process.
ME: Yeah, most of the girls in the movie-Heather, Lily and Violet-all of those girls were considered for the other roles. So they were playing merry-go-round. But Rose was always Rose. So I read the script, and I read for Rose.
I got to meet Whit, and he was so lovely, and we kind of developed the character in the audition room. He asked me to try some accents, and he really liked the English accent, and it stuck. From then on, I was Rose. I was really lucky.
Q: Were you familiar with Whit’s work prior to filming?
ME: I wasn’t. I had heard of ‘Last Days of Disco,’ but had never seen it. After I read the script, I was a huge fan.
CM: Yeah, I wasn’t familiar with his work either. But after I read the first scene, I rushed out to watch his other films, and I loved them. I said, why didn’t I know about this before, why didn’t I know about ‘Metropolitan?’ People who know me know this is my thing.
Q: Can you both see clear connections between Whit’s previous movies and this one?
ME: Absolutely. But I think this is a departure from his other movies. The characters are more stereotypical. It’s more of a comedy. His other movies didn’t have the comedic edge I think this one has. This is a dark comedy.
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