DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
Characters and Cast
VIOLET WISTER (Greta Gerwig) is the indomitable group leader -- though later
shown somewhat dominated -- whose central project is looking for troubled souls
to rescue. "Violet has the element of the child who goes around looking for hurt
birds," says Stillman. "Her group is a self-designated animal rescue league,
looking for 'hurt birds' they can assist. Unfortunately they sometimes
misidentify a bird that isn't a hurt; sometimes the hurt bird strikes back."
Says Gerwig: "Violet has such strange convictions, but she stands behind them so
firmly and tries to get everybody else to see them too. The more people make fun
of her and tell her she's crazy, the more it steels her to the task of improving
the world and helping people improve themselves. While she's convinced that
she's right about certain things, she's also pathologically open to being wrong.
She's a glutton for punishment, which I think is very funny-she almost seeks
disapproval so that she can improve herself." Violet later also turns out to be
quite different than she initially presents herself to be.
ROSE (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is Violet's closest collaborator and the two have a
long back-story. While Violet is sometimes painfully open to other people's
criticism, Rose is more judgmental. "Rose is the opinionated voice of reason in
the group," says Echikunwoke. "She tends to be practical, but she's got some
pretty strong ideas about certain things, especially college life. She presents
herself as a bit of a snob" -- manifest in her skeptical attitude toward a
variety of men as "charlatans," "playboys" or "op-er-a-tor types" - though much
of this is almost certainly a comic pose. "The Rose character is based on the
Anglo-colonial Caribbean women I've known who greatly impressed me with their
strong personalities and oblique humor," Stillman says. None of this was in the
character description when Megalyn came in to read for the part but during the
audition Stillman asked if she could try it with an accent. Megalyn had just
been visiting a Nigerian-British friend who had a snob British accent. "The
British version immediately clicked with the character," Stillman said. "Though
Megalyn did a brilliant job with the accent we always wanted to use its
fraudulent conception in some way." Occupied with pre-production and then the
shoot Stillman didn't write the Rose back-story scene until the morning before
the shoot's final day but it ended up a signature moment in the film.
HEATHER (Carrie MacLemore) is the third wheel in Violet's group. Petite and
sweet, she has developed unique theories regarding the relationship between
physical characteristics and human behavior. "Heather is not tremendously smart
but has a lot of candid opinions and is not afraid to turn those opinions
against herself," says Stillman. While conceding that Heather's ideas are odd,
MacLemore doesn't believe that Heather considers herself to be unintelligent. "I
play her as the brightest person ever," she says. "Heather is always explaining
really basic things to people, and I think that if you're always doing that, you
must actually think you're smarter than everyone else." Carrie's background - an
authentic Southern belle who grew up in Mississippi and Alabama and only
recently came to New York - gives a texture to her performance filling out the
LILY (Analeigh Tipton) is a new transfer student to Seven Oaks, whom the Violet
group immediately seeks to rescue from "failure and sadness." "Lily is a normal,
middle-of-America girl. She doesn't know a lot of things, and she's suddenly
pulled into this very elaborate world by Violet, Rose and Heather," says Tipton.
"She's a little hesitant; she finds it a bit weird, but she decides to ride that
vibe for awhile." While Lily generally displays all signs of being a
sophisticated young woman, there are occasional moments where we catch sight of
her provincial background. She grew up in the kind of house where the only
vegetables came in cans and a "dry" town where one had to drive far to buy
alcohol legally. She allows herself to fall under the influence of a handsome
but holds to her own conformist views against Violet's extravagant ones.
CHARLIE (Adam Brody) is the suave young businessman who attracts the attentions
of two of the women in the group. "Charlie is a man of strong ideals and
opinions," says Brody. "He's extremely nostalgic for a bygone era of art and
manners and civility in expression, of being chivalrous. He's a really good guy,
and yet at the same time he thinks that making it up and lying are different
things, as long as his intentions are good." Says Stillman: "Charlie is a person
with the gift of gab who has considerable imagination without much outlet for it
at Seven Oaks. His creativity goes into developing an alternate identity which
strangely complements Violet's similar tendency. Like everyone else though he is
initially, and for a long time, attracted to Lily who is a bit of a tabula rasa
on which expectations can be projected. But Lily has her
own nature that's not a blank." Charlie proved the hardest part to cast. "We had
submissions for lots of wonderful actresses but no Charlies came close,"
Stillman says. Consulting Producer Cecilia Roque had worked with Adam on The
Romantics and strongly recommended him. "Finally on an unexpected late trip to
Los Angeles we could meet. Adam immediately had the part and carried it out with
aplomb. Nothing could be faster and better than shooting with Adam Brody."
XAVIER (Hugo Becker) was originally conceived as an American character -- "Tom,"
a handsome grad student, attractive to women but otherwise quite conventional.
His adherence to Cathar Love was to have been his "interesting" incongruity. "We
never found an America Tom," Stillman says, "Maybe Cathar Love scared them off
or our girl dominated story. We were in extremis when Paul Nelson of Mosaic
submitted an audition of Hugo's on tape. Hugo's version combined attractiveness
and charm with the strangeness of the character." It was a struggle getting Hugo
a visa in time - he still had a slender resume in France and had not yet been
crowned as the romantic "Prince Louis" of Gossip Girl. The nationality change
also meant changing the character's name and the script - the "Xavier as Xorro"
debate came out of these last minute revisions.
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