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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 central trio.

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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