Jonah Hauer-King on Little Women: 'When you step on set for the first time wearing a three piece handmade suit it's a very special moment'

Actor discusses moving from Howards End to starring in another new BBC adaptation of a classic, this time Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

There's something about Christmas and costume dramas that just feels right. Warm and cosy television tackling some of literature's true classics has become a festive tradition and the BBC doesn't disappoint with a new version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women for 2017.

It tells the story of the March sisters, Meg (Willa Fitzgerald), Jo (Maya Thurman-Hawke), Beth (Annes Elwy) and Amy (Kathryn Newton), growing up in the 1800s. Adapted by writer Heidi Thomas – who knows her way round a period piece having previously worked on Cranford and created Call the Midwife and the reboot of Upstairs, Downstairs – and also starring Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson alongside Jonah Hauer-King who was just recently on our screens in the BBC's Howards End.

After a few technical difficulties we managed to talk with Hauer-King, who turned out to be a wonderfully eloquent and thoughtful interviewee, to find out more.

For anyone who doesn't know the book what is Little Women about?
In very broad terms it's about four girls and their development into women in both their public and private life. It's about what it means to grow up, what it means to be an adult, and there are a number of fundamental messages about goodness, compassion and tolerance.

Obviously you are not one of the Little Woman, what can you tell us about the character you play?
I play Theodore Lawrence also known as Laurie. Laurie is an orphan who lost his parents when he was very young and went off to boarding school. Boarding school has now finished and he lives with his grandfather, played by Michael Gambon. The house is next door to the March girls and they see his loneliness and isolation and welcome him into their family and lives.

How did you first get involved with the project?
I was doing Howards End, which BBC One and Playground Entertainment made, and this was their next project. So off the back of that they wanted me to come in and read and I met with the director and casting director and we had a long chat about what Little Women meant to us and it went from there. So I have a lot to thank the BBC and Playground for, two very lovely jobs back-to-back.

Jonah Hauer-King: 'When you step on set for the first time wearing a three piece handmade suit it's a very special moment'

And how did you first become involved with Howards End?
A fairly conventional audition process. I was doing a play, The Entertainer with Kenneth Branagh, and the casting director for Howards End came in and saw it and asked me to read.

Did you enjoy working on two big costume dramas?
It's amazing, when you have people who are such artists and such craftsmen, so brilliant at bringing those periods in to life, it makes our life so much easier because you really do enter the world. The people making these costumes and building the sets are extraordinary. When you step on set for the first time wearing a three-piece handmade suit it's a very special moment.

What do you think it is about costume dramas and Christmas that seems to work so well together?
I think there is something about these dramas that is based on the idea of the family and coming together, one of the huge themes of Little Women is connecting with those around us, and I think that's often what this time of year is about.

Do you think there's anything about this new adaptation that makes it relevant to modern audiences?
Our director [Vanessa Caswill] and Heidi, who wrote it, really focused on the authenticity and the realness of what it is to be a teenager. Obviously a lot of things are very different now but the way these kids fall in love and feel anger, passions, resentment and hope are really human things that are very relevant to now. And I think they are something Heidi and Nessa focussed on. I also think having three hours to tell the story is very important, having that extra time to explore the subtleties of that world and their lives hopefully allows viewers to be as invested and immersed in that world as in the book.

You've just finished two period dramas are you looking forward to people seeing you in more contemporary roles?
Yes definitely. After Little Women I went straight off to Vancouver for a few months for a very modern film about a boy and his dog [A Dog's Way Home] which was a lot of fun and the beginning of next year I have a couple of films coming out; in one I play the leader of a male prostitute ring [Postcards From London] and a film about the Soviet occupation of Lithuania [Ashes in the Snow]. So it's been nice to have a lot of variety, that's what keeps it exciting.

Little Women is on BBC One from Tue 26—Thu 28 Dec.

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