Greta Gerwig Talks About the “North Star” Themes of Her Storytelling Process

Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of Netflix’s upcoming adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia, recently sat down for a live interview at the 2024 TIME Women of the Year gala on Tuesday.

Gerwig was mostly mum on Narnia, to the interviewer’s chagrin, but nonetheless shared some interesting insights into her approach to filmmaking as she works to adapt C. S. Lewis’s beloved series to screen.

On the topic of her ambitions as a filmmaker, Gerwig talked about the excitement of each project:

Gerwig: I think the great thrill that I get is kind of figuring out how to build my wings on the way down. Leaping from the tallest thing I can find and saying I believe that I will build this, the skills that I need, as I go. I hope to make all different kinds of movies in my career, big and small, but I think they always have to have that element of adventure. It’s the way I get my kicks. [laughs]

Interviewer: Well, Narnia seems like the perfect project then for you to be working on next.

Gerwig: Yes. Kicks… with a lion! [laughs]

Interviewer: And magic.

Gerwig: It’s all the things. [smiles] Sometimes, because I write and direct, I write things that I genuinely sit back and think, ‘I have no idea how I’m actually going to accomplish that.’ And that’s actually the most exciting feeling. Because then you can gather people—gather your designers, your heads of departments—and everybody kind of figures out something that’s never been done before. And that’s thrilling.

When asked of she studies existing adaptations when adapting books like Little Women or Narnia or if she ignores other film versions, Gerwig replied:

Gerwig: No, I think—well, with Little Women in particular, because it’s a book that meant so much to me and because it also had been realized in films so beautifully so many different times, I felt like I wasn’t just adapting the text—I was sort of adapting the urtext of all of the movies.

Later, Gerwig talks about finding a guiding theme in her storytelling process, likening it to a North Star or the pull of undertow:

Gerwig: I felt that also I was trying to take into account who Louisa May Alcott was [when adapting Little Women]. The thing that I kept coming back to—and this is also true of Barbie and Lady Bird or Francis Ha or Narnia — is that as a writer, it’s always helpful for me to continually remind myself of this thing that I’m deeply interested in.

For example, with Little Women, the thing I kept telling people … is that Louisa May Alcott kept her copyright, which was so smart and no one was doing that, and she made so much money. She also didn’t want to end her book with Jo getting married, but her publisher said, “Well, it’ll sell better,” so she said “All right, I’ll do it, but I’ll keep the copyright.” And I was like, that’s great. I think I just kept repeating that over and over again, and I’m like, that’s your story … that’s what you’re interested in.

I think I always try to keep a North Star. My North Star is what do I deeply love, what do I really care about? What’s the story underneath the story? I think with Barbie, the story underneath the story was I loved Barbie [as a child]. I remember going to Toys “R” Us and looking at the Barbies, and I loved their hair and I loved everything about them, and my mom was not sure about it. And I thought, that’s the story. That’s the generational story of like, “I want it,” and then being, you know, suspicious of it. And I think I’m always trying to find those undertows.

Interviewer: Would you care to tell us what that story is for Narnia?

Gerwig: No, no. That’s just for me, right? [laughs] That’s just mine. But I do—I have—I have it. [nods] But it’s—um—well, you’ll see! [laughs]

Watch the full interview here:

Looking for all the latest news about Netflix’s Narnia adaptations? Here’s everything we know.

If you were adapting The Chronicles of Narnia to film, what would be your guiding North Star theme or idea? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in the discussion forum.

10 Responses

  1. Great article! Thanks for getting this source for us.
    Honestly, I don’t blame Gerwig for being tight-lipped on her Narnia project at this time.
    Back in the past, writers didn’t have the whole fandom on the internet – or journalists – asking them so many things, as they were writing the script. It could interfere with her creative process to be laying her cards on the table at every question she is asked.

    As for the “North Star” comment – the first thing that came to my mind was the “Four Winds” comment that was debated before the Lion movie came out in 2005. I do recall a bit of that controversial discussion (over what was reported from an early screening). I don’t remember if I knew about it at the time or if I’ve heard about it over the years, on Narniaweb.

    But I guess “North Star” sounds a lot like “Four Winds” for me.
    And on the recent 20th anniversary podcast that Talking Beasts published, Fantasia made a good point that she thought that Four Winds comment was that viewer overreacting at the “To the Woods, . To the Sea” comments that Aslan makes at the coronation. And therefore maybe it wasn’t reported accuratelty – because it makes sene, doesn’t it? There are no “tells” of edits in that scene in the movie. And the writing is to deliberate.

    As for this article, I am glad Gerwig has been acknowledging the Narnia project -although that “Smile and Nod” a few months ago was exciting! (It was an article on Narniaweb with a short video – she didn’t say any words about the Narnia question – which was the first time she was asked about it on tape, as far as I know.)

    I wonder what the core memory for her, of Narnia is? What is the nugger? Her reason for loving it?

    There is so much to find out, and I’m excited! I hope we continue to get NEWS along the journey. I hope we get casting announcements, production updates and interviews all along the way of this creating. Because I only saw the announcement for Netflix’s Avatar series like a month before the release! (But I wasn’t looking for it, granted.)

  2. Sorry for the typos above, guys. I got distracted and didn’t edit them.

    But I also realised I didn’t answer the question – what is my North Star about Narnia? What is my driver for loving it and talking about it?

    The key word is HOME. Being someone for whom home was not always clearly defined, I love that Narnia is a place for outsiders to feel at home – and be welcomed by all the “good Narnians.” And that is another thing – there is clearly defined GOOD in Narnia which is so attractive, since I’m living in this world which has so much evil in it. Narnia feels like it could be a cosy, safe place to return to at any time.

  3. Impending Doom says:

    “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!“ (The Last Battle)

    Sehnsucht – this immense weight of longing for one’s true home. I would say that is the underpinning of the series and something that resonated deeply with C.S. Lewis.

    “It almost hurt me . . . like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. The longing for home.” (Till We Have Faces)

    It’s a very universal desire which I also get the sense Gerwig is drawn to as well.

  4. The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

    I agree with Impending Doom about sehnsucht! I’ll also point to this quote from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when the characters see Aslan’s Country for the first time, as another illustration of this theme in the books:

    “And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, ‘It would break your heart.’ ‘Why,’ said I, ‘was it so sad?’ ‘Sad!! No,’ said Lucy.”

    I can only hope that the mysterious heartbreak that Lucy describes here is present in Gerwig’s adaptations!

  5. Caspiancrown says:

    Oh no. I am kind of pessimistic about netflix’s narnia i’ll admit, but this gave me the vibe that she’s being careless and “building her wings on the way down”

  6. Cleander says:

    I immediately saw “North Star ” and thought “Narnia and the North!”… so now I suppose we can add Horse and His Boy to the list of books she’s possibly adapting lol!

  7. Moonwood the hare says:

    I agree with “Sehnsucht”. As a German native speaker, this describes the feeling that Narnia leaves, so so well.
    I assume that it’s what Lewis’ also calls “joy”: “It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse… withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased… In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else… ” (From “Surprised by Joy”).
    “Sehnsucht”, in a “joyful” way. Epic – yes. Emotional – yes. Tragic – yes. Hopeful – please! But first of all, joyful! Don’t make it silly, obviously. But don’t take out these joyful scenes. Including the romp in PC, the winter dance in SC, the comic parts about the turnover of the governor in VDT, the banquet with storytelling in HHB, the first joke in MN etc.

  8. Eustace says:

    Although, I am not sure she will be correct in what she thinks Narnia’s North Star is, I feel encouraged that she is thinking in this way. I think it could set the series in the correct direction. I may not think she made the best version of Little Women but, it was very beautiful and moving.

  9. Col Klink says:

    @Eustace, I find it refreshing that you express such an appreciation for Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women even though it’s not your favorite. Sometimes people in fan communities can get a little narrowminded about which adaptations are the best, saying that their favorite is the best and no one should even bother watching any others. As someone who enjoys watching multiple adaptations of his favorite books, even though I think some are way better than others, I find that a bit off putting. Your attitude appeals to me much more.

  10. Bolton says:

    We’re getting close!