Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Director Told Actors to Throw Script Away

Nov 21, 2023

The Big Picture

The 2023 film adaptation of Judy Blume’s novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is receiving critical acclaim, especially for Rachel McAdams’ performance. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig creates a safe and experimental environment on set, allowing the young actors to fearlessly tackle vulnerable scenes and improvise. The film explores important themes of adolescence, friendship, intergenerational relationships, and the struggles of growing up, while staying loyal to the source material and creating a sense of connection between past and present experiences.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is a timeless tale. The 1970 novel written by Judy Blume won countless awards, including being selected the Outstanding Book of the Year by the New York Times. It’s not hard to see why. The book captures adolescence in a way that feels raw and relatable, skillfully navigating important and complex topics from puberty to religion.

The 2023 film adaptation is just as masterful, thanks to writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Fremon Craig is no stranger to telling authentic teen tales that tug at the heartstrings but don’t shy away from the awkwardness and messiness of growing up, helming the award-winning The Edge of Seventeen starring Hailee Steinfeld. Fremon Craig once again gets a stunning performance out of her young lead in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., with Abby Ryder Fortson playing the titular role alongside legends like Kathy Bates and Rachel McAdams.

I got the chance to speak to Fremon Craig about making her sets feel like a safe space to experiment, why it was important to keep the film set in the ‘70s, feeling optimistic about the future, and more.

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. When her family moves from the city to the suburbs, 11-year-old Margaret navigates new friends, feelings, and the beginning of adolescence. Release Date April 28, 2023 Director Kelly Fremon Craig Cast Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Abby Ryder Fortson, Elle Graham Runtime 105 minutes Genres Comedy, Drama
COLLIDER: I’m so excited to talk about this with you — this is by far one of my favorite movies of the year. I introduced it to a couple of my friends who were in town this weekend, and even my guy friend really loved it.

KELLY FREMON CRAIG: Aww, I love that! That’s awesome. That makes me so happy.

How Did Kelly Fremon Craig Get Those Amazing Performances From Her Actors?
It’s just such a special movie. And obviously, I’m not the only one loving it — Rachel McAdams was just nominated for a Gotham Award for her performance. How does it feel for this movie to be receiving that kind of critical acclaim?

I’m so, so, so excited. The Gotham Award was such a delightful surprise. It’s so great because I think the acting work is so beautiful and moving, and I’m so glad it’s being recognized. And Rachel, oh my god — all throughout this movie, when I was filming it and then when I was editing it, I feel like all I did was sit there and cry watching her because she taps into something that feels so deeply real to me and so much about my own experience of motherhood. I’m so happy she’s being recognized.

That leads so well into my next question because the acting across the board is amazing, and I think a lot of that stems from your young actors, too. I mean, they’re so fearless. They’re kissing bedposts and putting on pads, which I imagine is such an intimidating thing to do, especially when you’re that age. How did you try to create an environment on set where they felt comfortable doing these scary and vulnerable things?

Well, first of all, I’m so proud of those young actors. They were so fearless and just went for it. It’s really important to me to create an environment that does feel really safe and also where there’s real freedom to color outside the lines and play. When I’m writing or directing, I want to feel as if I can’t fail, you know what I mean? It’s a place where you can just play and try things, and so I’m constantly trying to create a set that feels like that — where everybody knows that they’re safe to reach really far and try something crazy and we’ll all be okay.

Were there any moments that stand out to you where someone did something that really surprised you? Where they reached really far and maybe interpreted something in a way that you didn’t even think of?

Oh, again and again. All over there are improvisations because I really love to push the actors to play, particularly with the young actors. I was constantly telling them, “Throw the script away. Throw the words away. Say in your own words.” And so there were so many things that just came out of them working off the top of their heads. Elle Graham, who plays Nancy — there’s a moment during the “I must increase my bust” scene where one of the girls says, “That really works?” And she’s like, “I’m living proof.” That was just like an improv that she did. And also, the scene with the anatomy book — when I shot that, I literally just set up the camera, opened the book, and said, “Just say whatever comes to your mind.” And so that’s really what came to their minds when they first saw that image.

‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.’ Explores Rich, Complex Relationships
Image via Lionsgate

I also feel like there’s always this conversation about “likable protagonists,” and I think that Margaret is very likable, but she also is flawed, which I think is really great to see — especially when she’s sort of mean to Laura. I feel like a lot of media, especially aimed at people towards this age and this audience, is sort of afraid to do that sometimes. Why was it important to you to see her make those mistakes, and how did you sort of tackle that element in those scenes?

I think, particularly at that age, you are messing up constantly and saying things you wish you hadn’t. I feel like I was constantly tripping over myself doing dumb things at that age, and I still am at this age. I feel like, as human beings we’re just constantly, constantly messing up and then trying to get back on track. So to me, that’s real. I relate to that. I don’t relate to anybody who’s getting it all right.

The friendship element is so strong, but I also really love the focus on intergenerational relationships, especially between the women. I also think that’s something that we don’t get to see very much. Gilmore Girls is what I always think of and one of the only ones I can think of. Can you talk a little bit about why it was so important to hone in on and explore the relationship between her mother and her grandmother?

My fantasy was that the film would really feel like three women going through major life transitions in tandem, so you would see how they’re all grappling with having to deal with a change that makes them reinvent themselves and the discomfort of that. I guess that’s something that’s just always been very interesting to me thematically to explore because that’s very, very much my experience. I feel like I’m coming of age over and over and over and over again any time I hit some sort of a life transition, so I wanted to see that.

Kelly Fremon Craig Stayed True to Judy Blume’s Book For One Big Reason
Image via Lionsgate

You wrote the script and adapted it from the book as well as directed it, and it stays very loyal to the source material. But I’m curious, what was the biggest change from the first draft of the script to what we actually saw on the screen?

Hmm…it’s so hard to tell because it all becomes kind of part of the same soup after a while. You can’t really remember. I mean, honestly, I don’t think it did change a ton. It only changes in that, once I get on set, I do like to have people say things in their own words. So the bones of it never changed. It might have been a slightly different line that was delivered because somebody was saying it in their own words or playing around.

I know that keeping it in the ‘70s was really important to both you and Judy Blume. I’m curious, why was that? And was there ever any outside pressure to bring it into the present day? Was anybody wanting that sort of updated version?

Thankfully, no. Thankfully, we really had so much support to make it the way we wanted to make it. And part of the reason I felt that it had to be 1970 is, first of all, I just wanted to be as faithful to the book as possible because I love the book. But I also think that there’s something really moving about being a girl today who’s going through this seeing a girl 50 years ago going through the exact same thing. There’s something about that to me that is connecting and heartening. It’s just a real big sense of, “You’re not alone.” Not only is everybody else going through this but they have for years and years and decades.

There are so many small moments and details I love about this movie, and I think the editing makes everything flow really seamlessly. One of my favorite transitions is when they’re doing the “we must increase our bust” exercise to the claps in church. It tickles me so much every time.

I’m so glad. [Laughs]

I’m curious if there’s a tiny moment like that — one that maybe doesn’t even affect the overall plot or character or whatever — that you’re really proud of.

Oh my gosh. Oh, that’s a really good question. That moment I definitely love. What other moments? It’s hard to say. I definitely have favorite scenes. I love the last scene. That scene really deeply moves me and makes me laugh and just guts me every time I see it. I also really love the scene where Margaret is doing the two minutes in the closet with Philip Leroy. There’s something about it. Every time I watch it — every time I watch her walking into that room — my heart pounds with her. I just so feel all the feelings I felt at that age.

The one where Margaret and her mom are just on the couch not speaking is one of the most powerful of the movie. The almost feels like the heart of it for me.

Yeah, I love that, too.

Kelly Fremon Craig Reflects on Her Career So Far — And Feels Optimistic About the Future
Image via Lionsgate

Your directorial debut was The Edge Of Seventeen, which is another film that I really love, and it sort of delves into similar-ish themes of growing up. I’m curious what you learned from your experience directing that that you took to this one.

In that film, I definitely messed around and improvised. I love to do that. I love to give everybody room to play, and I just saw how exciting the scene can become if you really take the reins off and let the actors follow every impulse. So I definitely brought that thinking to Margaret. I also think it keeps everything feeling really alive and fresh, and it keeps in those little tiny details that sometimes can get weeded out when someone has memorized the exact words and they’re saying them in a certain way. The “um”s and “uh”s and the mess-ups make it feel like life. I like those messy things.

I feel like this has been such an amazing and inspiring year for female directors: you, Greta Gerwig, Sofia Coppola, Nia DaCosta, Emerald Fennell — the list goes on. Obviously, it is unfortunately still a lot tougher for women to get projects and to get budgets. I’m curious if you have any advice for aspiring directors in general but particularly female directors.

I have to say, it’s actually a really great time to be a female director. The difference between how things are now versus when I was first trying to get The Edge of Seventeen made? It’s just night and day. There is so much more support, there is so much more of a desire to get behind female filmmakers to tell their stories their way. So I really want young filmmakers to feel encouraged by that. I want them to know there are a lot more doors open so please try. There’s really a general sense of wanting that, which wasn’t always the case.

I love that. I love the optimism of that.

Yes! I really feel optimistic.

Last question for you: I know that you were really passionate about adapting this story. Is there another dream directing project that you have on your bucket list, whether it’s an original story or adapting a piece of IP that really touched you when you were younger?

Hm. That’s a good question. I don’t know if I have a bucket list thing. I feel like I’m just always looking for something. Whenever I dive into a project, I’m looking for something I deeply feel inside myself, that I relate to, and that hurts on some level. For me, that’s very important. I have to find that sort of ache at the center of it, and everything kind of spreads out from that feeling. I guess maybe I like to write about things that feel unresolved on some level, and it’s like I’m figuring them out as I’m writing them. So I don’t know what that will be next. There is something I’m writing right now that feels that way, but I don’t know what it’ll be after that and after that.

We won’t jinx it, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing whatever you do next.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is available to stream on Starz.

Watch on Starz

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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