Kelly Fremon Craig
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret blooms into theaters this spring
Sun. April 23, 2023 by Jerry Nunn
This makes the book timeless and the truth is the truth every decade.
Director Kelly Fremon Craig talks about how Margaret came to life
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is the story by author Judy Blume of an 11-year-old named Margaret, portrayed by Abby Ryder Fortson, who moves from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey to begin a new life at school. Her parents are played by Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie while her grandmother Sylvia is brought to life by Kathy Bates.
This is the second coming-of-age cinematic tale from director Kelly Fremon Craig after The Edge of Seventeen.
Craig met up at the Peninsula to give readers an exclusive look into a project that covers everything from middle school acceptance to menstruation.
Are you there, Kelly? It’s me, a Nunn.
JN: (Jerry Nunn) The response from the audience for film students was phenomenal. Have you hosted many screenings already?
KFC: (Kelly Fremon Craig) I have done a handful of question-and-answer appearances and have many more in the next few weeks.
JN: What took so long for a movie from the book Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, to be made?
KFC: Judy Blume did not want to release the rights. She had said previously that she would never allow it to be adapted. She was worried that someone would sanitize it too much or turn it into something gloss or bubble gum.
She changed her mind thank God!
JN: Why is now the perfect time for the film to come into the world?
KFC: I have made two coming-of-age movies about girls and it was a different environment making this one. The world has started to shift in terms of female directors telling female stories.
When I did it the first time in 2016 it was much hard back then. There was a parade of rejection before the movie was okayed.
This time there is a different embracing of women’s stories and celebrating women while having women behind the camera. More of it is going on now, so we felt like we could make it and make it right. There was more support and they gave us money to create it.
JN: It makes one wonder what would have happened if a man had made Margaret.
KFC: Oh God! [laughs]
JN: Luckily, we don’t have to know and things have evolved. I was born in 1970 during the time period where the story takes place. It was treated like a dirty book back then.
KFC: I bet!
JN: Why do you think it became such an important book?
KFC: Judy Blume wrote with such honesty that it caught on. Within that honesty is the fact she told the truth and she doesn’t spare any details. This makes the book timeless and the truth is the truth every decade.
Blume writes with such freedom and tells it like it is.
JN: This year Judy Blume was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2023. Did she have a strong hand in making this film?
KFC: She was part of the process the whole time from beginning to end. She was on the set and was wonderful. She was collaborative and incredibly generous.
She gave a lot of permission but also when I asked about a certain thing I was trying to figure out we rolled up our sleeves together.
JN: Judy Blume is Jewish and the divided household by religion was certainly a big deal for families in the past. Is this an issue as much as in 2023?
KFC: Yes, it doesn’t seem to be as tricky as it once was, but there are plenty of things that families argue about these days, especially about how kids are raised. People have strong opinions about that now.
JN: When I met Kathy Bates she was bossy and wanted the self a certain angle.
KFC: I love her!
JN: How was it working with her?
KFC: First of all, she is so funny. I improvised with her a bunch. I encouraged her to play and mess around. That was so exciting because the things that would just come off the top of her head were so hilarious and funny. I am desperate to make a reel of all the outtakes because there is so much that didn’t make it into the movie and there’s no room for it.
JN: The Christian parents didn’t have a chance against her. Did you think about casting people who were not as reserved as these actors?
KFC: Their personalities are written that way in the book. They are conservative and she is the Glam-ma.
JN: Her costuming was amazing!
KFC: The legendary Ann Roth did the costumes.
JN: There is a scene Margaret straight out of the 1996 gay movie The Birdcage where conservatism comes home for dinner.
JN: Could the actors veer off the script much in a scene such as this?
KFC: Within reason I encouraged everyone to try things. I liked them to play in character.
JN: Elle Graham was particularly good in the role of Nancy Wheeler. How led you to her?
KFC: It was a long audition process and I found her. I think she is spectacular and has so much potential to do whatever she wants.
JN: Do you think the character of Mr. Benedict is gay?
KFC: You know what? In my mind he always was. Even when I read the book I had a feeling that he was so it was always in the back of my mind.
I’m glad you picked up on that. I definitely wanted that in the movie. If people sit down and spend some time with Mr. Benedict they would find that out.
JN: I love the name Echo Kellum who played Mr. Benedict and there were some past assumptions that he was gay in real life in the past, but apparently he’s straight. When is the musical version coming out?
KFC: That is so funny because our production designer Steve Saklad said there are three little musical theater numbers in here with The Rockettes and The Pirates of Penzance.
JN: There were many performers with musical backgrounds within the cast of Margaret.
KFC: I didn’t know that.
JN: Isol Young is from Annie and Mary Poppins, Jr.
KFC: I knew she could sing…
JN: Was she hard to cast for that specific role?
KFC: Yes, because there were physical parameters, but there she was.
JN: What was the process of finding your Margaret Abby Ryder Fortson?
KFC: I auditioned hundreds of girls. Abby walked in and there she was. There was no second place and nobody else even came close.
JN: That is so sweet. You just knew?
KFC: She has a soulfulness that made me laugh and cry.
JN: She had a maturity that was important. Your intentions for this film came across last night at Film Row Cinema at Columbia College.
KFC: I loved those students!
JN: I realized at the screening that it was the last place I had seen Joan Rivers alive in person when she came to speak to students there. Her advice was never second guess yourself even if the shoes are expensive, buy them and live with no regrets. I am sure she is glad she bought the shoes before she died.
KFC: I am never going to forget that. I love that so much.
JN: Is there another Judy Blume book that you would like to adapt into a movie?
KFC: They are all being snatched up.
JN: So other directors are adapting them?
KFC: Yes. They are calling it a Judy Bloom-iassance where they are going to adapt several for the big screen.
JN: I have interviewed Hailee Steinfeld and Blake Jenner from the cast of your movie The Edge of Seventeen. Do you have a favorite moment from that film?
KFC: I loved the process. Hailee just knocked my socks off. I don’t know how it is possible that one human being can have that much talent because she can also sing and dance. There is nothing she can’t do.
JN: She is part of Taylor Swift’s girl squad and now she’s an Avenger! What future projects do you have coming out?
KFC: I have a few things that are percolating, but nothing I have committed to yet.
JN: What about the book Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me?
KFC: I was, but I had to step away from it to make Margaret.
JN: What would you like audiences to take away from Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
KFC: I hope they are moved and relate it. I hope they laugh and it makes them tell their own stories to each other at dinner afterward.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret prays its way into theaters on April 28, 2023.