Interview: Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore (2012) Damsels in Distress

Having the opportunity to speak with the Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore, who portray Rose and Heather in Whit Stillman’s latest film Damsels in Distress, conjures to mind the sisterly camaraderie at the heart of the film. The actresses exchange and share ideas in a like mannered fashion that reminds so much of the film it seems almost scripted. The two ladies chatted with Working Authorabout their roles and experiences.

Megalyn Echikunwoke is composed and very chic when discussing her favorite scene in the film. Much like her character, Megalyn is a proper and devout hellion of self-expression. She begins with the dance number, “I really like the dance. I really loved the dancing around the fountain. I just remember watching the filming of (costars) Greta (Gerwig) and Adam (Brody) in the fountain and it’s so timeless I feel like I’m watching a 1930s movie, or something…very whimsical.”

She goes on, “Everyone has had some sort of dance training in the cast.” On the time commitment of rehearsing the final scene, “A couple of days because there were so many people involved. The choreographer was kind of making it up as he went along based on the abilities of the people in the cast. It was really fun, though, I loved it and actually learned to tap dance a little bit…I never did that. He definitely had to narrow it down to moves that everyone could do but, it was collaborative. I mean, I came up with a couple of moves, everyone came up with a couple of moves. It was good.”

Carrie MacLemore agrees, “We grew up dancing. There is an easy transition for the dancing part.” She’s adamant regarding the healing qualities of dance because, “technically, you do release endorphins.”

Echikunwoke furthers, “I completely agree with these girls. In my own life, I use dance and song and music, too. I find it very transformative and medicating. I, literally, couldn’t live without it. I think they’re on to something.”

In stark contrast to her character, Heather, whose friendly confidence is well-timed comedic genius, damsel MacLemore is all smiles and a bit introverted as she chats amicably about her first movie experience. She’s pleasantly humble when recalling director Whit Stillman. “I feel spoiled now because he is such a terrific writer and director; and very caring and very generous with everyone. He treated everyone with such dignity. He’d trust that we did the work. We’d show up and he’d let us take it in our own direction. So, that was great; very grand. I was certainly nervous of screwing it all up.”

Similarly, when elaborating on the style of the director, Echikunwoke says, “Very collaborative, he is one of the few writers that writes well for women; and really interesting stuff for women. Working with him is really freeing…he’s a very lovely guy, very gentlemanly.”

Comparing and contrasting the actress from her character reveals some very clean lines of dissention. On attending college and its likeness to the film MacLemore shares, “I did, briefly, in New York and no, it was very different. Well, I was at a small school but, in a big city in New York and so that’s kinda your campus and there wasn’t much of a bubble the way there is in Damsels. I wish I’d met girls like this to hang out but, I didn’t.”

The young women of the story are certainly sophisticated as is there wardrobe. An interesting note, the cast contributed personal pieces to the film. MacLemore excitedly confesses, “It was fun. We had a mix of our own clothes because we had an independent budget. It was half ours, half Brooklyn Thrift; a hodge-podge. Then, towards the end there were pretty Prada and Dior dresses and so there were some loans that we had from designers and that was fun. Pretty unabashedly Damsels-sy”. Nodding in agreement, Echikunwoke is all seriousness, “Yeah, I collect a lot of those dresses. So, a lot of the dresses I wore were mine.”

Candidly, both women, like their characters, recognize the importance of friendship. Echikunwoke concedes, “Yeah, I think that’s important. Violet and Rose have a long history together and they share some of the same ideas about life and what makes life worth living. About smells, fashion, musical theater and dance – all the important things in life. And boys.”

MacLemore is heartfelt when explaining, “I call them soul sisters. People that you can sojourn through life with; share deepest joys and fears with and everything…. Yeah, I think it’s very important”.

When faced with the daunting task of telling a friend about the movie, Echikunwoke begins, “It’s hard to explain because it sounds kinda boring. It’s a movie set at a college about a couple of college girls who think that they can cure depression with musical theater, dance and perfume. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. I’d like to see that. What I would say is I would definitely mention Whit Stillman. That it was a Whit Stillman movie and I would mention his other movies and his style. It’s very unique and you probably won’t see anything like it”.

In MacLemore’s words, “It’s a college comedy, but an unconventional one about these three girls who take in a transfer student and take her under their wing and try to beautify their college and help people through musical dance, donuts and coffee.”

Decide for yourself what this film is about. Damsels in Distress is in theaters today.