The filmmakers knew that finding the right actress to play Kit was essential to the success of the film. Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin, who won over audiences, critics and Academy members as the plucky Olive Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine, was everyone’s first choice to play Kit. But she had a very short window of availability before starting another film. This meant the filmmakers had to finalize the script and cast, prep the movie and shoot it all in the course of about four months.
“We did this feature on a very, very, very tight little schedule with a lot of limitations,” says Rozema. “Every shot had to be completely constructed. You couldn’t just shoot from any angle, because, oh my goodness, there was a satellite dish or something else that would be out of the period.”
To help speed the process, Rozema decided to use three cameras shooting simultaneously. “If we got that magic moment, it was covered on every side, and we didn’t have to repeat it and repeat it to get it each time,” she says.
This approach gave the director and her cast additional creative freedom. “The kids didn’t have to think about continuity as much, they didn’t have to remember ‘Oh, I had the fork up to my mouth on this line.’ If the moment was fresh and free, and we caught the spark, we had it on camera at different angles instantaneously.”
Although the expedited production schedule was a challenge at times, the director says it ended up being an extraordinary experience, “The whole enterprise has been so full of unabashed goodwill. It’s very hard to be really bitter or angry or blaming with little kids around. Their faces teach you things. They teach you things. We think we bring them up; they bring us up.”
Breslin lived up to the filmmakers’ expectations as the perfect Kit, says producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. “We couldn’t have been more thrilled with Abby,” she says. “She brought humor, warmth and intelligence to the role, and an enthusiasm and passion for the project that was simply infectious. “Abby handled the material like such a pro,” she continues. “Right from the beginning she understood the arc of the story. She recognized that Kit’s life was not all on ‘the sunny side of the street’ and that life can be very tough, but making it through the tough times makes everything that comes after even more valuable. Abby understood that within the story, Kit’s whole perspective on life changes, and with that change in perspective comes a change in values.”
Breslin learned some of the history of the Great Depression from her grandmother, who grew up during that era. “I showed my grandma the doll and the outfit that I wore and she told me that it was kind of like the clothes she used to wear when she was younger,” says the actress. “The Great Depression was when people were buying a lot of things on credit and then they didn’t have enough money to pay it back. And so they stopped buying things, which made the stores and the factories close, until everybody was basically out of work.”
In the movie, Kit is trying to convince the editor of the Cincinnati Register to publish her story so she can begin her journalism career. “She just wants more than anything else to become a reporter,” says Breslin. “That helps when she tries to solve the mystery, because she writes down everything that could maybe be a clue, like somebody had a tattoo or they were wearing boots or they had dark hair.”
Explaining why Breslin was perfect for the title role, Rozema says, “She is a very keen observer and a feeling person, like Kit. And quite daring, in her own quiet way. There is something admirable about Abigail Breslin that’s a lot like the character of Kit Kittredge.”
Madison Davenport, whose young acting career has included television and feature film roles, plays Ruthie Smithens, Kit’s best friend and daughter of the local banker. A self-acknowledged girl’s girl, Davenport says she adored the period costumes. “It's so cool to wear some clothes you don't normally wear. These clothes are so sweet! Why can't girls wear these clothes now? You never find cute dresses like these in normal stores.”