Interview

Have some big fun with 'Little' star Marsai Martin

At 14 years old, Marsai Martin is officially the youngest executive producer in Hollywood. Not only is she the star of Universal Pictures‘ “Little” (now playing in theaters everywhere), but she’s responsible for having come up with the idea for the movie in the first place.

Watch seven clips from the Little movie starring Regina Hall and Marsai Martin.“It started in the living room of the Martin House,” Martin tells Moviebill. “One of my mom’s favorite films growing up was ‘Big,’ starring Tom Hanks. Usually what parents do is introduce you to new music or old school music like the songs that they used to listen to. It was the same thing with TV and film for them. So ‘Big’ was one of them. After I watched the film, I asked, ‘Why don’t we turn this into a modern fresh perspective and make it more of a female empowerment story with a black women cast.”

As her plans for “Little” grew through discussions with her family, Martin turned to someone with whom she has worked very closely the past, “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris.

“He loved it so much that he called Will Packer and we met up with him,” says Martin. “We went to his production company and, of course, it was bomb and then we all went to Universal and the rest is history.”

Casting the older version of yourself is one of those challenges that most people never have to face, but Martin didn’t have to look very far to find her ideal future Jordan Sanders in Regina Hall.

“You know when you love a person so much?” Martin smiles. “I had already worked with her before on ‘Black-ish’ I had seen her at a few events. I already knew it, but I was putting all the puzzle pieces together. She’s done this. She’s done that. She’ll be perfect in this.”

Regina Hall stars in the new movie, Little.Although Martin shot most of her scenes first, Hall was on set nearly every day. That meant that both stars could connect about minor details in their performances and help solidify the movie magic that turns them into the same person.

“We both had little tips about what we wanted to put in there,” Martin continues. “Usually when you see a script, it’s kind of totally different when you actually see the film come to life. For us, building Jordan was lots of fun and it was so cool to create with improv.”

Unfortunately, due to them being the same character, Martin and Hall don’t get to share any scenes in the final film. That’s not the case, however, with Issa Rae, who plays Jordan’s assistant, April. The back and forth between April and Jordan (both as an adult and a kid) form the comedic backbone of the story.

“She’s just a very sweet person to work with,” says Martin of her costar. “She’s also really focused and really dedicated to her craft… Are there a lot of funny outtakes? Yes.”

Having an important behind the scenes role also meant that Martin had the opportunity to explore facets of filmmaking that she were entirely new to her.

(from left) Devon (Tucker Meek), Isaac (JD McCrary), little Jordan Sanders (Marsai Martin) and Raina (Thalia Tran) in Little, co-written and directed by Tina Gordon.“One thing that really surprised me was definitely the scoring,” says Martin. “Tina [Gordon] was explaining it to me and I was like, ‘Oh wow! This is a thing. This is cool.’ I love casting, too. Just seeing like the actors and actresses just come to life. Being a part of that and actually being behind the camera and seeing people audition was fun and something I got to relate to. I knew exactly how they were feeling at that time.”

So what does the future hold for the young multi-hyphenate and will it be more in front of or behind the camera?

“I honestly don’t know,” she says, “but in the entertainment industry I can do so many things and I’ve already seen people like Tracy [Oliver] or Issa do their own things. Having people that inspire me like that makes me want to branch off into something different, but still in the same industry. I’m more of an entertainer than just an actress.”

Click here to read our conversation with director and cowriter Tina Gordon and catch “Little” on the big screen now!


Silas Lesnick is the Senior Editor of Moviebill. He has been covering entertainment news out of Los Angeles for more than a decade. You can reach him via e-mail or on Twitter.