Photo by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
The actress and writer talks about collaborating with her boyfriend, working with Woody, and why all-girls colleges rule.
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Since the days of Baghead and Hannah Takes the Stairs, Greta Gerwig has been the darling of indie cinema. In her latest, she collaborates with director/boyfriend Noah Baumbach on Frances Ha, which, while not strictly autobiographical, comes close. It focuses on a twenty-something who, like Gerwig, kicks around New York after graduating, hanging with hipsters while trying to forge a career in the arts.
Gerwig’s break came in 2011 when she played a supporting part in the unfortunate Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher comedy, No Strings Attached, followed by an even less well-received remake of Arthur. Having been burned by Hollywood, she jumped at the chance to work with Woody Allen in the lackluster To Rome With Love before wisely returning to her indie roots in Lola Versus.
We sat down with her to talk girls’ schools, collaborating with her boyfriend and how to be weird enough to be “the weird girl”.
When we were writing it, both Noah and I were very much drawing from different experiences we’d had. But it’s like making a cake, I can’t tell you where the milk is, or the eggs are, they are just in there. So it seems that they kind of get baked into the fictionalized world that we built. But yeah, it’s definitely close to my heart.
I went to an all-women’s college and it’s like an incubator for co-dependent friendships. There’s like no better place to bond, and they are amazing and I’m still friends with all of them. But I was always interested in the moment when you realize that your friends are not your family, which is really painful I think, because you sort of believe that we are family, we are all going to live together, it’s going to be awesome. And then you realize that no, they are going to get married and have their own family, and you are going to be a friend and you will see them on their own terms, and you won’t share life in the same way anymore. I think that was kind of hard for me to accept.
I went to co-ed school up until eighth grade, public school, and then an all-girls Catholic school for high school and I loved it. And then I went to an all-girls college and it’s kind of a misnomer – it’s the women’s college at Columbia and men are in your classes. So it’s not like going to Wellesley or Smith, where it’s more isolated. But the all-girls experience sets a really high bar of achievement where you support other women and you’re always expected to take on all the roles. You’re not to let other people lead organizations, or companies or ships. I’ve always felt a tremendous amount of pressure to honor those ideas and push the cog forward.
He just does a lot more takes. He does the most amount of takes of any director I’ve worked with. Working on Greenberg was amazing for me and I loved that script and that movie so much, but you almost feel like if you get sick, it’s like a personal thing, it’s not an act of God. It’s like I made the wrong choices and now I am sick, and I failed the film.
He is fast. Although if he doesn’t feel like he’s getting it, he will make you keep doing it. But yeah, he doesn’t do a ton of takes. I mean most people don’t do a ton of takes. I mean this is definitely much more like Kubrick or something! But it’s addicting and once you start working like that you almost feel like it’s hard to go back because it’s almost like meditative.
It’s really unstressful and really undramatic and even during the writing process – it feels like really great collaborations, they don’t come along that often and when they do, they are strife ridden. They are only pleasurable because it’s like finding someone who speaks your language and you thought you were the only one who spoke it.
I think studios always have this thing of like, are you funny or not? In Studioland it’s more what category do you fit? And I think people who are movie stars are people who make their own category. But I think that sometimes when I meet on studio movies, just to be totally honest, there’s like, you are not pretty enough to be the pretty girl and you are not weird enough looking to be the weird girl. So it’s like this middle ground that you are kind of an average person and there’s not a lot of roles for that. So I feel like I tend to not work as much because I just tend to not fit any of the slots as easily as I might want to. But who knows, one day I will be a grandmother and I can be the grandmother part.
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