Greta Gerwig Acts, Writes, Dances, Talks to Columbus Underground
Filmmaker Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) teams up once again with indie cinema’s It Girl, Greta Gerwig. Three years ago Gerwig co-starred – and utterly charmed – in Baumbach’s Greenberg. For their newest effort, Frances Ha, the pair collaborated from script to finished product. Their picture unspools Friday at the Drexel Theatre as well as the Gateway Film Center, and Ms. Gerwig was kind enough to give Columbus Underground a call last week to talk about everything from scripting a film to handling foot fetishes.
Columbus Underground: Is it freeing to write yourself a character?
Greta Gerwig: Actually, I don’t think about myself acting while I’m writing. I try to really separate the two experiences and make them distinct because I don’t have any ideas when I think about myself acting.
Certainly I liked the script, so it was easier to act. I appreciate and look for good writing, and if I do say so myself, I think we wrote a pretty good script. But to me, it’s just a different process. It’s obviously still very artistic and you’re trying to get to something that feels true and real and spontaneous, but also crafted – and that’s true of both the writing and the acting. But while I’m writing, I try to keep it on the page and keep the character alive beyond just myself.
CU: How was it different to collaborate with Noah Baumbach from beginning to end, rather than simply performing as you did in Greenberg?
GG: The collaboration as far as the writing took a year and really expresses both of our voices. Ultimately you both end up taking ownership of the whole thing. It becomes all yours and all shared in that way.
The script started as really a list of ideas that I had and Noah added to – just little moments and character ideas and exchanges of dialogue. We found all of these different little parcels of life that seemed to be interesting, and we basically pushed on them and wrote scenes around them to find out what the life behind them was. It was really a kind of path of discovery.
CU: Were you involved in the aesthetic of the film as well?
GG: I was hugely involved with the way it looked, especially with the costuming and the props and all of that. The visual style of it we talked about a lot because it was so part in parcel with how we were writing.
We kind of always had the same visual references going as we were writing, which was really helpful. And I tried on about 20 different bomber jackets, and then really finding the perfect crazy bomber jacket and the perfect weird floral dresses – all of that was very collaborative.
I would say in pre-production and post-production it’s much more of a collaboration on equal footing, and then during the movie it’s more delineated: I’m acting, he’s directing. I don’t feel like don’t direct me, I wrote this business with you. It’s very easy for me to give over to the process of him directing scenes.
CU: What made you decide Frances should be a dancer?
GG: I went to a college that had a very strong modern dance program. I found there to be a very rich world to explore there, and I’ve always wanted to make a character a dancer. Particularly with modern dance, the rewards are so small and the dedication is so high. I think that was something that really compelled me.
This is kind of nerdy philosophizing about dance, but ballet is all about verticality and almost making you look like you’re floating. Modern dance is all about groundedness and being connected with the ground and staying low. There’s a lot of falling in the choreography in modern dance. This idea of learning how to fall and being close to the ground and actually having groundedness, these are amazing metaphors for Frances because she’s looking for groundedness and she’s also learning how to fall and learning how to fail and learning how to get back up.
CU: If you google Greta Gerwig, the second search suggestion is Greta Gerwig’s feet. Why is that?
GG: Because that’s like a big thing. There’s a bunch of feet fetishists. Whenever you enter anybody’s name, it always completes it with feet. If you put in a male actor, it finishes it with gay. I swear to god. It’s a real thing. I think it’s so gross the way they zoom in on feet. It’s just the worst thing of all time. The internet is sort of horrible for all things embarrassing because there’s just so many opportunities to look like an idiot.
Go see Greta looking like anything but an idiot in her lovely new film Frances Ha. Just don’t look at her feet.
A full slate of movie reviews is available on my website www.maddwolf.com.