Greta Gerwig on the set of Lola Versus. Photo By Myles Aronowitz
Greta Gerwig has emerged as a staple of the independent film scene over the past several years, appearing in the celebrated films of Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), the Duplass Brothers (Baghead), and Ti West (House of the Devil). Gerwig enjoyed a watershed moment in 2010, when her acclaimed performance alongside Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg led to her receiving an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead. Gerwig has since been seen in multiple studio films, most notably opposite Russell Brand in the remake of Arthur. She has also continued to work with respected directors of independent films, including Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress) and Woody Allen (To Rome with Love). Gerwig recently made Lola Versus with Breaking Upwards filmmakers Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones. The result was an insightful look at single womanhood in New York that deftly bridges mainstream and independent sensibilities. I recently sat down with Gerwig in anticipation of Friday’s release of Lola Versus. Here’s what she shared with me about how her preference in filmmaking styles has evolved, working with Woody Allen, and building her character in Lola Versus.
Jackson Truax: In looking at what a number of directors and actors have said about working with you, “fearless” is the word that seems to be used most often, and your fellow actors talk about how you make big choices. Where do you think your fearlessness comes from?
Greta Gerwig: I don’t feel fearless, most of the time. So I’m glad that it looks that way. I think part of it is that acting and making things have always felt more free. It’s like the judgment voices in my head stop working when I’m acting. I don’t worry about it. I’m much more insecure about being myself than I am about playing a character. It’s not that I feel more confident, necessarily, as an actress… It’s just so fun. It’s fun to write. It’s fun to act. It’s fun to make things. I don’t think it’s ever felt like work in that way. It’s felt so much fun. It’s scary and exciting, incredible freedom.
JT: You spend so much of Lola Versus playing a character that feels like she’s on the edge of breaking down, but is successfully doing everything she can to just barely keep it together. How did you approach playing that, and how did you find that balance?
GG: Actually, what I tried to do, instead or preparing myself to be a mess, I tried to prepare myself in the opposite direction. Instead of trying to be someone who’s unhinged, I conceived her as someone who had never been unhinged before in her life…who was super Type-A and a planner. Everything’s always gone according to what she thought was going to happen in her life. This is the first time in her life that things actually haven’t worked out, that things aren’t going the way she wanted. So in that way, if I could build a character that expected everything to turn out a certain way, then I’d just to react to the things that were happening to me as they were happening, and feel them to be earth-shattering as they were going on.
JT: You’ve now worked with a remarkable and diverse list of directors. What was the thing about working with Daryl that was unique?
GG: He’s a very collaborative director. He really takes in a lot of different viewpoints. He’s not a draconian taskmaster… He’s very open and very flexible. I think in that way he’s different. He’s trained as an actor. He’s just got a different sense of things coming into the process.
JT: Early in your career you made a lot of movies that were seen as having been wildly improvised. How closely did you stick to Daryl and Zoe’s script when shooting Lola Versus?
GG: We almost didn’t improv at all. Pretty much the whole movie, it’s the script. There are a couple lines here and there that are improv-ed. We rehearsed a lot. We improv-ed during rehearsal. Sometime the improv was used to illuminate the script. But for the most part, it was all scripted.
JT: Do you prefer a lot of improvisation during shooting? Or do you prefer a more scripted approach?
GG: I, at this point, prefer scripted stuff. I don’t like improv for most things… I go back and forth on it. It’s just where I am right now.
JT: You recently worked with Woody Allen on the upcoming To Rome with Love. Allen is famous for saying things to actors like, “There’s a comma in that line, say it the way it’s written.” What was what you experienced?
GG: He was actually not that precious about his script. That was my experience. He said, “Just put it in your own words. Don’t worry about the words.” There are certain things he wrote that had to be said exactly as written, because the joke was written in. But he wants things to sound natural.
JT: On Lola Versus, you played a lot of scenes alongside Zoe who co-wrote the script. What were the benefits or challenges of working so closely with one of writers as you’re going through these scenes and trying different things?
GG: I loved it. I think Zoe’s a wonderful actress. Also, I like having the person who wrote it right there… You don’t have to guess how it’s supposed to sound or be. Because they’re acting exactly the way that they conceived of it.
JT: You’ve said that you don’t like to repeat yourself from take to take, and try different things. What the practical side of doing that on-set? Do you play around for a while, and then get a version of what works and do it several times so directors can shoot coverage?
GG: It’s kind of haphazard. I think, in some ways, I’m an editor’s nightmare. Because I’m not very good at remembering if I was holding something or anything like that. I’ve gotten better at it. But I’m still not great at it. I just am always looking for something that feels alive. It’s not so much changing things to change them. It’s sort of staying in tune with these subtle shifts in energy so you’re not beating a dead horse. Which, if you do lots of takes, it can sometimes feel like that.
JT: After having come up through the world of independent films, you’ve now found yourself getting cast in a couple of bigger-budgeted studio projects. What are the biggest differences in the two types of filmmaking? Is there one you prefer creatively?
GG: I would say just the amount of oversight, really. In bigger films, there tend to be more people looking over your shoulder to make sure everything is going as planned. Because they’re taking on a much bigger risk. Because they’re putting up a lot more money. But, creatively I find them pretty similar… I don’t think one is better than the other. I love all different kinds of films. I think there are some movies that need to be made for a lot of money. There are other movies that don’t need to be made for a lot of money. I think that the important thing is trying to make it for as little as possible. Because I think that improves the economic viability of the project.
JT: After audiences get a chance to see Lola Versus, what should they look for you in next?
GG: Just the Woody Allen movie, really. That’s it. That’s the only one that I’m sure of.
JT: You’ve co-written a handful of the films you’ve been in throughout your career. Do you see yourself returning to writing anytime soon?
GG: Yeah, I hope to write and direct my own thing in next year or so.
JT: When Lola Versus comes to theaters next month and audiences get a chance to see it, is there anything in particular you’re hoping they’ll be thinking or feeling as the credits roll?
GG: I hope that there’s some sense that you feel really good that she’s fallen in love with herself. And recognized those possibilities in yourself. And that it feels like an empowering movie in that way.
Filed under: LiC Interview