Will Greta Gerwig be the next big thing?

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The mumblecore maven talks to Time Out about her first mainstream role, in Noah Baumbach's 'Greenberg'

Greta Gerwig rose to prominence writing and acting in low budget, ultra-realist ‘mumblecore’ movies like ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs’. But with a starring role opposite Ben Stiller in this week’s ‘Greenberg’ and a part in the forthcoming Russell Brand remake of ‘Arthur’, Gerwig seems set for stardom. She’s pretty excited about it, too…

You came to moviemaking as part of the ‘mumblecore’ scene. How did you all come together?
‘It was just this magical thing that I walked into. It was my last year of college and I didn’t have a specific plan. I wanted to act but so do many people; it’s presumptuous to say ‘I’m an actor’. We were all at South by Southwest in 2006. The Duplass Brothers had made ‘The Puffy Chair’, Andrew Bujalski had made ‘Funny Ha Ha’ and Joe Swanberg had made ‘Kissing on the Mouth’. I saw them, and I really loved them. I stayed after a Q & A and I told Andrew I thought he was a really great filmmaker. I think I told him he was the Chekhov of cinema. Which was really annoying of me. But it was amazing, this group of people who were creating their own outlet as opposed to waiting for anyone else to tell them what they could do.’

How do you feel about the term ‘mumblecore’?
‘I don’t mind the name mumblecore. It’s nice that all the movies are thought of together because I don’t think there’s any other way people would know about them.’

Was there an intention to use the movies as a stepping stone to the mainstream?

‘No. They’re so uncalculated. I don’t think that anyone would say, you know what a good stepping stone would be? Really naturalistic sex, improvised dialogue, crappy camera work, no lights. And what’s been great is that, for example, the Duplass brothers have been allowed to make the projects that they make, how they make them, on a slightly bigger scale with more known actors and more money. But they’re doing it the exact same way. The dream is not to subject yourself to the studio system, but to have people come to you and say, what is this that you do, please do it for us.’

Do you think ‘Greenberg’ was influenced by those movies?
‘I don’t. I think that ‘Greenberg’ is associated with those movies because I’m in it, and Mark Duplass is in it. But in many ways, this movie is the opposite of mumblecore because it’s tightly controlled, everything is incredibly precise. The mumblecore movies were about creating an environment where happy accidents can happen, but ‘Greenberg’ was about best executing what was already on the page.’

Don’t you think Noah Baumbach cast you because of your naturalistic style?
‘I think he was kind of excited by it, but I think it actually made him more nervous than anything. He gives very specific notes and he wants very specific things out of a performance. And he was worried because in the mumblecore films, it’s hard to tell whether they just pointed the camera at me. They didn’t know if I could actually perform. So there was a pretty extensive audition process, to make sure I wasn’t just some crazy girl from Brooklyn.’

Was it a comfortable transition for you?
'Yeah. I think as a transition to a slightly bigger project, it was the best I could make. Noah is so great. There’s a handful of directors in the world who really have a point of view. And it was lovely to have somebody else’s words and ideas that I could live inside. Because one of the things about making entirely improvised films is that you’re doing so many things at once, you’re acting, you’re writing, you’re cutting at night. You’re producing, you’re aware that the police officer is getting close to you on the street and they’re going to ask you to stop filming. There are so many things going on that you don’t get to give yourself over to something.’

Was there also a difficulty in relinquishing a certain amount of control?
‘It was really a relief! I can get a little tired of my own ideas, so it’s nice to give myself over to a strong vision. I think if I kept making movies that I had a pretty strong voice in, they would start getting stagnant. One of the great things about acting is that you get to place yourself in somebody else’s universe.’

Why do you think your character, Florence, falls for the rather unlikeable Roger Greenberg?
‘Well, you don’t get to pick who you fall in love with. I think she sees his anger and his bluster, but she can see very clearly that it’s not who he truly is. And because of that, it makes the softness of him more visible to her. Of course it’s hard to watch difficult characters. A lot of people behave in ways they don’t feel entirely comfortable with, and it’s uncomfortable to see that reflected back. But I think if I weren’t in this movie, I would go see it, and I would feel less alone in the world. Because people don’t make movies about Roger and Florence. And I think there are many more Rogers and Florences than there are Lara Crofts or James Bonds. I understand that cinema can function as fantasy fulfilment, but I think there’s a much deeper satisfaction in knowing that the universe has heard your soul. Which is what I feel like sometimes when I go to films. I think, I can’t believe that someone knew that about me.’

It seems this could be a breakthrough role. Are you prepared for all the baggage that could come with that?
‘All I know is that it’s all been kind of great so far. It’s just thrilling. I mean, maybe this is how you make a deal with the devil. You get tempted by all this great stuff. I’m part of a Hollywood machine right now and I’m having a great time!’

Is this the as-yet-untitled Ivan Reitman movie?
‘Yeah! It’s Ivan Reitman! I feel like every time he walks over to give me a direction, which is often, I think, oh my God, you directed "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters"! I know why people think the machinery of big moviemaking is soul crushing. But it’s also a huge thrill. I mean, sound stages and golf carts, the trailers and make-up… It’s the fantasy of being in film!’

What can you tell me about 'Arthur'?
‘Barring some major disaster, I think it’s good to go. I’m so lucky! I must have been very good in a past life. I even have a British agent! Which I’m very excited about. He calls me and sounds very posh.’

Do you want to go back and do more writing and directing?
‘Yeah! I will continue to balance it, hopefully. I have an amazing group of people around me who keep making tiny films, so it’s always going to be possible to get in on that. They won’t even want me there, but maybe I’ll make enough money that they won’t be able to deny me. I’ll say, I’m buying your camera, so you have to put me in your film! And I’m still writing and I hope to direct, probably in collaboration. I don’t know if you’re going to see a pure Greta Gerwig joint any time soon.’

Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston



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