Movies + TV

Follow What’s Alive: An Interview With Greta Gerwig

The screenwriter and star of Frances Ha talks to us about making movies, the joys of collaboration, and the perils of writing about your friends.

I read an interview with Lena Dunham and Miranda July where they were like, you know, it’s easier now to do more than one thing.

I do think it is easier. I also think, in some ways—this is a huge generalization and I might regret it instantly—but I feel that in a way women are kind of built to do lots of things. And I know that might sound, I don’t know, maybe anti-feminist, but when I look at women like my mother and her friends and my grandmother and professors I’ve had and women I’ve known who are artists, a lot of them have had lots of different chapters in their lives. That’s a generalization, and I have nothing to back it up. It’s just something I’ve observed in the world.

Well, I think women are more encouraged to be in touch with their emotions, so you just have more time to try out what you want to do with them.


Did playing Frances make you more or less inclined to write these awkward, embarrassing things that happen to her?

I didn’t really think about it when I was writing it. I just wanted it to work on the page. I was really inspired by the Mike Leigh movie Another Year. Lesley Manville’s performance in it is one of my favorite performances that has ever been in on film. And Mike Leigh does this thing that I really respond to, which is that on one hand [the movie is] very steeped in naturalism and it feels like life, but it’s also very written, and then there are these moments of absurdity that come through. I think all of his films have a moment where it feels almost farcical, it’s so forced. Early in [Another Year] Lesley Manville’s character comes over to this older couple’s house for dinner, and she gets so drunk. It’s not how another filmmaker would have done it, where she’d be drunk and being kind of inappropriate. In this movie, she gets so drunk that she can’t stand up. She can’t even walk to the bed that they gave her to spend the night in because they know she can’t get home. She can’t hold her head up! I wanted to have some of that feeling in this movie, that too-much-ness, that line between farce and realism. I admire the people who play with that, and I think I inevitably imitate them.

What other films or fimmakers were on your mind while you were writing Frances Ha?

There were actually more novels on my mind. There’s a novel called The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen that is just great! I didn’t know about Elizabeth Bowen [before I read it]—she wrote in the ’40s and ’50s, in England. The book is about a couple of years in a girl’s life, and it is full of all these small disappointments and small triumphs, and it’s just devastating. That was really an inspiration to me. And there’s a novella by Joseph Conrad called The Shadow-Line which is about sailing, of course, or ship management, because it’s Joseph Conrad, but there’s this 27-year-old that’s taking over this ship. I think that probably around [the age of] 27 is the first time you get the sense that you’re living life alone. So that idea, that turn at 27, was definitely on my mind.

So many of my favorite creations of all kinds are, like, the creator just trying to be heard, and to establish an identity. When you collaborate—especially, I imagine, with someone who’s also a part of your personal life—you have to put that aside. What was that like? Was it different from when your friends were saying, “How could you use that thing that we had,” or whatever?

You know, it’s funny—sometimes people say [about a collaboration], “I don’t remember who wrote what lines.” I feel like that’s a lie, whenever anyone says that. I remember. I know who wrote every single line. I can totally tell you which lines are mine and which lines are his. But they still all feel like mine! I think in any pure collaboration that’s really great, it feels like both people entirely. The best metaphor for it is songwriting: There’s something about songwriting where two people can work on the same song, but it’s 100 percent both people. I’m not comparing myself to these people but, like, Paul McCartney and John Lennon—their songs are both of them, but each one is 100 percent each of them. It’s almost like a paradox of collaboration. So I feel like Frances Ha is 100 percent mine and also 100 percent Noah’s. It definitely felt more like my struggle to find myself as a creator than [it was for] Noah, because this was something that I had been sitting on for years, while he has been in the process of very productive filmmaking for years. It was much more cathartic for me to write it and get it into the world. For him, I think it was just part of what he was used to doing as a filmmaker. It felt like much more of a leap for me.

The personal part of our relationship is both separate and part of it. I think we communicate really well [as a creative team]. It’s something we know we like to do together. And it’s really fun! I think it would feel like a part of us in our relationship was missing if we ever wholesale stopped writing together or making something together. It’s so fun to show Noah writing, because he’s my favorite person and I respect him so much, and when I can make him laugh or he likes something that I’ve written it feels, like, great. But I have to keep myself from showing him everything, because I find that when I involve him, it’s like a magnetic force field—everything gets pulled toward him. I don’t want to create an artificial barrier, but I have to know what something is before I show it to him. Otherwise it starts belonging to both of us, because it’s living in both of our heads.

I am by nature a collaborator. And in some ways, by nature, he’s not. So, in a way, working together strengthens the weak parts of each of us—it strengthens his collaborative instinct, and I think it strengthens my individualist instinct.


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  • EmmaS August 6th, 2013 3:24 PM

    Frances Ha seems like such a great movie! I can’t wait to watch it!

  • Frannie Lou August 6th, 2013 3:25 PM

    aw, this makes me so happy! my name’s also Frances and I’ve been dying to see this for a long time after watching the trailer and listening to a radio interview with Greta about the film. what a lovely gal <3

  • Libby August 6th, 2013 3:58 PM

    I’m totally psyched to see this film! Greta seems like such a rad lady as well, especially when she talked about being a dabbler. I have been feeling that a lot lately, and it’s comforting to know someone so accomplished & interesting has that same thing (issue? it shouldn’t be an issue, really, but it feels like it. i can’t decide what to do with my life)

  • Sophie ❤ August 6th, 2013 5:17 PM

    I love the cover pic- it’s so artistic but typical at the same time!
    Fabulous interview- Greta is amazing.

  • Esteoli August 6th, 2013 8:13 PM

    I love that Greta talks about being a dabbler and the feeling that you need to chose or you’ll never be great at anything. I really struggle with this feeling and I am still trying to figure out how to do (and put out into the world) everything that I love. Because I have never managed to choose one or two things.

  • KatGirl August 6th, 2013 9:19 PM

    I need to watch this!

  • TessAnnesley August 6th, 2013 9:20 PM

    Love love love this because I loved loved loved Frances Ha! I saw it at the Sydney Film Festival and reviewed it, and the entire thing is just me fangirling:

    <3 Greta

  • amelia3 August 6th, 2013 9:35 PM

    I absolutely love the last paragraph about creating art from scratch. I saw Frances Ha at Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg and it was wonderful!

  • culturealt August 6th, 2013 10:15 PM

    Thank you, Rookie (and Tavi!) for always having poignant and wonderful interviews. I saw Frances Ha in June and it was definitely a game changer. I had felt the same way about not really being too enthused on movies at the time (same old, same old,) but this movie was incredible– totally inspiring, unequivocally funny, and SO RELEVANT for 20-somethings like myself.
    I’m still fervently looking online for a Frances Ha movie poster to acquire for my room. Greta Gerwig is one lady that I just want to put into my pocket and keep forever. Fantastic movie/actress/interview. <3

  • Valerie Violet August 6th, 2013 11:01 PM

    Frances Ha was the best movie I’ve seen in such a long time, Greta is absolutely amazing!
    Great interview, thanks to Tavi and Greta for both being such strong, creative, and lovely women and such great sources of inspiration and understanding!

  • soup August 6th, 2013 11:17 PM

    i love her! frances ha was a little sad though :’(

  • eikcaj August 7th, 2013 1:56 AM

    Greta’s one of my favorites! Thanks for featuring her, Rookie. I appreciate her honesty here. Her mentioning being a dabbler couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. I, too, am a dabbler and things would be less complicated if that wasn’t the case. Nonetheless, Frances Ha is not only a GREAT movie but also inspires some nice conversation, which is always a plus. :-)

  • MabelEnchanted August 9th, 2013 12:59 PM

    Greta Gerwig is my new favourite person. I love her quote “You don’t need love and sex in films” because you don’t, everyone just expects it now. I absolutely loved Frances Ha when I went to see it with my Mum and after we were dancing in the streets. I also decided to write a little thing about it on my blog – I was very excited about how great the film was so there are a lot of exclamation marks!!!

  • madeleine9 August 13th, 2013 7:02 AM

    LOVE what she says about being called a dabbler! I think there’s this natural horror as a young person at the thought that if you don’t get incredibly good at something (or find one thing to dedicate your life to) before you leave your teens you’ll never succeed. It’s not until you DO find your ‘thing’ that you realise how important all the other parts of you are in making your work good and true and relevant. so keep dabbling!

  • irismonster August 22nd, 2013 3:49 PM

    ok can i just say that there was a double feature at my local movie theatre on Tuesday of Frances Ha and The Bling Ring and I didn’t get to see it. erghhhhh