The comedy in the movie is so subtle; I found myself laughing at the smallest things, like an expression would just kill me! Were you able to tell, while you were writing, what the funny parts were? Or did you just, like, embody Frances and go with it and see what came out?
We always had a sense of it being funny on the page. It’s very written and very precise, and there’s no improvisation. The actors do not change words. I mean, we don’t get laughs for a lot of the stuff we thought was really funny, but even if people internally kind of smile, it’s worth it.
I thought your interview with Terry Gross was so great; I remember you said you felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way because you didn’t think there were stories being told of women who were, like, heavier than a ballerina.
Could you talk about that? You said that [reading the part of Florence for] Greenberg made you feel differently, and I feel like I learned so much about how people act just when you said, like, “I knew how she felt about her thighs.” Yeah, sorry, not a great question—just kind of a statement.
I didn’t think I was going to end up talking about that at all on that show, but I think that’s why Terry Gross is a brilliant interviewer, because she draws unexpected things out of people. I was kind of embarrassed about it afterward.
I mean, I don’t know why, but I think all interviews are just difficult because, um, you’re not making statem— I don’t know, sorry! I mean, it’s something I feel complicated about. Certainly being an actor and working in film, you’re working in a visual medium.
And there is such a history of photographing beautiful people. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Recently there was a print that was screening at Film Forum of L’Avventura and I went, and I was watching Monica Vitti, who is one of the most beautiful women who’s ever lived, and I was thinking, you know, that’s part of it! Part of cinema is conventionally beautiful men and women. I think it’s ridiculous to say, “Why don’t they look like regular people?” because that’s part of the thrill of those movies. So I don’t want to say that movies that showcase traditionally gorgeous specimens of humanity are somehow less than.
But I wish I had a more consistent view of it. Because some days I think, like, Why don’t you just treat this like you’re an athlete and you need to be this size to be an athlete, and wouldn’t it be easier on you and you’d get more parts if you fit into sample sizes? Then I put effort into it—and I’m careful about what I eat or what I do. And then I’ll swing in the other direction and I’ll say, I don’t give a fuck! I’m never going to look like these people anyway, so why am I trying? For me, the pain has been in feeling one way and then the other and then the first way again. I feel like if I could just pick a lane of either, like, self-acceptance or athleticism, I would be happier. But I think the pain is in feeling like no matter which lane you pick, part of you hates it.
That makes a lot of sense. And I understand that you can say one thing in an interview and then it, like, becomes your identity.
I think Lena Dunham was very purposeful in being like, I want visibility for my kind of body on TV. But not everyone wants to put themselves out there like that, and not everyone feels that way consistently.
I also want to say—and I’m not saying this as a boast—but I’ve never been overweight in a serious way, and I don’t know what that feels like. So I don’t want to claim that I’m somehow representative of, or that I really understand, what it’s like to deal with that in a bigger way. What’s interesting to me is that I struggle with it anyway. That it occupies my mind in a way that’s disproportionate to how much of an issue it actually should be for me. I think that’s the culture.
My last question is, have you ever found yourself having a moment like Frances does in the movie, of just, like, “What am I doing? I’m not doing anything—oh, I know, I’ll go to Paris”? Anything impulsive like that?
[Laughs] Yeah. I mean, I’ve never actually taken a spur-of-the-moment trip with money I didn’t have. But I’ve definitely had my moments of lostness and heartbreak that feel like they can only be dealt with by doing something drastic. I’ve [signed on to] movies in that state. I’ve allowed myself to be in a movie that maybe I shouldn’t have been in or should have thought about a little bit harder, just because I so didn’t want to be myself. And being on a movie set is GREAT if you hate yourself, because everything you’re going through—be it self-loathing or confusion or you feel like your personal life is in shambles—because on a movie set, you’re working 14 hours a day, and it’s so much effort—it takes so much out of you that you almost don’t have room for your own problems or your own thoughts. That can be incredibly addictive. I have had moments where I thought, like, I just can’t face up to anything, I have to escape, and I’m gonna escape into this movie. I think that’s a bad way to use movies, and sometimes I’ve regretted it. But it’s part of it.
How was Frances Ha different in that respect?
Well, Frances Ha felt like I gave birth to it. When you’re an actor, you can act on your own, but you kind of need to get hired. You need to be chosen. And what I’ve realized about people I know who are creators—writers and directors—is that even at the highest level, even the people who are the best of the best and have every opportunity at their disposal, for the most part they are always starting from zero, and nobody is asking them to make what they make. That’s a completely different experience from being chosen to act in something. When you’re chosen to act in something, the thing itself is already validated—it’s already real in some way. But every time you set out to create something from nothing that nobody has asked for, you feel the void more than you do in any other art form. I do, anyway. I’d never experienced that with a film before Frances Ha, where at first there was nothing, and then there was something because we made it. And I realized that that’s what you have to do on every single project for the rest of your life, if this is what you want to do.
That seems like a wonderful place to end. Thank you so much!
OK! Thank you! I’m really excited to see what you continue to do with your life. ♦