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.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Oh no!

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.

Yeah.

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.

Right!

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 seriously overweight, 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] 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 allowed myself to be in a movie that maybe I shouldn’t have been in, just because I so didn’t want to be myself. Being on a movie set is GREAT if you hate yourself, because on a movie set, you’re working 14 hours a day, and it’s so much effort, and it takes so much out of you that you almost don’t have room for your own problems or your own thoughts, be they self-loathing or confusion or you feel like your personal life is in shambles, or what have you. 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?

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 when you’re chosen to act in something, the thing itself is already validated—it’s already real in some way. But for the most part, people who are creators—writers and directors—are always starting from zero. Nobody is asking them to make what they make. 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. Frances Ha felt like I gave birth to it. And then 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. ♦

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15 Comments

  • EmmaS August 6th, 2013 3:24 PM

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

    http://oneuponthemirror.wordpress.com/

  • 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.

    http://theneonpapaya.com

  • 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!
    http://www.kawaiiunicornsandsparkleponies.wordpress.com

  • 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:
    http://celluloidoxygen.tumblr.com/post/54422019805/frances-ha-noah-baumbach-2013

    <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 :’(

    http://ihatetomatosoup.blogspot.ca

  • 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!!!

    http://mabelsmind.blogspot.co.uk/

  • 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