Greta Gerwig, ‘Frances Ha’ Star, Isn’t Interested in ‘Being a Great Actor in a Sh– Movie’
When you hear the plot for “Frances Ha” — about an awkward 27-year-old aspiring dancer in Brooklyn who’s trying to get her life together — your first inclination might be to compare it to another Brooklyn-based project with a twentysomething female protagonist. However, “Frances Ha” is not HBO’s “Girls, and its co-writer and star, Greta Gerwig, is not Lena Dunham (nor is she playing Hannah, Dunham’s character on the show). That’s nothing against “Girls,” it’s just that “Frances Ha,” and its terrific performance from Gerwig, deserves to stand on its own.
Most mainstream audiences are likely unfamiliar with Gerwig. Other than supporting roles in “No Strings Attached” and “Arthur,” as well as Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” she hasn’t had much exposure outside of the indie film world. Whether that changes with “Frances Ha” remains to be seen. Either way, the 29-year-old actress is someone to keep an eye on.
Here, Gerwig talks about the trepidation she had about acting in “Frances Ha,” the new movie she just wrote about herself (she also plans to direct it), how she avoids being in bad movies, and why she’s ready to take a vacation.
Moviefone: This film isn’t just getting great reviews. It seems to genuinely make people happy.
Greta Gerwig: I am so glad about that!
Are you getting that same sense?
I mean, my experience of people talking to me after the movie is this joy that seems to penetrate through the movie or live through the movie that people connect to. There was a screening at the San Francisco Film Festival, and they seemed to really love it… I really love the movie and I loved making it, and it was a real expression of the best that I was capable of. I’ve never felt so invested in a film, so the fact that people are taking joy from it is tremendously pleasurable for me.
You’ve written stuff in the past, but I get the feeling this project was different.
This was the first time I felt like I was really…like, that’s half of my writing and it’s really represented, and I got the joy that I felt when I wrote plays and gave them to other actors to play. I mean, I was in this, but I also had the experience of saying “I wrote that line and now I have great actors saying that and it sounds so good coming out of there mouths!” It’s so intensely pleasurable and scary.
Were you worried about acting in a film you were so invested in from the beginning?
Yeah. I didn’t have any ideas as a writer when I thought about myself acting in it, so I didn’t think about myself acting in it. I thought briefly about not acting in it; I thought maybe I would play Sofie and someone else could play Frances. But then I thought, No, that’s ridiculous, you’re going to play Frances. There was something that felt [long pause] …
… it just made sense?
Yeah! But it was also scary because, I don’t know … Being an actor you feel inadequate constantly. I mean, I guess it’s just being an artist or a writer a musician — it’s a constant swing between gross ego and then gross inadequacy. I try to keep a more steady sense of self because I think it’s a sign of real immaturity as a person if you gauge how you feel about yourself by how other people feel about yourself. But I also think nobody is more susceptible to doing that than artists because they’re always constantly looking for approval.
So you guys ended up taking some breaks in between filming to tweak the movie. Was there anything major you changed?
Nope. Actually, Noah told me that this is the movie that he’s made that’s most closely cut to the script, which he wasn’t saying was a good thing or a bad thing, he was just noting that most of the time big things get left out once he’s done cutting a movie, or get moved around.
That must be nice, especially if you’re writing and acting in the movie.
It was nice! Even the stuff that we moved around, I had a moment of “Ahhh, should we move it?” But it was right.
Has there been anything you learned in the writing process for this movie in terms of what not to do as a writer going forward?
Oh, a tremendous amount. I have basically written every day for my whole life, but it was just directionless writing — it was just notes — and it was not for anything. It was just for myself or…I didn’t know what. I didn’t really know that I could be a writer. And then, luckily, I had some professors in college that pointed me in the right direction. I am a little bit ADD [laughs]. I suffer from really poor organization. I think one of the things — and this sounds very small — I learned from Noah is he just keeps one document. You just keep adding to that one document and changing that one document and you save drafts as you go. Even if I was going to start a document, I’d write five things and then I’d save it and lose it somewhere on my computer and then I’d start a new thing.
It’s like the image of the tortured writer ripping pages out of their notebook, crumbling them up and starting a new draft.
Yeah, totally! Also these observations were winding up everywhere. [On this] I really learned how to gather and force myself how to stay in this one document. That helped me a lot because it’s just my tendency to really spread out in a way that’s really not helpful for actually finishing anything.
Have you’ve tried that method since you wrote “Frances Ha”?
Yeah, [Noah and I] wrote another movie.
Is this the animated movie with the dog?
No, that’s another one. We wrote the animated movie together and then we wrote another movie together, and then I wrote a movie about myself.
Oh, wow. That’s a lot. So the plan is to move forward with all three of those?
Noah is directing the animated one, we finished the other one we wrote together, and he directed it, and I am going to direct the one I wrote. So, yes, moving forward. It makes me tired to think about it. My goal in 2014 is to take a vacation.
Anywhere in particular?
Somewhere with a beach. I mean, it’s not that I can’t take a vacation now, it’s that I just have trouble taking a vacation when I feel like I have yet to accomplish major life things. And my most recent major life thing that I feel like I need to accomplish before I take a vacation is to direct a movie. That’s a really hard thing to put in the way of a vacation [laughs].
You’ve mentioned in the past how people often confuse you for the role you played in “Greenberg.” How does that affect you as an actor? Are you a little more pickier with your roles? Do you just ignore it?
I just try to ignore it. I really just try to work with the best directors who want to work with me. I think the only thing that’s changed is that I kind of care less about people thinking whatever they think. You develop some coping skills and you stop feeling like you want to write a comment on an article [saying] “I am that person! This is totally wrong!!” Which, you do have that impulse for the first year of people writing things about you because you’ve never had anybody write anything about you before and you feel the need to correct the record. And it doesn’t matter. You kind of just have to let it go because it will just make you insane. So I just try to pick things I really like and I really think are great.
More than even the character I play, I look for the movie itself. Being a great actor in a sh*t movie is not something I am that interested in. I’d rather be a small part in a great movie than a big part in a stinker. But I will also be in a stinker, don’t worry. [Laughs] I have been in some stinkers. I mean, you can’t avoid being in a stinker but you can try and be honest about why you choose things for yourself. I also think you kind of just have to be, you know … Sometimes you just need a job. You can’t get too precious about it.