Greta Gerwig: ‘The coolest actress on the planet’
Indie queen Greta Gerwig, the co-writer and star of the sparkling new comedy ‘Frances Ha’, on female friendship and showing your true colours
Funny girl: Greta Gerwig in 'Frances Ha'
As you may have noticed, it’s been a bit on the balmy side this summer. What better time to lower temperatures with the coolest actress on the planet? It’s Greta Gerwig. Crisply blonde, strong of feature, the Californian can been spotted in mainstream pictures such as throwaway comedy No Strings Attached and that ill-advised remake of Arthur. But her true metier is the classier end of American independent cinema.
In the middle of the past decade, Gerwig, now 29, became a leading figure in the cinematic non-movement that – thanks to the lowness of its key – came to be known as “mumblecore”. That’s her showing characteristic restraint in Mark and Jay Duplass’s Baghead, Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs and Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg. This week, she can be seen as the title character in Baumbach’s endlessly delightful Frances Ha.
Hello, Ms Gerwig. Let us first point out how much we like your forename. There aren’t enough Gretas about any more.
“Yeah, I love the name too,” she says. “It’s an old-fashioned name. It’s usually people’s grandmothers and so forth, so, I like that about it.”
You will be pleased to hear that Greta is not at all like the slightly sleepy characters she played in those first few independent pictures. She is, in person, closer to the exuberant, positive Frances (though a deal more focused). It can’t be fun living with that “Meryl Streep of Mumblecore” reputation? The phrase keeps appearing in interviews. Mind you, what actor would object to being the Meryl Streep of anything?
“Hey, just being the Meryl Streep of your own neighbourhood would be pretty cool,” she says. “None of that bothers me. I actually don’t get asked about it that much anyway. I always felt that, starting out, I gave it everything I had. I think when I am annoyed by any question it indicates that I am insecure about something. That doesn’t worry me.”
Of course, those of us who skirt the outer rings of the cinematic system can easily overstate the penetration of such concepts. It seems unlikely that too many viewers of Arthur were pondering her appearance in Baghead (which really does involve a fellow with a bag on his head).
“I did get to move on to a world where nobody even knew those movies existed, so I didn’t feel quite as encumbered by it. It was harder for directors like Mark Duplass and Joe Swanberg to escape. You can’t make a movie every week if you’re a director.”
In recent years, Gerwig has been on top form as a domineering college student in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress and as an American emigré in Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love. But Frances Ha looks to be the film that will properly cement her reputation.
Co-written by Gerwig and Baumbach (her current romantic partner), the film follows the careering adventures of a supposed dancer – who doesn’t dance all that much – as she travels from apartment to apartment in bohemian New York City (and briefly heads off for a disastrous holiday in Paris). Among the joys of the film is its slightly equivocal attitude to its heroine and her friends. Frances is certainly a bit of a pretentious nitwit, but she’s kind, funny and, ultimately, rather admirable.