Greta Gerwig on Girl Crushes, Movie Sex and Going Mainstream


That's a good segue back into No Strings Attached, which is about a purely sexual relationship.

It is. I think it's still being worked out, but what you can get away with in comedy is pushing that boundary because if it's funny people will accept it more easily than if it's not. That's what's good about Liz's script; it's quite funny and people don't immediately recognize what they're watching until after it's over and if it had been played straight it would have never gotten through the door.

In the film you play Natalie Portman's best friend, a pretty level-headed friend who almost leads by example where sex and relationships are concerned.

She's great. I like her so much. It's kind of hard to talk about her removed from how much I just really like her. I think she's so amazing as an actress, I just loved her in Black Swan. I saw it three times. I think she should win all awards, for everything.

Even the one you're up against her for at the Spirit Awards?

Yeah. I told her she'd better bring it! No, she should win everything. She's tremendous. I always loved her when I was growing up watching movies. She's a couple of years older than me but I felt like I grew up with her, in a way. She was so smart, I thought it was so cool that she went to Harvard and got an education. I've had conversations with other girls about this -- I went to regular college, but girls whose parents were very insistent upon an education, when you'd tell your parents you wanted to be an actor and they'd say, you could do so many other things, you're so smart, Natalie Portman was a talking point. Well, Natalie Portman did it! And they couldn't deny it.

How much of a departure from your past roles was No Strings Attached for you?

It was a different kind of a part in a different kind of a tone and project, so it was different from anything I'd done. But I had a great time doing it. It's so strange and I'm sure other people feel like this, but I always knew I kind of had that side of myself - the best friend type role -- because I played it all through high school. I was the sidekick. I think I was too tall. I'm 5' 9" but in high school that seemed gigantic and boys seemed really short because they wouldn't get their growth spurt til later. So I was always the sidekick in musicals -- or the older evil woman.

Speaking of musicals, tell us about the new Whit Stillman movie you filmed, Damsels in Distress, which has a musical component.

It's a '30s song and dance. I tap and sing, and I actually did tap dance growing up, so I tap danced for my audition for Whit. I was so excited to audition for him, I said, "I know you didn't ask for it, but I brought my tap shoes." I just really wanted to be in it because I love his movies. I think what's amazing about his films is that he's so genuinely eccentric and unique, and he really does see things differently than anyone else.

How have you come to work with so many auteurs?

I like filmmakers. I think in some ways it's more exciting as an actor for me because filmmakers who are often writer-directors or auteurs are world-builders more than anyone else. If you look at people like Whit Stillman or Todd Solondz or Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach or Sofia Coppola, they have something specific that they're doing. You get to live in this made-up world that they built, so you're not only playing a character, you're playing a character that only exists in this alternate universe that exists only in their head and on the screen. And to me that's completely intoxicating.

And how does that affect how you work with them?

When you're working with a world-builder, you've got music you think they'd like and books you think would influence them. With Whit, he's so influenced by St. Augustine's Confessions and I was reading those the whole time. He really, truly has a lot of moral strife. And he loves Caribbean dance hall music so I listened to that. You get to now only see through the characters' lives but have the filmmakers world live through you, and that's really rewarding.

You've been more and more involved in your smaller films, with producing and writing credits on a number of projects. Are you going to continue pursuing non-acting roles in films?

Yeah, on Nights and Weekends and Hannah Takes the Stairs and this movie I shot, I think it'll be at SXSW this year, called The Dish & the Spoon, which I just went to Delaware to make with my friends. I think it benefited a lot from being involved like that, and it also makes you grateful for when you have resources. Because you use them and you never had them before and you're excited that you can get the right car for a character and you're not just constrained by what kind of car your friend has.

You've got a busy 2011 ahead of you with No Strings Attached, Arthur, and Damsels in Distress. Do you envision yourself continuing to go back and forth between studio films and micro-indies in the near future?

I don't think I'm as interested in sort of meandering storytelling as I once was, or things that are not scripted.

What changed?

I started thinking that while you can get a lot of interesting things out of entirely improvised movies or movies that have a loose structure but are almost all improvised, sometimes I felt like they could have been better had they been honed, Mike Leigh-style. Taking the improvisations and shaping them and turning them into something. And second to that is, I identify as much as a writer as I do as an actress. I like the process of writing and I like getting a script as an actor. Maybe it's just self-entertainment, but having something to write is good, it keeps me sane. I'm interested in making things as perfect as they can be on the page before making them into a film, because I enjoy words and writing.

How long and how much have you been writing?

I've been writing scripts along the way but kind of so they would be turned into things really quickly. Just quickly saying, let's put it on its feet and see how it goes. Now I've transitioned; we wrapped Damsels by Dec. 1, so I've had a month and a half, and it's been great to wake up and write every day. I forgot how much I liked it. I love acting but I think I'm a better actor when I'm writing and I'm a better writer when I'm acting.

What kinds of stories are you yearning to put out there?

Movies about girls of different ages. Movies about Sacramento. I want to shoot a movie in Sacramento, and I believe I'll be able to do that. But I feel that I have the distinct advantage of being really from a place; I was raised there my whole life and I feel like I know it. I spent a lot of my life feeling that maybe where I come from was not good enough because I didn't grow up in New York surrounded by culture all the time. My mom's a nurse and my dad works at a credit union. And all of a sudden I thought, No, this is good! Now you have the opportunity to make something about this world! So that's looking forward to the next three years, I hope that's a big component of what I do because I love it.

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