From writer/director Greta Gerwig, the heartfelt and humorous Lady Bird is a beautifully human story that explores what life is like for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played to perfection by Saoirse Ronan), as she fights to figure out who she really is and what she wants. As the audience, we get to know and love the perfectly imperfect Lady Bird through her relationships with her loving but deeply opinionated mother (Laurie Metcalf), her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and the young men who come into and out of her life.
At the film’s L.A. press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Gerwig to chat 1-on-1 about her directorial debut, the incredible reaction she’s already received for it, how excited she is to try her hand at directing again, what made Saoirse Ronan her Lady Bird, what she’s going to do next, as an actress, and what it was like to be directed by Wes Anderson while she voiced a character for his stop-motion feature Isle of Dogs.
Collider: I loved this movie and thought it was so beautifully done!
GRETA GERWIG: Thank you! I really loved making it, so sharing it with people and talking to them has been great. It was a very loved movie when we made it.
Since seeing it, I’ve checked out reactions on Twitter and there are people who have seen the film multiple times, people who talked about how much they laughed and cried, and there was even someone who said they wanted a Lady Bird cinematic universe that included a movie for each of the characters. Were you, at all, prepared for just how much love this movie is getting?
GERWIG: No! It really has been so extraordinary. It did feel very special while we were making it, and it was really the people who made it. It was everyone from my P.A., Dana [Nelson], who was so wonderful and did the job of 10 people, to my favorite gaffer to Saoirse [Ronan] to my DP, Sam Levy, to Eli Bush, who is a producer. Every single person was really a storyteller and every single person really put not only their art into it, but their whole heart. So, it felt special while we were making it, but you just never know if people will connect with it or not. You try to make it as honestly as you can, and then you cross your fingers. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think that this would be the response, but I am so grateful that it is because it felt like this thing that we made together and the last step of that is giving it to the audience. They’re the last collaborator that you have because they put themselves in a place of vulnerability and trust you to take them on a journey. It’s so meaningful, but it’s completely mind-blowing. I love movies, so getting to be in the conversation and meet some of my heroes has been so fun. It’s just the most fun thing, ever. I get nerdy and nervous around not only great actors, but great directors and DPs I love. Every time I see Ed Lachman, I think I jump out of my skin and I’m like, “Ed! Oh, my god, Ed!” It’s amazing!
Has it all made you more nervous or more excited about making your next film?
GERWIG: It will make it easier to make the next one. You think, “Will someone let me do this again?!” I loved doing it so much that for me, I’m like, “Okay, I think they’ll let us do another one. We’re allowed to try again.” That’s the thing that’s nice. Although the truth is, I would have done it again and just figured out how to do it. I’ve been making movies, in different capacities – acting, writing, co-writing, producing and doing all kinds of things – for 10 years. I don’t think there’s ever a version where I wouldn’t make another movie, but it’s nice to know that it will probably be a little easier to put together.
Were you more nervous about directing this movie and being the one in charge on set that everyone looked to for all of the answers, or were you most nervous about actually showing the finished film to audiences?
GERWIG: I think the second one. They’re both scary, but the thing about writing and directing is that you keep giving the film away. When you write it, it’s just you and your imagination. The very first person I brought on was Sam Levy, who was the DP, and we had about a year to work on it before we went into pre-production. We’d had a relationship before, from other movies, and he lives in New York and I live in New York, so we could just get together and watch movies, look at photographs and paintings, and talk about how we wanted it to be. No one was getting paid, but he was happy to spend his free time with me and really build a shared language. But then, you give it to the production designer, the costume designer, your actors and your editor, and it feels like this ever-widening circle of people that you give it to. And then, the final step really is giving it to the audience. By the time the audience gets it, you’ve had to give it to so many people, and you have to trust them with it and let them tell the story. I’m a big believer in over preparing, anyway, because film is one of the very few timed arts. When you’re on set and that clock is going, every second you spend doing something is a second you spend not doing something else. That’s true of all of life, but it’s very vivid on a film set because you’re always managing that. I feel like any moment before you’re on that clock, that you can work with people and talk about it and spend rehearsal time and spend time with your cast and crew, is really important to me. I think I even did it more because I knew this was my first time doing it, but I was really ready.