Greta Gerwig Exclusive Interview; Talks NO STRINGS ATTACHED, Whit Stillman’s DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, and the Remake of ARTHUR

     January 20, 2011

If you’re an indie film watcher, you already know Greta Gerwig.  But while many of us are familiar with her great work in such films as The House of the Devil, Baghead and Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, she’s still not on everyone’s radar.  But that’s about to change.  That’s because Gerwig plays one of Natalie Portman’s friends in No Strings Attached, she stars opposite Russell Brand in the remake of Arthur, and she’s also in Whit Stillman’s (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco) new movie Damsels in Distress.  What that means is…she’s right on the verge of being a mainstream star.

Anyhow, I recently got to do an extended interview with Gerwig and we talked about all three of her upcoming projects.  If you’ve been waiting (like me for Whit Stillman to finally make another movie, the great news is she thinks Stillman might not stop with Damsels in Distress.  In addition to spending way too much time talking about Stillman, Gerwig talks about her love of Elizabeth Meriwether and Ivan Reitman, making No Strings Attached, what making Arthur was really like, and so much more.  Hit the jump to either watch, read or listen to the interview:

While I did the interview on camera, I’m offering a few ways to get the interview.  You can either watch the video below, click here to listen to/download the audio, or go further down to read the transcript.  When we can, we’re going to offer interviews in as many forms as possible as we know each of our readers prefers a different format.

Collider: So as I was saying a second ago, this is a far cry from Greenberg.

Greta Gerwig:  Well, we’re still at the Four Seasons, so it feels pretty fancy still to me. These are nice suites.

So what’s it been like for you? Obviously you’ve made a transition from sort of, I would say, more indie fare into what we call the Hollywood, big budget productions.

Gerwig:  You’re telling me I’ve sold out.

No actually, no I’m not telling you that you’ve sold out.

Gerwig:  Haha. It’s been amazing. I feel like what’s great about it, is it’s been… it’s felt like these are things that I want to do anyway. I love the woman who wrote this movie. I was gonna say girl, but I should say woman, that’s more respectful.

Well, you could make another comment, but we won’t go there either.

Gerwig:  But she, Elizabeth Meriwether, is a really amazing writer and I always loved her writing. When I was at college in New York she was this up and coming really young playwright who had just graduated from Yale and she had plays in New York that were incredibly well reviewed. She was on everyone’s list of like, the top playwrights under thirty, and like, she was really cool and I was really jealous of her. And then when I got this script that was written by her I was really excited because, I was like, oh my God, she went to LA and she’s doing it. And so when I read it, it had the same sense of humour as she’s always had, and a really distinctive voice, and I was just really excited to audition for it, and even more excited when I got cast. So it’s been kind of… I would have done her movie had she said, “I’ve got five dollars, we’re shooting it on DV cameras, we’re shooting it on HD – let’s go make it”. I would have done that too. The fact that it was a big deal and Ivan Reitman was directing it, which is also really cool, I love Ivan Reitman.


Gerwig:  So, it’s felt very…like, things I would always do anyway.

No, totally. When you got to the project, I’m sure there’s a little bit of rehearsal project, so how did your character alter/ change based on your involvement with the project?

Gerwig:  Well I think when I read it on the page Liz defined it very clearly and I definitely got the kind of girl that Patrice is. By the way, I love the name Patrice, I thought that’s a really funny name when I read it on the page. And I have a friend very much like Patrice. She kind of has the: ‘before I like you I don’t like you’ feeling about her. And kind of charmingly negative. And even more so when she gets drunk. So I felt like I knew who she was on the page. And I think what happened more was that when we started shooting it, meeting the other actors, and seeing how all of that energy sort of mixed together, that kind of deepened and changed what it was. Like I think it’s really funny that I’m so much taller than Natalie, because I think it’s funny that Natalie has a really tall best friend, and I think that it’s inherently comedic to see the two of us together because I’m so tall and blonde and Germanic.

Haha. Ok, I think that’s very true! I’m curious about…you’re not in the film every frame, you’re in selective scenes. How was that for the production? Were you having to be there the entire time, or were they like, “we’re gonna film you for two weeks, and then you’re all set”?

Gerwig:  No, I was sort of…It was less like they were going to film me for two weeks, and more like I would be on like two days a week for the whole shoot. So I was there kind of the whole time, but I didn’t work every single day. So they kept bringing me in for different days. So it was just like I had the sweetest job in the world, it was like a two or three day a week job, with awesome people, getting to hang out and be funny, and do this fun movie. And then the rest of the time I was just hanging out in LA. And I don’t live here, so it was neat.

I imagine that’s a pretty sweet gig.

Gerwig:  It was really so much fun. I had so much fun making this movie. And I know that everyone always says that, but I really had so much fun. I just.. all the actors, I just love them all. Especially all the girls. No offence to the guys, I love the guys, but there’s something really cool about… all the girls in the movie were hilarious. And I love Natalie, and also, Lake Bell, and Mindy Kaling, and Olivia Thirlby, and Ophelia Lovibond – they’re all just really neat girls. And it felt kind of like social hour.

Well as you just mentioned with the cast, what I was surprised watching the movie last night was, how many… every actor in every part was someone I almost recognized. Like, they really cast this thing. And Kevin Kline playing the Dad…!

Gerwig:  I know! It was, yeah, it has a really kind of… I mean, the script has all these great characters that were part of the ensemble, and I think that was really attractive to people. And they really got great people to be in it. So it was really exciting and fun to come to work everyday and be part of the back up team, the back up singers! But it would be like, I don’t know, I feel like we’re pretty great back up singers!

No, no, absolutely. 100%. I want to transition in to another subject, because you have worked or are working with, I don’t know where it is right now, with a film maker I revere, and I cannot believe that he’s finally making another movie, you know of whom I speak?

Gerwig:  Whit Stillman.

Exactly. I have waited a very long time for that man to make another movie.

Gerwig:  You know what’s amazing? I was waiting for a very long time for that man, Whit Stillman to make another movie, and then I got to be in it! I can’t… I’m so excited! But yes, it’s done. I finished it at the end of 2010. It should be out in the fall, and it’s really good. I know the script is great, and it was great on set, so I hope that we as actors all did our job and made it as good as it could be.

Has he mentioned to you…So does this mean, obviously, as a fan of his, does this mean that you now can get a hold of him and actually text him and make stupid comments to him?

Gerwig:  Yes, I have Whit Stillman on my cell phone. It’s very exciting. It’s listed his full name, it says Whit Stillman, so if he ever calls, it says Whit Stillman calling.

That’s awesome.

Gerwig:  It’s very cool. I utterly worship him as a writer and as a film maker and I just… He’s a really lovely person too. He’s very unique and very sweet and he really, I don’t know, the whole filming he’s just everything you want him to be. He dressed up everyday. He always looks so put together. Even at 5:30 in the morning he’d have an elegant scarf.

I’m curious. Woody Allen is famous for working 9 – 5, for like, having very set hours.

Gerwig:  Yeah.

I don’t know if Whit, because he hasn’t made a movie in a while, if he sort of lives in that sort of thing where working from 8 to 10 hours and then that’s it, or whether he’s the type of film maker that will do the 16 hour day.

Gerwig:  He’ll do the 16 hour day. Whit will do the 16 hours day. I think it was… we shot it, I mean, on a tight schedule, and it was a tight budget, so we really stayed, we had long days. But it was good, I think everyone wanted to be there very badly. But he’s, he can work really very very long days and still be completely focused.

For the people who don’t know, what can you tell people about, like, the one liner about the film, and who you play?

Gerwig:  So, in No Strings Attached or in…?

Oh no, in Whit’s film.

Gerwig:  Oh, in Whit’s, we’re still on…

Oh no, we’re still on Whit’s film. Oh yeah, you’re talking to someone… I am in utter… I am so excited that he’s making a movie, because this means that he might actually make another movie after this.

Gerwig:  I think he will. I hope he does. I will always watch and love his movies. The movie we made is called Damsels In Distress. I play a character named Violet. It takes place at a liberal arts college on the East Coast and I run a suicide prevention centre where I help suicidal and depressed students overcome their tendencies through staging musicals with them, and teaching them how to tap dance and sing in musicals. And helping them dress well and wear nice perfume. And I have a congery of girls, that kind of follow me around. But then it’s kind of the perils of love, and just these wonderfully eccentric characters.

I’m assuming it’s filled with the typical dialogue that inhabit his previous films.

Gerwig:  I have a lot of things to say. I have a lot of opinions and a lot of things to say. I was so scared when we first started because I so clearly have… you know, the way Chris Eigeman says things, or the way Kate Beckinsale in Last Days of Disco says things, it’s so burned in my mind. The way they talk. And I didn’t want to imitate them, but I was also aware of Whit Stillman speak. But once I got in to it, I think what’s really nice about working with a writer director is that they really have their own rhythm, so even if it’s a lot of words, once you start doing it it starts becoming natural and organic to you and you kind of start speaking like that all the time. I started saying very Whit Stillmany things as I was making it which I think was really annoying to my roommates. But I would say, “and yet…” and then I’d keep talking and they were like, “why are you qualifying everything you’re saying?” and it was like, because now I’m thinking like that.

It’s very funny. It’s interesting, because he, he was such a powerful voice, I’m sorry for being so on the subject, but he was such a powerful voice in film, and then all of a sudden it’s like he went Howard Hughes, you know?

Gerwig:  Well I think he, I think he, what he says is that when he started making films, he had a trunk of films. He had scripts, so he was able to make them kind of, you know, he was able to as soon as had financing make them because he had a trunk of scripts. And he said he has spent the last few years rebuilding his trunk and now he has like, another trunk of films he wants to make.

It’s a good analogy.

Gerwig:  It’s his analogy not mine.

Sure, but it’s a good… I’m crediting him.

Gerwig:  Yeah, full credit to him. But I think he was really happy making it. I think it was nice, and I think he’ll continue to make, I think he’ll do another run of films now.

You mentioned the end of the year, do you think that we’re talking Toronto Film Festival or..?

Gerwig:  Yes, definitely a film festival. But I don’t know all the details.

That’s fine. I’m going to run out of time with you so I do want to get in to one other subject, which is a certain comedy with a certain British star with bat mobiles and DeLoreans.

Gerwig:  I don’t know what you’re referring to.

I don’t know either actually.

Gerwig:  Arthur.

Yes. I’ve interviewed Mr. Brand recently and he told me about the bat mobiles, and wearing George Clooney’s Batsuit and DeLoreans and crazy shit. How much did you get to play in that crazy shit universe?

Gerwig:  I did get to play quite a bit in that crazy shit universe. It was amazing. I mean, I love Russell Brand. I think he’s just so funny and so talented and it was great fun to work with him and he’s so smart it’s disarming. And Helen Mirren and… you know, it was pretty incredible. And Luis Guzman…


Gerwig:  Oh, I love Luis Guzman, he’s so great. And Jennifer Garner, so beautiful and sweet, and great, and everyone was… I just really had the best time on it with those people. But shooting in New York and getting to be part of a big movie in New York was really cool because I went to college there and I lived there and, you know, I’ve walked past these movie sets that are, you know, you sort of rub on your neck and you’re like, “what are they shooting?” You know, and you see the trailers and you’re like, asking the security guard, you’re like, “what’s in there? Who’s in there?” and it was so exciting and surreal but great to be part of it. And we’re like, “I’m it! I mean, you may not know who I am, but I’m in it!” So that was really, just so exciting to experience the city that way, because I’ve never done a Law and Order so…

For the people that don’t know, could you talk about who you play in the film.

Gerwig:  I play, they changed the name, I play Liza Minnelli’s character who’s called Linda in the original movie, but now she’s called Naomi, because I think Linda sounded old fashioned for some reason, so they changed the name to Naomi and she’s a girl from Queens, and she’s one of those New York girls who has always got a lot of things going on, and interesting things happening and too many places to be at once. And I liked… I know those girls, and it was really fun to play someone who is kind of on the go, and just exciting. Like she’s like the city, she’s all heart. I think she’s like New York City, in that, you don’t actually need a lot of money to experience what’s great about New York. For free you can walk around, for free you can go to Central Park, for free you can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see Van Goghs and Rembrandt, for free! And I think that was what was neat about playing this character in the world of Arthur, who has all this money. Is that I got to play the voice of, “but it’s New York City and it’s here for everyone”.

Totally. I have to wrap with you but one last quick question. What are you think about  2011 as far as upcoming things? Are you circling things?

Gerwig:  I am circling things. I’m sort of seeing what works out. I’m not really that strategic because it seems like I have been very lucky with things that have come up when they’ve come up, and I kind of know when things feel right, so I’m sure I’ll be making some films and I hope I love them as much as I love all the other ones I’ve gotten to do.

Totally, I have to wrap with you. Thank you so much and congrats with everything that’s going on.

Gerwig:  Thank you, it’s so nice to see you again, I like your nail polish!

Thank you, hold on let me hit stop. Thank you, I appreciate you indulging me with talking to me about Mr. New York City.

Gerwig:  I know, he’s so cool, he’s so great.

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