Every now and then you read something about a celebrity that, for better or worse, gives you a pretty firm impression of them. With Greta Gerwig, for me it was when she told WWD (the fashion industry’s insider bible), "I’m not a streetwalker. I don’t see the need to wear streetwalker shoes. I went to Barnard. I have a degree. That equals low heels.”
So as I was gearing up to interview her about her charming new movie, Frances Ha, which opens wider this weekend, I figured I better lay off the style questions and go deep into the issues the film actually deals with—fading female friendships, mid-20s malaise, career setbacks—you know, that general feeling that you have no idea where your life is headed. This is not a girl who wants to discuss sparkly shoes and hemlines, I thought. Still, something made me think that wasn’t the entire story. Perhaps because I’ve seen a fashion feature or two on her, and she seems to be upping her style game as of late (most recently turning out in an off-white jumpsuit by Band of Outsiders at the CFDA Awards).
So I asked her about the "low heels" remark. "I’m glad you asked me about that! I’ve been hoping someone would ask me to clear that up for so long because I feel like it’s one of those things that I’ve always been like, ‘Wait, can we try again?’ I was being sarcastic and that was the first time I learned that sarcasm does not read," she says. "I was reading [my press] at that time, which, I have to say, put me off reading things, because it was posted somewhere and people wrote underneath it ‘She is vile’ and ‘I went to an all-women’s college and I wear platform heels, f**k this girl!.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK’—so I just stopped reading. From now on I’m going to try and not make jokes because people…well, I just had never experienced people so upset about something. It wasn’t even that big of a deal, but from then on I was like, no more jokes."
Clearly, you can be a smart girl and be into fashion and Gerwig totally gets that…now. "I definitely went through a phase where I felt like I needed to prove something and I felt like I could prove that I was smart by looking not great," she admits. "Like if I put effort into it, it was somehow seen as superficial and I think that’s really just sort of a sign that I wasn’t being really mature. I’ve learned since then that looking good and being smart are not mutually exclusive and there are so many women who are beautiful and really smart. I think it was my narrowness at that point that made me think I couldn’t do both. I really do love fashion and I love heels and as everyone can see, I’ve definitely worn them!"
OK, now on to the movie, which I can tell you honestly is truly as great and special as Gerwig—and also impossble to imagine with anyone other than her in the starring role of Frances, a modern dancer whose changing relationship with her best friend sends her into a mini-tailspin.
Lucky: Was there a certain moment or spark where the idea came to you?
Greta Gerwig: Well, Noah [Baumbach,Gerwig's director and co-writer] emailed me if to ask I would be interested in collaborating on something with him and we really started with pretty much nothing and found our way into making this film through writing it. It was a very intuitive and organic process. I think we work very similarly that way. We don’t impose the stories on ourselves; we sort of let the story come out of the writing. It took about a year to write and it was a long process but it was really gratifying.
It’s hard to imagine this movie being written without you; the female perspective on friendship is so spot-on.
Yeah, I mean, I think Noah and I both equally put ourselves into it, although Noah is more disguised in a way because he’s not a 20-something woman. I do think that it helps that I was a 20-something woman and I was able to write about things almost as they were happening, but I think ultimately it really felt like a work of fiction for both of us. Female friendship is very much a part of this story but I also think that the story kind of goes beyond gender for me. It’s kind of a hero’s journey in a way, even though it’s smaller-stakes than maybe the Peloponnesian War, but it still feels like a hero’s journey. Noah’s always written female characters really well. It’s hard to account for what’s me and what’s Noah because it felt like the collaboration yielded this third thing that ended up being the movie.
Have you ever had a tough time in your own life, like Frances does in the movie?
I had a lot more success than Frances does earlier. I wasn’t financially successful, but I was getting more feedback from the universe that was telling me that I wasn’t totally on the wrong track. But I think if you’re pursuing anything that doesn’t have a clearly laid-out path for how you’re going to do it, you never feel like "Oh, well I know that this is all going to exactly work out." It feels much more precarious and you feel kind of close to it not working out. You know how easily it could all fall apart.
Did you know [your co-star] Mickey Sumner before making the film?
No, I actually didn’t. I really kind of met her through auditioning more than anything else. She auditioned for this. She just blew me away. She’s incredible. She’s just a great actress. We’ve really become friends in real life but it was all through the film.
Are you a person who reads your reviews?
I don’t read reviews. I respect reviewers a great deal and I hear when they’re good, but I don’t seek them out because they make me nervous. I don’t want to be too self-conscious or precious with myself. If someone liked something, I don’t want to be endlessly imitating myself or if someone doesn’t like something I don’t want to be endlessly trying to make it better. I think you just have to kind of do what you do and hope that people like it.
Back to fashion—how do you feel about it now?
I’ve always wished I was good at it. I was always trying to be good at it. I was just struggling. It’s not something that’s necessarily intuitive. There isn’t a lot of ways you can practice being good at that. It’s not a skill that most people have, I guess. Honestly, I’ve gotten better at it because I have the help of a very good stylist right now. That’s been tremendously helpful for me.
Do you think of it as an expression of your personality, though?
Oh, yeah. I love working with [my stylist] because we really sat down and talked about influences and who I loved and who my favorite people are—and in my heart, I’m a girl of the ’70s. I love Laura Hutton and Angelica Huston and the way they looked—so easy and sexy, but not too done or too effortful. They always had kind of that masculine/feminine sexiness. I’ve always liked people who have these not necessarily pretty, pretty faces in a boring way, but beautiful faces you just want to look at while they grow and age.
Your CFDA outfit got a lot of attention. Do you mind when people talk about your style?
It’s totally a part of being an actress. I think it’s organic to movies – movies are a visual medium. What’s nice, I’ve found, working with my stylist and as I’ve gotten more comfortable with things, every time I feel like I’m really expressing myself, I’ve found that people respond to it well. And every time I feel like I try to pretend to be someone else, it never really works. So even though it is visual and it can be kind of annoying to have to always think “Oh, how is this going ot look to people?,” it’s also something that, just like everything else, the more you do it your own way, the better it is.
More on Luckymag.com:
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