Photos from: http://www.kimberlyelise.com/wcw-greta-gerwig/ and http://www.vulture.com/2017/10/greta-gerwig-director-lady-bird.html
1. She originally wanted to be a playwright.
Growing up, Gerwig claims that she never really watched TV or movies. Instead, her parents frequently took her to theatre shows, and it was through theatre that she developed such a fascination with acting and writing. Her commitment to and involvement with the theatre world eventually led her to meet many of her collaborators, including Laurie Metcalf, the woman who played Christine’s (Saoirse Ronan) mother in Lady Bird (2017). Her plans to be a playwright changed when she wasn't accepted into the MFA program she had applied for.
2. She went to an all-girls' high school.
Gerwig attended an all-girls' high school in her hometown of Sacramento and loved it. She ended up extending her single-sex education into post-secondary by attending Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts school in New York. Christine in Lady Bird also attends an all-girls school, one of the many aspects that contribute to speculation among critics and fans that the film is autobiographical.
3. She studied English and Philosophy at Barnard College.
Gerwig received a degree in English and Philosophy from Barnard College and intended to continue her education in these streams by pursuing an MFA in playwriting. However, she was not accepted into the MFA program she had applied to, leading to a tumultuous period of self-doubt in her mid-twenties.
4. Gerwig dealt with depression in her mid-20s.
“I was really depressed. I was 25 [in 2008] and thinking, ‘This is supposed to be the best time and I’m miserable.’ But it felt like acting was happening for me, and I went back to acting classes." (1)
After being denied entrance to the MFA playwriting program, Gerwig was at a loss of what to do next. She had a knack for acting and began taking on more roles in both theatre and film. The indie scene took to her naturalism and improvisational talents and she was even at one point referred to as the “Meryl Streep of mumblecore.” (2) What is mumblecore? Read on!
5. She is sometimes referred to as the 'Meryl Streep of Mumblecore'
Mumblecore is a small film movement characterized by low-budget indie films that reflect the first glimpses of a millennial point of view. It was occupied by mainly young, college-educated, white people and conveyed stories about discovering how to relate to the world. The genre came from a generation that had grown up learning about the world through film, so the genre was inherently self-conscious. The films were known for their improvisational quality. Gerwig's involvement in the mumblecore movement became one of the first examples of how Gerwig’s acting experience informed her later foray into writing and directing. While scripts for mumblecore films included a strong sense of character and plot, the specific lines for the characters were – to a degree – left open to improvisation by the actors. As a result, Gerwig inadvertently took on her first 'writing' roles.
Gerwig’s reputation in the mumblecore community caught the eye of Noah Baumbach, an indie filmmaker who had her in mind for his film Greenberg (2010) before they had even met.
Gerwig is not a fan of how closely she finds herself related to the mumblecore movement. She says “it just feels like a slight… Because of the improvisational quality of those movies and the fact that everyone was nonprofessional, I have had an uphill battle just to say ‘I know how to act’”. (2)
6. Gerwig made use of her acting career to learn how to write and direct.
Her success as an actor lead to Noah Baumbach casting her in his film, Greenberg, alongside Ben Stiller. Baumbach and Gerwig eventually struck up a strong creative bond, which lead to their co-writing endeavour on Frances Ha (2012). In addition to co-writing the film, she took on the titular role of Frances, leading to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture. This, in turn, lead to more writing endeavours both with Baumbach and on her own.
7. She was involved in a proposed How I Met Your Mother spin-off called How I Met Your Dad.
Gerwig joined what was deemed as a sure-fire project called How I Met Your Dad, a spin-off of How I Met Your Mother. She signed on as a writer and actor, even though it was a bit of a side step from her established career, and was looking forward to a stable career in the television series. In the end, however, the pilot was not taken to series.
8. She resents the implication that she is a “muse”.
After working together on Greenberg, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig co-wrote several films together, including the acclaimed Frances Ha. Baumbach says that Gerwig’s immense writing talent pushed him to improve his own writing and that their work together took on a life independent of what either of them had done on their own. However, the press response to Frances Ha framed the relationship as though Baumbach was the artist and Gerwig was his muse. She resents the implication that she had been some passive inspiration for the film, when in reality, the writing was half hers. “[I] wanted to be a writer and director in my own right, so I felt like the muse business, or whatever it was, was a position that I didn’t identify with in my heart.” (2)
Gerwig took this inaccurate portrayal in the press as a learning opportunity: “I learned early […] not to attach too much to the moment you’re living through from a press perspective. I also had this sense of, Well, they’ll just eat their hat one day.” (2)
9. Gerwig thinks women need to practice “jumping in”.
Gerwig notes a tendency in women to spend a lot of time ensuring they are adequately qualified before pursuing a dream whole-heartedly. She says: “I think a lot of women have […] a need to feel that they can stand in their own expertise before doing something. A lot of my female friends will be so overqualified for what they do that by the time they do it, it’s like, Well, obviously.’ (2)
This is a notion that other female directors are aware of as well. Amy Heckerling, writer and director of the much beloved movie Clueless (1995), claims to have discovered her desire to direct when a peer announced confidently that he wanted to direct:
“I was really annoyed because I thought that if an idiot like that guy could say he wanted to be a director, then so could I, and certainly I should be a director more than he should. It had never occurred to me that that was a job possibility. He put the thought in my head because until then I would never have thought of saying that I wanted to do that; it didn’t seem to be one of the jobs in the world that could be open to me.” - Amy Heckerling (3)
This also relates deeply to the creation of Prairie Kitten Productions, but that is a story for another time...
10. She is not interested in “glossy heroines”.
Gerwig didn’t want to have to make her Lady Bird characters shiny and glossy the way so many teenage heroines are. She specifically wanted to work with producer Scott Rudin because “he wouldn’t force her to make the film look ‘like a fashion magazine.’” It was crucial to the theme of the film that there be a discrepancy between what we normally see in films and the ‘reality’ of this film. Christine "Lady Bird" bases her understanding of reality and relationships on what she sees in films. Gerwig says that the movies Lady Bird watches “revolve around one romantic interest; they inhabit a reality where there’s one right person. But this is not the movie that Lady Bird is in; it’s the movie she wishes she was in. She has all these romantic projections on her love interests because you know that girl watched Titanic. She believes he’s supposed to die for her. I’m interested in the teenage fantasy life that comes from film but that is not what’s playing out here.” (1)
This concept marks a shift in film that will likely be reinforced as the voices of the millennial generation come to the screen: the life we saw on the screen growing up helped build our expectations of the future, but inevitably, we must all face the disappointing yet somewhat liberating realization that these movies are hardly a reflection of reality. I think we all have a little bit of resentment towards glossiness, and as a result, I think Gerwig’s decision marks the beginning of an era in which even mainstream films will begin to reject glossiness to some degree.
BONUS FACT: Greta Gerwig loves Tina Fey’s New York Times Best Seller, Bossypants.
1. Stevens, Isabel. 'Lady Bird' Director Greta Gerwig: "I'm interested in women, period." 2018. https://www.ft.com/content/245c13d4-f162-11e7-bb7d-c3edfe974e9f
2. Malone, Noreen. Greta Gerwig is a Director, Not a Muse. 2017. http://www.vulture.com/2017/10/greta-gerwig-director-lady-bird.html
3. Jarecki, Nicholas. Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start. 2001. 142–156.