Photograhed by Ysa Perez
Styled by TJ Gustave
Make-up by Daniel Martin @ The Wall Group
Hair by Seiji @ The Wall Group
Shot at Hotel Williamsburg
Like you, Greta Gerwig is still figuring out how she ended up in the job that’s working out surprisingly well for her. Since she arrived at the SXSW Film Festival in 2006, on spring break from her senior year at Barnard, in conjunction with her first film role in Joe Swanberg’s LOL, her onscreen roles and career trajectory have traced an arc familiar to many from her generational cohort. Initially playing stumbling postcollegiate strivers in films from the loosely associated DIY movement everybody kept claiming to hate referring to as “mumblecore,” Gerwig these last few years has graduated to Hollywood comedies like No Strings Attached and Arthur, and has become something of a muse to the literate, neurotic writer-directors to have emerged from previous indie epochs. She was the secret heart of Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg; she stars in the first film in over a decade by writer-director Whit Stillman, Damsels in Distress, a daffy comedy about campus mores which comes out April 6; the big kahuna, Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, comes out in June. We met for lunch earlier this month, before she headed uptown to see the new production of Death of a Salesman; our conversation follows, give or take some grumbling about New York’s gentrification and what the internet is doing to our brains.
Is there any kind of trade-off as far as having been in films, at least initially, where you had some claim to authorship over them, versus now? How comfortable are you with the trade-off?
The trade-off is strange as far as—I love it some ways. In some ways it’s wonderful to have a strong author to a film, a writer-director like Whit, but. It’s frustrating when you both don’t have a voice and then there isn’t someone else with a strong vision. That’s really hard, because then it feels like I don’t know what language I’m speaking, or what world I’m in, no one really setting the tone. It’s a pleasure to be in someone else’s world and vernacular, but it is hard in terms of… I don’t know, acting in some ways is so selfless, it’s strange because actors do get a lot of visible glory, but at the same time, there are ways in which you’re really a vessel for someone else, and always in someone else’s world, and I don’t know that I’m always adequately selfless—I’m always deeply impressed by actors that give only to the character and it’s not about themselves at all, and I always struggle with that, I always feel like I’m battling between what Greta thinks—
Is it a kind of self-consciousness?
It’s more like, I mean on a very base level, it will be like: I’ll be reading a script and have an opinion about it and say, “I could’ve written this better!” But it’s… that’s not good. But I think on another level—this sounds pretentious, not pretentious, but I think it’s an actress I admire very much said it, but it’s a little elevated, but someone said, Actors are written in water. A performance disappears as soon as it appears, and even if it’s caught on film it’s gone.
I think that was Keats’s epitaph, actually.
Really? Well, an actress said this, at a moment of passion. Anyway, there is a way in which it’s fated as soon as it’s begun, so if you have any sort of author instinct, you have to kind of squish it down.