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Greta Gerwig '06 on "Damsels in Distress" and culture at Barnard

FROM THE NEW YORK POST

The babe next door: Indie damsel Greta Gerwig is headed for the big time -- whether she likes it or not.
by Sara Stewart
April 1, 2012

What’s the secret to actress Greta Gerwig’s rambling, naturalistic style? She can’t put her finger on it, but she assures you it’s not pot. “People are like, ‘You’re always happy and you always seem high!’” she tells The Post. “I don’t want to be the girl everyone thinks is high!”

Whatever “it” is, Gerwig’s gotten a lot of notice for it since her breakout role in 2010’s “Greenberg” opposite Ben Stiller, and then for co-starring with Russell Brand in last year’s “Arthur,” where she walked off with the lion’s share of praise for the otherwise critically panned remake.

Since then, accolades have poured in, both for her down-to-earth performances and for her looking like a real person rather than a Hollywood approximation of one — a feat which has made her the indie-girl crush du jour. ( Just ask “Greenberg” director Noah Baumbach, with whom Gerwig has reportedly been in a relationship for over a year.)

“We were aiming for the likable version of a Grace Kelly look,” says director Whit Stillman of Gerwig’s character in his new movie, “Damsels in Distress.” The 28-year-old actress plays a depressive college student at the center of a female clique determined to reform the campus meatheads.

“She’s so beautiful and likable,” Stillman says, “and she does this goofy big smile showing all her teeth. She’s more beautiful when she smiles with her mouth just slightly open.”

But maybe therein is the answer: Gerwig doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about looking goofy, which is a large part of her charm.

Horror director Ti West remembers casting Gerwig, who was already a pal, for a minor role in his 2009 movie, “The House of the Devil.” While shooting, West says, “she would come in and take the material and elevate it in her own chaotic way.” By way of example, he recalls a scene in which “there’s this candy dish, and she takes a candy and doesn’t like it and spits it out. What she added was going back and looking through them to find one she liked better. And then putting a couple in her purse. There’s something intrinsically watchable about her, even just doing mundane things.”

Gerwig, who grew up in Sacramento, Calif., with a computer-programmer dad and a nurse mom, found her calling doing community-theater musicals as a kid, then attended Barnard College and settled in New York afterward to pursue acting gigs, while also working on her screenwriting.

In her early days, she says, she’d feel out of place at auditions due to her own perceived lack of polish. “I had a casting director say to me once, ‘You sound like you’re mocking the material.’ And I said, ‘I’m not! I really love “Law & Order!” I want to be on this show!’”

But her inability to fit in would turn out to be her biggest asset.

“To look at her in ‘Greenberg,’ she didn’t feel like somebody doing an impression of what a starlet is supposed to be,” says director and actor Andrew Bujalski, who starred with Gerwig in one of her first films in 2007, “Hannah Takes the Stairs.”

“It does seem miraculous,” Bujalski adds, “that she was able to break out the way that she has. She doesn’t fit that cookie-cutter mold.”

Gerwig claims she’s simply not cut out for the film-biz persona. “It’s almost like I don’t believe myself as the character who dresses up and goes to red carpet events,” she says. “I always feel kind of foolish doing it. I feel like I’m a low-budget film trying to look like ‘Transformers.’ Maybe if I could play Megan Fox for a day, I’d feel more comfortable.

“I wish I had more personal style,” says the 5-foot-8 actress. “Part of the problem is I’m tall, and also I’m not tiny. A lot of what I end up wearing is like, ‘This fits me!’ And when I do that thing where there’s a photographer, which is always sort of humiliating . . . it’s so hard to look like yourself.”

Gerwig’s brand of slightly off-kilter, unshowy appeal seems to be on the rise these days. “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence has proven herself to be similarly frank about her discomfort with the trappings of the trade (her promo tour for the film was peppered with references to having to pee), and other normal-looking actresses, such as Gerwig’s pal Lena Dunham, are becoming hot properties (Dunham’s show “Girls” is one of the most buzzed-about new HBO shows).

“She’s proof that there’s an audience that’s really hungry for people with life in their eyes, that have a little something going on, that aren’t just these voids of makeup and hairstyling,” says Joe Swanberg, who co-wrote and directed with Gerwig in “mumblecore” films “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “Nights and Weekends” (2008).

Gerwig’s role as muse — not to mention her triple-threat talents as actor-writer-director — appeals to other auteurs. Baumbach is now directing her in HBO’s adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” and Stillman, known for working with the same actors repeatedly, tells The Post he’d love to cast Gerwig again.

Later this year, she’ll also appear in Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love.” (Is she Woody’s next ScarJo?)

While Gerwig has her share of nonfamous fans, too, she says they’re likely not the type to loudly proclaim their affection. “My guess would be that my admirers are shy,” she says. “I think maybe I appeal to men who don’t feel confident.

“But I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t think I’m really noticed much. When someone does, they’ll say something like, ‘You’re that girl!’ And I’ll say, ‘I am that girl! I don’t know who that is, but that’s me!’”


To view the original article, please visit the New York Post website.


FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINE

Greta Gerwig on Damsels in Distress, Dorkiness, and Not Dating Frat Guys
by Darla Murray

Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman's out-there comedy about a group of college girls who run a suicide prevention center, opens this week. The movie stars Greta Gerwig as Violet, the ringleader of the do-gooder pack who encourages depressives (like herself) to work through their problems by taking tap lessons. It's a quirky role for a singular actress, and when Vulture caught up with Gerwig at a Cinema Society screening of the film this week, we got to talking about being unconventional and the joys of head shaving.

Congrats!
Thanks! I’m thrilled and happy with the way it turned out. It’s always scary when you work with a filmmaker that you admire so much. You just want to not ruin their films. I’ve spent my whole life watching [Whit's] films and loving them. Now I’m like, Oh shit, now it’s going to be my turn to ruin it!

Or to carry on the tradition of great films.
Or to carry on the tradition. Right, right, there’s always that possibility too.

There’s a lot of frat action in this film. Do you have any experience with that?
Frat boys? No. I went to Barnard College, so when you go to an all-girls school it eliminates the possibility of frat boys. I kind of missed that. Because even at Columbia, where we would socialize with the boys, it’s not really a fratty environment. The closest we got to frats was the Jewish frat. They threw really good parties and a lot of our friends were part of it, but it’s kinda nerdy.

Did you ever date a frat boy?
No. [Laughs.] Do you think frat boys would like me?

You never know. Isn’t that like the perfect romantic-comedy story line?
Hmmm, yes, I think Channing Tatum should date ME! No, not at all. I always veered toward the sexually ambiguous theater types.

So what were you like as a 19-year-old?
I was just an incredible dork. I was on the Parliamentary Debate team, so I was very much like Violet in that way. I had lots of opinions and I argued about them very loudly across the eastern seaboard. It was great. In a strange way, it was good preparation for a lot stuff that came later. It allowed me to speak on topics we were not informed on. That’s just good practice for life. So yeah, I was aggressively nerdy, but I always had a really great time. I’ve been lucky my whole life. I’ve always been strange but I always had tons of friends. So I’ve never been lonely.

There’s no reason why one can’t be quirky in groups.
Exactly. To me, being nerdy has never equaled being lonely. There’s lots of outcasts!

Did you ever go through a damsel in distress phase?
You mean like the perfume or a downward spiral?

Um, both.
Well, the downward spiral, sure. And the perfume, well yeah. I go through these phases where I really want to wear a lot of dresses and makeup and care about how I look because my mom is really good at all of that stuff and my role as the teenager was to be like, “I want to go to Ani DiFranco concerts and shave my head.” And she would be like, “I don’t know why you want to be unattractive.” So I think when I go home I embrace my mother’s whole “wear color and care about whether or not you have roots” and I think, You know, she’s right. I should care. But then about three months in I’m like, “I’m going back to Ani DiFranco!”

Would you ever really shave your head?
Michelle Williams once said something like, "Cutting your hair is like a disease." That once you start cutting it you just keep cutting it until it’s all off. I’ve had that disease. So my main goal is to not cut my hair because I can’t stop and it would just be really, really short.

Does being such a skilled debater make you difficult to direct?
I think so! No, I don’t know, you’d have to ask directors. I don’t think I’m difficult; I think ultimately I’m a really good team player. But I do think that I have a personality as an actor and I always have an opinion about how I think things should go, which can probably be really annoying for the people involved with me.

Have you ever been accused of that?
You know, mostly people have liked it. I think I’m pretty easy going. I was always the kid who participated in group discussions and was always the kid who chimed in. I’ve never had an awkward date because I’ll just talk the whole time.

That’s a good dating tactic.
Well, not ultimately — but in the moment!


To view the original article, please visit the New York Magazine Vulture website.



FROM NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Greta Gerwig is no ‘Damsel in Distress’; meet the indie screen queen with 3 movies coming out
by Jacob E. Osterhout
April 6, 2012

Greta Gerwig’s latest is movie is called “Damsels in Distress.” But make no mistake — she’s anything but.

Not only does the 28-year-old indie film queen star in “Damsels” — writer/director Whit Stillman's first film in 14 years — but she also has two other projects out soon.

She’s in Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” out June 22, and she plays the role of a newly single girl in “Lola Versus,” which will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month.

Not bad for an actress known primarily for her work in low-budget, independent films like “Greenberg” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” But even on the verge of ubiquity, Gerwig maintains a low-key attitude.

You are in three movies coming out by early summer. Are you worried about overloading your fans?

I get worried that there will be Greta Gerwig overload all the time. I feel overloaded by myself. I am bored when I look at my face in the morning. I don’t want to overload the marketplace. Luckily, all these movies are very different. They are indies and they are small. If I were in huge blockbusters, maybe that would be a problem. But it is not like I’m Channing Tatum or anything. He is so charming.

You have now worked with two legendary directors, Woody Allen and Whit Stillman. Do they have different styles of directing?

Part of the pleasure of being an actor is working with all these different directors. Neither one of them is a yeller at all. Whit is totally different from what you would expect. His writing is heightened, but he likes things to be very - not bland - but definitely understated. So he would always run up to me after a take and say, can you just do it normal?

Woody Allen is much less precious about his words. He doesn’t really ever care if you say what is written on the page. He always encouraged us to throw away the words and say it in our own way, which was difficult because I have such reverence for him as a writer that it was hard for me to just say, “Oh, right, I’ll come up with something.” That seemed insane.

In “Damsels in Distress,” you play a student at an elite East Coast college, while in real life you graduated from Barnard College. Are there any similarities between the two colleges?

The culture at Barnard was completely different than the college in this movie. But I do think that girls have a tendency to form cliques and then once they have formed this clique, they morph into each other. That definitely happened at Barnard.

The big difference about going to school at Barnard, or just in New York City, is if you didn’t grow up in NYC, you were way less cool than the kids who grew up in New York. You couldn’t fool them. No one would believe that you were as cool as the kid that had gone to St. Ann’s or whatever. I remember standing on the roof of the library at Columbia and I didn’t know which way was uptown or downtown.

Do you think of it as creepy when critics call you “sexy”?

I wish people talked about me more as a sex symbol. In fact, an Italian journalist asked me yesterday, “Is it because you are a writer you don’t have to be very good-looking? Because you are normal-looking.” I’ve never played into that or had that be something that is part of my wheelhouse at all. Obviously, I don’t want to be an object, but there is something empowering to be told you are a potent sexual being. If you can view it as empowering, then it is empowering.

Are you nervous about your film “Lola Versus” opening the Tribeca Film Festival?

It’s like a dream come true. I’ve never had a film premiere at a New York film festival, but I’ve always gone to the Tribeca Film Festival and the New York Film Festival and also New Directors New Films and I’m so happy that this film is going to be premiering in New York City. We shot it in New York and it is a very New York movie. I really hope that the audience will love it. There is something about having it premiere in the town you live in that makes you a little more nervous.

Do you get recognized now when you walk down the street?

I never get recognized. The only time I ever get recognized is when I’m in the locker room of the gym and I’m standing there naked and some woman is like, “You were on cable last night.” I’m like, “Yeah!” I guess it depends on what is playing on HBO at that moment or what is showing on flights. I actually was on an airplane sitting next to a couple watching “Arthur” and he didn’t even notice. But they watched the whole thing and they seemed to kind of enjoy it.

You’ve been on set a lot recently. Did you ever really screw up?

There was one day on the Woody Allen set, when I was in a scene with Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg, and I was just off. Woody Allen didn’t like something I was doing and he started really fixating on it. It was one of those things where you do something that is not quite right and then it just gets worse and then you get anxious and it makes it even worse and all you are trying to do is not cry. I was standing on this street in Rome and there were paparazzi all around and the only thing in my head was, ‘Just don’t cry.’ And I did not cry. I had two more bad takes, but then it finally went well and Woody Allen came up and said, “Okay, that’s not terrible.”


To view the original article, please visit the New York Daily News website.



FROM THE TELEGRAPH

Greta Gerwig: Whit Stillman's new star
One critic called her 'the definitive screen actress of her generation’. Greta Gerwig talks to Stella magazine about taking the starring role in Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman's long-awaited return to cinema.
by Hermione Hoby
April 8, 2012

If my lunch date with Greta Gerwig were a film, there’d be one precise moment that every review would mention – they’d call it the 'when-she-drops-her-fork-moment’.

We’re in the sort of downtown New York restaurant where everyone looks a bit famous and Gerwig – despite growing increasingly famous herself as she soars from indie darling to Hollywood mainstay – stands out from the fearsomely blow-dried clientele.

There’s her big laugh, as well as her still shower-wet hair, and there’s also the moment that she drops her fork.

She knocks it on to the floor, jumps at the noise, shouts, 'Oh my God!’ then launches herself sideways out of her chair, across the restaurant, after it.

When she surfaces, triumphant, fork in hand, exclaiming, 'I did it! I got it! I did it!’ our nonplussed waiter is standing, mouth slightly open, a redundant replacement utensil in hand.

Gerwig’s career began with a series of low-to-no-budget films made with friends, playing emotionally ambivalent, chronically torpid twenty-somethings whose inarticulacy earned the genre the term 'mumblecore’.

Her first significant review was in Variety magazine for Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007). One line stuck: '“The grating Greta Gerwig,”’ she recalls mournfully.

Happily, the critical assessment that has come to define her is altogether more flattering.

The New York Times’ chief film critic, AO Scott, pronounced Gerwig 'the definitive screen actress of her generation’.

In 2010, after the release of Greenberg, in which she played a loveable and frustrating woman who falls for Ben Stiller’s misanthropic character, Scott was so enamoured with her naturalistic, seemingly artless performance that he wrote,

'She seems to be embarked on a project of redefining just what it is we talk about when we talk about acting.’

Last year she completed the transition from art house to big budget with Arthur, the remake of the 1981 classic, in which she played the Liza Minnelli role to Russell Brand’s hapless billionaire, played by Dudley Moore in the original.

There was also a part in No Strings Attached (her co-star, Natalie Portman, is now one of her best friends).

More recently she’s been able to tick off two directors 'on my list of people I would have killed to work with’:

Woody Allen, in whose forthcoming To Rome with Love she stars, and Whit Stillman, the cult director of Metropolitan, Barcelona and Last Days of Disco, in whose new film, Damsels in Distress, she stars.

Gerwig, who is 28, talks slowly, in a way that makes her seem puzzled by everything that comes out of her mouth. And few things seem more puzzling to her than Hollywood and her ascent within it.

She mentions 'sweating everywhere’ at a recent fitting, and when I ask what it was for she looks a bit abashed.

'Oh, um, it was for, er, I was at Prada doing a fitting for a première in Los Angeles next week. It was very fancy – I sweated all over Prada.

'When I say, “I was at a fitting at Prada,” it sounds ridiculous.’

And then she’s off about how much she envies Prada’s employees their uniform. 'It would be like going to really fancy Catholic school!’ she enthuses, showing me pictures on her phone of their dark skirts and white blouses.

The glossy magazine shoots that are now part of Gerwig’s job may mean she’s 'better versed in fashion’, but, as she points out, 'Knowing what it is doesn’t give you style.

'I think the truth is that there are people who just have style, and I’m comfortable with not necessarily being that person.

'I do feel like I have a style that’s mine, just based on the practicalities of the city. I tend to carry backpacks because I like to have my hands free. I tend to wear flats because I like to walk everywhere.’

As for walking the red carpet, 'The pictures can be kind of traumatising,’ she says. 'It’s how I learned I shouldn’t smile really big because my smile gets really gummy. It makes me look like a dragon.’

And then she bursts into a massive laugh, gumminess be damned.

Her new film, Damsels in Distress, marks the end of a 13-year film-making hiatus for Stillman. It’s a triumphant return.

Set on a college campus where, as one character says darkly, 'an atmosphere of male barbarism prevails’, it follows three eccentric young women whose efforts to edify themselves and the college’s 'doofi’ (plural of 'doofus’) make them by turns charming and unwittingly hilarious.

'Isn’t it mad? I mean, no one else could have made it,’ she says. 'The girls are so weird. They think they’re really great but nobody [in the film] thinks they’re cool or fun or anything, which I like.’

Gerwig plays the leader of the group, Violet, who believes in show tunes and the 'incalculable salutary effects of soap’ as a cure for depression.

'Violet’s opinionated and kind of a liar but she’s also great,’ Gerwig says. 'And she’s nuts.’

Gerwig was desperate for the part. 'I tap-danced!’ she exclaims, when she describes her audition. 'He didn’t ask me to, I just showed up and said I had tap shoes and I’d like to tap and then I’d like to sing a song. I just really went for it. Ha!’

Her own college experience was shorter on the 'doofi’. She studied English and philosophy at the all-women Barnard College in New York, graduating in 2006.

'We had different priorities. They certainly weren’t elegant dressing and perfume and helping others. They were more like being really competitive with each other and with everyone else to get good grades.

'I remember getting into fights with my boyfriend about whose GPA [grade point average] was higher. It was this big thing of who’s going to get magna cum laude [a distinction]. It was so silly. I was so mad when I screwed up a class.

'I’m totally competitive. It’s not always the most attractive trait...’

Despite the competitiveness, she identifies as a girls’ girl. 'I feel like instantly on a movie set I find the three girls I can really, like, get down with. I just love girls and girl talk.’

Seconds later her gaze is caught by something out of the window, and she loses her train of thought. Without breaking her gaze she leans across the table conspiratorially and says,

'I’m sorry, I’m very involved with these teenage girls – I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s very intense.’ Four skinny-jeaned girls are engaged in a contretemps on the steps of a townhouse.

'Don’t they all look so fashionable?’

I’m intimidated by them, I say.

'I know, I swear, if you grew up in Manhattan then by the time you’re 13 you’re like 40. You could run a company.’

Gerwig herself grew up in Sacramento, California, the daughter of a nurse and a financial consultant, and describes herself as a child 'almost autistically fixated on activities’.

Foremost among them was acting, but she was enthusiastic about fencing, ballet ('By the time I was eight I was spending like four hours in the studio, I was like maniacally committed to it’) and tap, too.

'My older brother and sister say, “You were such a pain in the ass growing up and such a show-off and so competitive, and we can’t believe that you’ve actually inflicted it on the world.”’

They probably never imagined that she’d end up making a rom-com with Woody Allen.

To Rome with Love is told in four vignettes. In one of them Gerwig appears alongside Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network and Ellen Page (the star of Juno).

'Jesse and I ate so much gelato [while filming in Rome]. We’d walk and get chocolate gelato for breakfast.’ And, of course, she sighs, 'Woody is the whole thing. I just started getting over my intimidation and then it was over.’

But then there were more idols to meet. She’s just filmed a pilot for The Corrections, the HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s novel.

'At the table read I got to sit between Ewan McGregor and Rhys Ifans and I was like’ – she squeezes her shoulders in bliss – 'I’m in the middle of a Welsh-Scottish sandwich! It’s the best thing in the world!

'And they’re both kind of rakish and – well, not bad boys, well Rhys is – anyway, they’re so wonderful.’

Top of the roster of rakish Brits is, of course, Russell Brand, on whom, I venture, she had a crush? 'Oh my god,’ she says, half collapsing into her chair.

'I had such a crush. So embarrassing. He’s kind of a magnet. I challenge anyone to be in a room with him and not want him to talk to you and look at you.’

During the filming of Arthur, Brand gave her a bike that his now ex-wife Katy Perry had rejected.

'I feel really... I came out best of that situation,’ she says, looking pained. 'I got the bike. No, I was so sad for him and her. The bike has been in hiding all winter so it’s just…

'Last week I brought it out and it does have this sort of sadness hovering around it now! It’s a great bike, though.’

But when it comes to treating herself, she is touchingly modest – flights home to Sacramento that don’t involve long stop-overs and 'really just feeling less bad, not worrying that I’m about to be thrown out on the street’.

She has to run – she’s late for a friend – but there is just time to talk about a film she’s written.

She describes it as 'a love story about girls. It’s a girl who’s in love with her best friend, but not sexually. It’s sort of that moment when you realise, “Oh, so we won’t all move in together,” and you’re going to move on with your life.

'I wrote it… I didn’t direct it, but I’m in it...’ She nods and then says firmly, 'I’m really proud of it. I think it’s really good.’

She may not have a hold on her fork, but happily, has a much firmer grasp of her talents.


To view the original article, please visit the Telegraph website.