Fashion shows make Greta Gerwig nervous. “I don’t go to Fashion Week because I’m totally intimidated! I’ve been to a couple of shows, Yigal Azrouel and Cynthia Rowley, and I watch shows online. But situations where I have to get my hair and makeup done and look nice and get my picture taken are kind of stressful.”
Curled up on a sofa at the Crosby Street Hotel, Gerwig exudes the same effortless charm as she does in her new film, Lola Versus. A winsome cocktail of insecurity and guilelessness with a dash of awkwardness, Gerwig has drawn comparisons to a young Diane Keaton and Meg Ryan. The transparent naturalness of her onscreen persona, honed through years of acting in the uber-realism of mumblecore indies, renders her as relatable as her pal, Girls creator Lena Dunham. Gerwig ran into Dunham at the Met Gala in May.
“I actually went to the Met Ball a couple of years earlier with Marc Jacobs, but it was a very last minute thing where I wasn’t prepared for it and was invited like two days before it happened. And it’s a scary event! So this felt like the first time that I went.” Gerwig attended with Prabal Gurung and wore a hunter green silk charmeuse gown by the designer. “Prabal is the loveliest man. I met him at the fitting for the first time. He is so sincere and genuine.”
“The Gala was nerve-wracking but amazing because there were so many people I admire who I got to meet,” Gerwig said. “I talked to the kids from Glee, which was really fun! I was lucky because I’m good friends with Lena Dunham, and we were so happy to run into each other. Lena said when you’re in the Meatpacking District or Soho, you realize that being thin and gorgeous is not that rare, because so many women there are thin and gorgeous, but being at the Gala feels like, ‘Oh, being successful as an entertainer is not that rare because all these people are really successful.’ It makes you feel like you’re just one of many people; it’s good because you put things in perspective.”
Coincidentally, the Meatpacking District and Soho are where you often find one of Gerwig’s favorite types of people: models. “I don’t think I come across as somebody who cares about fashion, but I really love fashion,” Gerwig, who wore beige-and-black Moschino during our interview, said. “I’m a huge fan of designers and also models. I know all their names. So I was very excited to see them in person [at the Gala]. I like Doutzen Kroes and Arizona Muse. My favorite is Raquel Zimmermann; her face is so aristocratic.”
Gerwig said that she and Dunham met at a friend’s downtown studio, which they shared in 2008, shortly after Dunham graduated from Oberlin. Gerwig had graduated from Barnard, where she studied English, with the intention of becoming a playwright. Both were creating web shows; Gerwig cast Dunham in her show and Dunham made a show for Nerve.com, two years before doing her breakout film, Tiny Furniture. The pair share similar sensibilities, Gerwig said. “We’ve been talking about doing something together; maybe it’s Girls; maybe something else. I just love her. She used to help me put myself on tape for big auditions, and she’d read the other character’s lines. Sometimes we couldn’t get through the scenes since we’d be laughing so hard, because some of the stuff I auditioned for was just so stupid! There’s tapes of us somewhere, just cracking up.”
Having done two films with mumblecore auteur Joe Swanberg—2006’s LOL and 2007’s seminal Hannah Takes the Stairs (which Gerwig and Mark Duplass co-wrote with Swanberg)—those early audition tapes led to Gerwig being cast in five films in 2008, including the Duplass Brothers’ Baghead. In her breakthrough film, 2010’s Greenberg, Gerwig played the love interest of a depressive Ben Stiller, earning her an Independent Spirit Award nomination. From there, she quickly caught Hollywood’s attention, landing roles in No Strings Attached, opposite Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and in Arthur as Russell Brand’s dream girl.
Gerwig’s performance in Lola Versus is her most accomplished and satisfying yet. “I think it’s very rare to get a movie—that you didn’t write—that has a fully-formed, three-dimensional female character who is actually driving the story,” Gerwig said. “It’s her mistakes and her decisions that change the tides. So often, the female character sort of stands to the side but she doesn’t get her own full life. I liked how the mistakes that she made were big, that she wasn’t an adorable mess; she was just a mess.”
Lola is a 29-year-old grad student living in New York’s Alphabet City, whose fiancé (Joel Kinnaman) calls off their wedding, causing her to question everyone in her life: Should she hook up with her fiancé’s best friend? Should she take back her vacillating fiancé? How about dating a creepy architect who’s obsessed with her (think: Ben Stiller in Reality Bites)? Debra Winger and Bill Pullman, who portray her parents, attempt to provide guidance. Supplying the sharp, one-line zingers as her best friend is Zoe Lister-Jones (Whitney), who co-wrote the film with her real-life boyfriend, director Daryl Wein. Perhaps the topic of Lola’s literature dissertation—silence—provides the answer. Tuning out the voices around her and turning inward, Lola finds her sense of self.
Lola Versus was shot on location in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Brooklyn’s Dumbo. For Gerwig, who lives in New York, “making the movie was a huge amount of fun because there was so much to do. Every day, I got to run and cry and yell at someone and laugh and have fake sex! We shot during the summer and it was so hot. I was constantly sweating and crying! It felt cathartic, like I was really able to let go.”
Gerwig explained that she doesn’t relate to Lola’s desire to be married by 30, “but I did relate to her feeling that she should be someone at 30 that she feels she is not. That is something that is very familiar to me. It’s not that I relate exactly to her relationships, but I do relate to the panic that sets in if you feel that you haven’t found ‘your person’ yet.”
Gerwig has reportedly been dating her Greenberg director Noah Baumbach; they attended the premiere of her previous film, Damsels in Distress, together in April, as well as Tuesday night’s afterparty for the Lola Versus premiere at the Standard Hotel. Is Baumbach “her person”? “I relate to the panic, but I don’t talk about that,” she replied.
For now, the only official love in Gerwig’s future is To Rome With Love, the new Woody Allen film, in which she plays Jesse Eisenberg’s girlfriend.
Lola Versus opens today.