Greta Gerwig is nothing if not busy. The actress, who shot to indie fame via her work in the ‘mumblecore’ movement by collaborating with the likes of the Duplass Brothers, Ti West and Joe Swanberg, is back in select theaters this Friday headlining the Fox Searchlight romantic comedy “Lola Versus,” a mere two months after seeing her last film, Whit Stilman’s “Damsels in Distress,” open theatrically. She’ll be back later this month with a supporting role in Woody Allen’s follow-up to “Midnight in Paris” (the biggest hit of his career), “To Rome With Love,” in which she stars alongside a starry ensemble that includes Peneleope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg. And last fall Gerwig found time to shoot and wrap her untitled directorial debut (which she also wrote and stars in), meaning it will probably see the light of day at a festival this year or next.
In “Lola Versus,” Gerwig tackles the biggest role of her three films opening this season, as the titular New Yorker who on the verge of turning 30, is dumped unceremoniously by her fiance. The film marks the sophomore feature for writing duo (and real-life couple) Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, who first collaborated together on “Breaking Upwards,” another breakup comedy. Wein directs “Lola Versus,” while Lister-Jones (best known for her work on NBC’s series “Whitney”) co-stars as Gerwig’s quirky best friend.
Indiewire sat down with Gerwig in Manhattan to discuss her recent slate of projects, and what it was like auditioning for Woody Allen.
This spring/summer alone you’re opening three of your highest profile films to date. Are you fearful of being overexposed?
No. I’m not in a position where I feel overexposed. It’s not like the combination of a Woody Allen Film, a Fox Searchlight film, and a Whit Stillman movie is the same thing as being in “Transformers” and something else crazy. Maybe to a certain audience I’ve become overexposed, but in general it doesn’t feel like that to me. But I suppose you never really know what’s going on. You just get the results.
Did you shoot all three back to back?
No, I had a big break between “Damsels” and “Lola.” But I did shoot “Lola” and Woody back to back.
About “Lola” — have you ever experienced heartbreak on that scale? You convey it so palpably.
Oh! I think the biggest heartbreak I ever experienced was when I was actually much younger, when I was coming out of high school going into college. That was this role, full-body, crazy heartbreak. I didn’t specifically relate it to that, but I was destroyed by it. The emotions you can feel at 18 are unlike emotions that you feel until something like this happens to you. I think they’re so all encompassing. I have not had something this traumatic happen, but I certainly can empathize with it.
I read in an interview that you were dumped by a lot of gay men?
I was! [Pauses.] I was going to launch into a story, but then I decided against it. But yeah, I have dated a lot of gay guys. I love them. They’re good boyfriends in lots of ways. And, I don’t know, if you like the chase there’s always something to chase there [laughs]. They really cannot be pinned down [laughs]. Not by me, that’s for sure.
So going from Violet in “Damsels” to playing Lola, it’s interesting to note that both experience severe heartbreak in each film. Their journeys both take off after hitting an all-time low in their lives. Did you see the similarities between the two women; were you wary of going down a similar path so soon after wrapping “Damsels”?
No, they’re so different. They kind of seemed like night and day to me — the way the characters felt and the way the characters dealt with things. I suppose there are some similarities but it just seemed they existed on different planets. So I didn’t have any fear that, oh this is already tread territory. I think a lot of movies you end up doing do have similar territory in some ways, and it’s up to you to find the thing about them that makes unique, different and special. You don’t always have control over what parts you play. But with these, they just seemed wildly different.
Now both Daryl and Zoe — their own journey kind of mimics your own, having begun by making a micro-budget feature and moving on to working with a company like Fox Searchlight. Did you feel an affinity with them and where they’ve come from? Is that what attracted you to their story?
Yeah. I definitely know the path that they’ve travelled. Their film was at SXSW, and I got my start at SXSW. I feel that they really seized upon a moment of making something of their own for very little money. I really admire that kind of chutzpah, going for it, and really doing it yourself. It wasn’t specifically what attracted me, but it is an affinity I feel for them.
Rumor has it you began work on your script during your time spent making “Lola.” Did they inspire you…
I can’t talk about that.
No, yeah. I don’t talk about that [laughs].
Why so mum on it?
[Laughs nervously]. I just can’t talk about it. I’m being very good about this. I’m just not doing it.
OK…moving on. You’ve worked with some amazing directors over the course of your relatively short career.
Which one left the most indelible impressions on you as a writer, and as someone that wants to venture out and apply yourself in more areas?
I think one of the things that’s kind of amazing about being an actor is that you get to be on so many different film sets. Directors even when they’ve made lots of films, have still generally been on less film sets that you have. So in some sense you know a lot more about how films sets are run, and different ways to approach filmmaking. I think more than anything I’ve taken little pieces from each person I’ve worked with. It’s a personality thing. I think a lot of my favorite directors are very quiet. Woody Allen’s very quiet. He’s not a loud person. Neither is Whit. He’s very self possessed. There’s a measured, quiet, deliberate essence to who they are. That’s very useful in filming, because filmmaking is so chaotic. There’s so many things that can go wrong. And it takes so long that you need to have an enormous amount of patience, and ability to see things through even when things seem like they’re going to become a mess.
I think as far as writing, I love reading and I love writing. Words mean a great deal. With Whit, certainly words mean so much to him. That’s what I look for. I love it when you read a script and it feels perfect; it feels like a poem or something. Unlike a novel, they’re sparse. There aren’t that many words that end up in a script, so they have to be exactly right. I think taking that kind of care is something I really admire.
How did the whole Woody affair come about?
I auditioned for it. I met with his casting director and she had a feeling that maybe he’d respond to me in some way. I don’t think he totally knew who I was. This is what I’ve been told, so I’m not so sure on all of this, but apparently they showed him some clips and stuff, and I guess he liked my appearance on Letterman. I don’t know what it was.
Well if you can handle yourself on Letterman…
Yeah, I guess that’s what he figured. But then I know that Whit Stillman showed him footage of me, which seemed like good auspices because he had showed footage of Mira Sorvino to Woody, from “Barcelona” to go into “Mighty Aphrodite.”
I auditioned for him, then I came back. I read the script with him, then he directed me. I think a lot of people have these experiences with him where he walks in and looks at you, it’s two seconds, and then he says you’re hired or not. But I had a full on audition situation. I’m just happy I wasn’t fired [laughs]. I’m just really happy I didn’t get cut from the film. I had a really fun time making it. I would love to do one because it went by so fast.
So given the fact that you knew his hiring method going into the audition process, what was going through your mind as he kept the process going on longer than usual?
Well I just thought, this definitely means I didn’t get hired. It was two part thing. The first time I had a two second thing. And then the second time I came in for a longer audition. I did think a lot about what I was going to wear, because I thought if Woody Allen is going to look at your for two seconds, what do you wear? I think I ended up wearing a plaid shirt and penny loafers, which I think was totally weird, but I thought maybe I’d just try to be myself, and not second guess what it is I think he wants. How could you ever know that? And then I wore the same thing for the call back because I didn’t want to jinx it. Maybe he liked the outfit? I’m not sure.
But yeah making the movie was really exciting but very scary. It definitely felt like jumping into a frozen lake.
He works with a lot of actors for a second, third time. This film finds him working with a lot of newcomers to his world, folks like Jesse Eisenbeg and Ellen Page. Did you three bond together?
Yeah. I mean Alec Baldwin who I acted with in this, he’d been in a Woody Allen movie before. He’s Alec Baldwin, so he’s suave and awesome as always. But I think without putting words in their mouth, I think Ellen, Jesse and I were nervous. We all had a little trepidation working for Woody. On the first day we were just wildly nervous. He’d walk over and give us direction and we’d be like, that’s Woody Allen and he just told us to do it better. That was really exciting and fun. It was nice to be together for that, otherwise it could have been an isolating experience.
It was amazing for us. It was a really fun shoot, and it’s a really funny script. It feels like vintage Woody, and that’s exciting. But also shooting in Rome was beautiful. And the Italian schedule is very laid back. We would have very long lunches. The driver who drove me, Jesse and Ellen was named Spartacus, which was a completely exciting name. And Spartacus would go out to lunch with us all the time, so it was the three of us and Spartacus, and we’d go to these restaurants in the middle of the day. It was so laid back. It was this dream job. I’ve never had more fun on a movie ever. If it had lasted all year I would have been very happy. I wish it was a television show [laughs].
Speaking of great names, is Greta Gerwig your real name?
Yeah, Greta Gerwig is my real name. My mom likes alliteration and my dad’s name is Gordon Gerwig, so she wanted a G name for me and so I’m Greta Gerwig.
You lucked out.
I know I did.
It also screams indie film for some reason. Maybe it just sounds quirky, maybe I’m completely daft.
Me and Parker Posey. Alliteration — that’s what’s up. But Marilyn Monroe, alliteration, not indie film queen.
Maybe she could have been.
Yeah, you never know. I feel she really wanted to do crazy stuff.