Greta Gerwig has been making a name for herself in front of the camera over the last few years, and now she is back with her latest film Frances Ha.
But this movie doesn’t just show off her acting capability but also her writing skills; she has teamed up with director Noah Baumbach to pen the screenplay.
We caught up with the actress to chat about the film, writing with the director and what lies ahead for her.
- Frances Ha is set for release here in the UK later this week so can you tell me a bit about the film?
It is about a twenty seven-year-old dancer who is living in New York and struggling with her ambition; which is not really working out. Also her best friend Sophie seems to be growing faster than she is growing.
So it is really about friendship, and it is about figuring out your place in the world.
- You take on the central character in the film, and you also have co-written the screenplay so where did this project start for you? And where did the idea for the screenplay come from?
I think it really started with Noah (Baumbach) as he asked me if I would be interested in collaborating on a project together. He asked me if I would be interested in writing something with him that I could maybe act in.
Then we just started exchanging ideas back and forth. It was pretty organic. We instantly found something, and a character that we felt that we could make a whole movie about.
We just started writing scenes; we really found the story through writing as opposed to deciding what the story was about. We really did discover the story together.
- That does lead into my next question as I was wondering how you found the whole co-writing process? And how did that process work between you and Noah Baumbach?
We actually do a lot of writing in the same room; we were generally writing separately and then emailing the scenes that we were working on to each other. We would then read it out loud and edit it together and move things around. But most of the generating of content happened separately.
It was hard work but as a collaboration if felt effortless - it didn't feel like it was a struggle to figure out kind of movie we were making.
My guess is, and I have never been in a band, but it must be what it feels like to write music; it very much felt like we were writing the same song.
- How was the whole writing process for you personally?
I felt like it was something that I was doing when I was in college and just after college as I was writing a lot of plays.
I was collaborating on screenplays, but I was more creating situations and scenarios that were then improvised by me and other actors. This movie has no improvisation at all, and every line was said exactly as it was written.
As a piece of writing it felt like I had a much better sense of who I was as a writer. So while I have done a lot of writing, I do feel like this is the first thing I can properly say 'yes, this is my writing'.
For me, it is utterly part of why I love film and theatre and dramatic storytelling as I just can't imagine not doing both; for me, they just go together.
- You take on the role of Frances in the film so how are we going to see this character develop as we go through the movie?
It is a hero's journey in a way; it's not like The Hobbit, but it is a hero's journey that is on her own terms.
I think you really watch her grow up and really become comfortable with whom she is going to be; that is something that you go through at many different points in your life.
She moves from apartment to apartment to apartment and sometimes doesn't have a home, and she sometimes does stupid things like go to Paris for three days without any money.
So she is not making all the right choices, but you watch her stumble towards what is the right thing for her.
- When you set out on this writing process did you always intend to play this role? Or was it something that developed as you went along?
I would say Noah always intended for me to play this role. I wasn't sure. I think it is hard for me to write when I think of myself acting, and so I try to keep the two very separate.
By the time the script was done I felt like I didn't want to get the part by default, I really wanted to make sure that I was going to be able to do it justice. Noah convinced me that I should do it (laughs). I am very glad that I did.
But I have trouble thinking about myself acting... It is just a different skill, and I need to keep them utterly in their own boxes.
- You have collaborated with Noah before on Greenberg, and he is back in the director’s chair so how do you find working with him?
I loved Greenberg. Because I was just an actor - I didn't write the screenplay or anything like that - I felt much less... I was just as invested in the movie, but it is just a different experience.
It feels less like your progeny and feels more like you are privileged to be acting in it, but you don't feel the responsibility of bringing it into the world.
But I love Noah as a director; he is my favourite director. He is very precise, but he is very calm. He runs quiet sets. It is a really wonderful way to work.
He knows what he wants and, in a lot of ways, that is quite rare in a director. He knows precisely what he wants, and he is patient enough to take the time to get it.
- How collaborative a filmmaker is he with his actors?
Noah tries to cast people that he loves as actors and then gives them a lot of freedom; as opposed to casting people that aren't quite right and then trying to beat them into giving you want you want.
So he tries to cast people that he likes to let them have free reign. My experience is a little different, particularly on this movie, because I was with it the whole time.
I was very involved in the production design, and the way that the characters are costumed - even the look of the movie I was very much involved with. In post production, I would look at cuts of scenes and look at what direction, they were moving the movie in.
As a director Noah likes to give people... He wants everything said exactly the way it was written and exactly done, and he blocks the scenes very precisely.
But within that... It's one of those paradoxes were because you have so many rules you have a lot of freedom to play within the constraints. So once he gives you the words and the direction, he really lets actors do what they need to do.
- The movie has been playing on the festival circuit so how have you been finding the response to the film so far?
It has been incredible. I have loved going to different festivals and territories and talking to different journalists and audience members because it has been really amazing how so many different people have been connecting with the film.
I had a seventy year old man came up to me in Canada and told me that he was Frances Ha; it was incredible.
When you are making a film, you don't really get to know your audience - it's not like doing theatre where you are with every audience - so doing festivals is a way to know your audience. It has been so much fun; I really love it.
- As well as acting you have done some writing as well as some directing so how much is behind the camera something that interests you?
I think that is going to be where I continue to move towards. I hope I keep acting, and I fully intend to keep acting but I would really love to direct and produce. I don't think I am ever going to be satisfied with just one job title (laughs).
- Throughout your career, you have worked on a string of independent and small budget projects as well as things more mainstream such as Arthur so what do you look from when you are reading a screenplay?
I am really looking for women who are written as full people; it is sadly lacking in screenplays right now.
But when you do find them, it is so exciting because you feel like there is something for you to actually play as an actor and embody.
Sometimes when you are just the token hot girl - by the way, you have to work very hard to get those parts - it just feels dehumanising.
Whether it is a big movie or a little movie, I am just looking for something that feels like I can identify that woman as a person.
- We are also going to be seeing you in another Noah Baumbach project next year so can you tell me a bit about that?
We are trying not to talk too much about that stuff because we are still in the process of making it.
It is another film that is about people, and it is going to be a comedy. It is still taking shape so I don't want to jinx anything.
- Finally, what is next for you going through the second half of this year?
I am doing a lot more behind the camera at the moment as I have written another project that I might direct. I am going to be acting in a few things, but most of my year is going to be more about directing and writing.
France Ha is released 26th July.
Tagged in Greta Gerwig