Five Questions With 'Lady Bird' Writer/Director Greta Gerwig
Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird. Photo by Merie Wallace. Courtesy of A24.
Greta Gerwig has found what she loves doing the most in her field of work: Directing. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever been,” Gerwig shared during the San Francisco stop of the press tour for Lady Bird, her solo directorial debut.
The film, also written by Gerwig, follows a Sacramento-based high school senior Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who goes by the self-given name of Lady Bird, and is ready to fly the coop, so to speak, for college on the East Coast. Throughout the course of the school year, the headstrong Lady Bird deals with many of the things people go through as teenagers, from experiencing her first love to having a falling out with her best friend along with regular back and forth arguments with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), an overworked nurse. Powered by stand-out performances from Ronan and Metcalf, Lady Bird is a relatable coming-of-age film, that unfolds beautifully on-screen, dealing with the everyday frustrations and realizations of growing up.
Gerwig, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Frances Ha and was most recently on the big screen in 20th Century Women and Jackie, is already receiving well-deserved Oscar buzz for Lady Bird. Academy Art U News sat down with the actress, writer and director to find out more about her much-lauded film, including how the mother-daughter chemistry developed between Ronan and Metcalf and what she found to be the most rewarding aspect of making Lady Bird.
How long had you wanted to write and share this particular story?
I think I’ve always been a writer. And I always am writing, although I don’t always know how it’s all going to fit together. … I think it had been a script that had been building in me for a little while, but I had been channelling it in all these different projects. I don’t know when I started writing it, because it takes me a really long time to write scripts, which I wish wasn’t true, but it just is. I know I had a full draft of it by the end of 2013. It was way too long. It was probably...350 pages. And some of it didn’t go anywhere, it didn’t all make sense, but there was a version on my computer and it was actually called Mothers and Daughters for a long time. And then I was still acting and doing other stuff and co-writing, but I just kept working on it. I think I had a completed draft that I was ready to show people by the end of 2014. So, it takes awhile.
I think it’s less of an idea I completely understand in a way as much as [it is] a hunch. And I’ll have a hunch and I’ll follow the hunch. I have a faith that there’s a movie there. But if I know exactly what it is I’m writing before I write it, I don’t need to write it. I write it to find out what it is, in a way. I can’t know what that journey is before I take it, which is kind of terrifying, but it’s also just how I do it.
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird. Photo by Merie Wallace. Courtesy of A24.
You really assembled quite the cast for Lady Bird; was Saoirse your first choice for the character of Lady Bird?
Yes, she was my first choice. I’d been auditioning other people and I heard through the grapevine that she liked the script, and we were both going to be at the Toronto Film Festival. We ended up meeting up and reading the script all the way through. She read all of Lady Bird’s lines and I read everybody else’s lines. She instantly was the role. But she was in the middle of promoting Brooklyn, then she was going to be on Broadway in The Crucible, so I knew I was going to have to move the film for her, which I happily did.
I really appreciated the various relationship dynamics in the film, especially the one between Lady Bird and her mother. How long did it take for the chemistry to develop between Saoirse and Laurie?
I cast Laurie after [Saoirse]. Saoirse was the first person [cast] and I built the cast around that. One of the things that I did with Laurie and Saoirse was that I had them rehearse, but also I scheduled a lot of their really heavy scenes for later in the [filming], because I wanted them to build up a relationship and a rapport, so by the time they got to those scenes, they’d laid this groundwork. … I think one of the last things we shot in the film was the giant fight in the car at the beginning. And they were so clicked into each other by then that I could have stopped after one take. They were just so [snaps fingers] on point. And that was really exciting.
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.
Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird.
One of the first things the audience hears from Lady Bird is that she “wants to live through something”; was that a sentiment you shared while growing up?
Well, there was this thing happening when I was growing up, I don’t know if it was NBC or some [channel] was doing this series, a miniseries called The ‘60s. And then they did this miniseries called The ‘70s. And it felt like, “Whoa, look at all the things they did! What are we doing exactly?" But in that way of feeling like when you watch something [in] a TV movie, it always seems like life was better in that TV movie. So I think based on those miniseries, I had a sense of "Did we miss all the good times?" Particularly, I think because of my parents’ generation, they lived through the ‘60s and what that was and the kind of hippie movement--they changed the world. I felt like, "What do we believe in? What is our passion? What do we march in the street for? Are we marching in the streets?" It felt like maybe we had lost something in our generation.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing and directing this first big feature?
It’s been extraordinary to share it with audiences, because of the personal connection people have to it. One of my favorite things is parents coming up to me and saying, “Oh my god, I just dropped my kid off at college, I totally know what this is.” And then having kids come up to me and say, “No, no, no, I know this.” How it hits all these different generations is incredibly meaningful to me. Especially mothers and daughters, grandmothers, that whole thing of like “I’ve been that girl, I’ve been that mother, and I understand it from both sides” is very rewarding.
In terms of making the movie, I would say just working with these actors. That’s the thing that I love the most is the fact that film is such a communal art form and it’s so important that you have people around you, in the creative departments, in the crew, who completely understand your vision and will support you and are ready to do everything they can to make that happen.
And then these actors who bring their whole selves, their whole bodies, souls, creativity, imagination and vulnerability; I just love watching them work and then knowing with my cinematographer, that we’re taking care of them and we’re preserving their performances. It’s just extraordinary to watch.
Lady Bird is now playing in San Francisco.