Thursday, March 18, 2010

Actress/Playwright/Director Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig Goes Green

Greta Gerwig stars as Florence Marr in "Greenberg", directed by Noah Baumbach. 
Focus Features

By Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW 
Thursday, March 18, 2010


It's the last interview of a long and sunny St. Patrick's Day, but Greta Gerwig wears a big smile and gives a warm welcome to her guest in a bright suite here at the Ritz Carlton. 

"Do you mind if I remove these?", she says, taking off her shoes and curling her feet underneath her on a sofa.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Greta Gerwig was a ballet dancer or gymnast.  An effortless, graceful gait punctuates her pace as she enters the room, and she's lithe, slender and tall.  Distinct, she wears a red cardigan jacket with black blouse, black pants and red shoes.

The actress, playwright and director can be seen on the big screen starting tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles in Noah Baumbach's new dramatic comedy "Greenberg", playing the character Florence Marr.

"One of the things I loved about the movie, was, people don't make movies about girls like her," said the 25-year-old Gerwig, a Sacramento, California native.  "And I felt really honored that I got to bring her to life."

In "Greenberg", Miss Gerwig's Florence is an aspiring singer and an assistant to the vacationing Philip Greenberg (Chris Messina of "Julie & Julia").  Florence makes an acquaintance with the troubled title character of the film played by Ben Stiller, who has arrived in the Hollywood Hills to housesit for his brother.  Jennifer Jason Leigh, who co-wrote the story with her husband Mr. Baumbach, and co-produced, also appears in the film.  Rhys Ifans stars as Ivan, Greenberg's good friend and confidant.

Miss Gerwig glowed about Florence.

"She's incredibly multi-dimensional and flawed.  And can -- you know -- she's full.  I think Jennifer Jason Leigh said this actually, she said: 'most of the female parts in movies -- you're just there to prove that the leading male is heterosexual.'  And I couldn't agree more.  Most parts are that.  It's 'yes he's straight, and, you know he's straight because they like each other.'  But they [the women] don't have any stake of their own.  They don't have any life of their own.  And she's not that.  She has her own story."

Greta Gerwig's own story is essentially this: she was born and raised in East Sacramento.  Her first and last names are German, for those who hadn't guessed.  She now lives in New York City.  ("I do belong here," she said of the Big Apple, affirming what she said she'd always known.)  She's a graduate of the all-womens' Barnard College at Columbia University in New York.  She co-directed the film "Hannah Takes The Stairs", has appeared in several other independent films over a five-year span, and belongs, or at least participates in, a film movement colloquially known as "mumblecore" -- a focus on low-budget feature films about 20-somethings in relationships. 

"Greenberg" is Miss Gerwig's first major role in a significant quasi-Hollywood film -- this one is released by Focus Features.

Ephemerally, Miss Gerwig slips into the third person when talking about constructing Florence for Mr. Baumbach's film. 

"A lot of things (to build the character) included taking things away, because things that Greta has developed -- certain barriers or ways I have of coping -- Florence doesn't have.  I felt very vulnerable when I was done making Florence because she doesn't have any of the hardness that I have.

"You have to stay true to what the character's going to do, not your own personal vanity about acting, acting your face off."

Greta Gerwig stars as Florence Marr and Ben Stiller stars as the title character in the new
film "Greenberg", directed by Noah Baumbach.  Focus Features

When asked, Miss Gerwig took a moment to explain what was an incorrect Page Six quote in a recent edition of the New York Post attributed to her about Americans being prudes when it came to sex:

"What I said -- and I stand by it, and I'm not -- it just is true.  We just premiered the movie in Berlin, and in Europe nobody asked me [about her sex scenes in "Greenberg".]  And when I was in New York (doing press interviews), everybody asked me!  It was more of an observation than something I had drawn conclusions about."

After saying that Americans being prudish wasn't meant as a bad or negative thing, Miss Gerwig talked about the depiction of nudity in the movies, adding further context to her observations.

"Female nudity is seen as either highly sexualized, where they're an object of desire, and you desire that because they're beautiful and perfect and you want to have sex with it.  Or, it's degrading.  Somebody's crazy and they're naked, or they're beaten and they're naked.  But there's very little 'you're naked because you're taking a shower, or you're naked because that's just what's happening right now.'  And I think that there's something unsettling about that -- that people don't quite know what to do with."

Miss Gerwig added that Florence "isn't this perfectly-toned Pilates lady -- she's just a girl who's in this situation."

For the actress, purging Florence after two months of shooting "Greenberg" was a major challenge. 

"It feels like a break-up.  You're losing someone or they're dying -- they're not gonna come back.  Then they're going to go live in the editing room and they're going to belong to other people.  And it's no longer just yours . . . what I did do was cry a lot.  And quit smoking."

She said that "quitting cigarettes was a bit of letting go of Florence." 

In fact, Miss Gerwig quit smoking -- cold turkey.

While Greta Gerwig talked about her love for New York City, she was fascinated by Los Angeles, where "Greenberg" was filmed.

"I was given a really amazing introduction to L.A. that a lot of people don't get.  And I think Los Angeles is a much more interesting, much stranger city than people know.  I think that there's sort of a -- there's an idea of Los Angeles.  I guess it's an idea of the beach, and Sunset Boulevard and just a couple of iconic things, but the truth of that city is it's so big and there's so much little secret pockets of life that you'd never know about. 

"And you kind of have to have a tour guide.  It's like being in, I don't know, I guess, like a forest.  But I think in New York, what's great about it is it's more easily seen, it's more external . . . walking the streets you can feel the feeling of why [New York's] great.  And in Los Angeles you need to get plugged in to certain things.

"I really love L.A.  I really do," says Gerwig.  "I think it's a strange city.  So, so weird.  But in the best way."

"Greenberg" opens in Los Angeles and New York tomorrow, and in San Francisco and other U.S. cities on Friday, March 26.

Audio: Omar's complete 22-minute conversation
with Greta Gerwig (March 17, 2010) - click play below or click here for audio

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