Indie actress and filmmaker Greta Gerwig has found herself in a remake of the blockbuster Arthur but she’s far from your typical starlet.
Greta Gerwig never meant to be part of a movement. After graduating from New York’s Barnard College with a degree in English and philosophy she began making films with friends: low budget, improvised works such as Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends which were lauded and then lumbered with the term “mumblecore” for their characters’ solipsism and emotional ambivalence.
Having seen these, and then her impossibly charming performance as Florence in Greenberg alongside Ben Stiller, The New York Times’s film critic declared her “the definitive screen actress of her generation”. Now, aged 27, she’s getting cast in huge blockbusters: her latest project is a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore film Arthur in which she plays Russell Brand’s love interest.
So how does someone with as much integrity and individuality as her negotiate a burgeoning career in Hollywood? The answer, if her entrance is anything to go by (she gets a bit stuck in the cafe door while detangling herself from her headphones) is with all the same endearing awkwardness and lack of affectation
Did you have fun making Arthur?
Oh yeah, God, I gotta talk about Arthur. Gosh. Yes. It was fun. I mean I really like everyone a lot in it. But I’ve never had a big role in a movie this big and that’s kind of scary.
What are you scared of?
That people won’t like it or won’t go to see it. I’m in the middle of the fear. But I saw a cut of it and really liked it. Russell is very, very funny in it – he has this sweetness. What I look for in any movie but especially in romantic comedies is just the sense of two people genuinely talking to each other and falling in love because they’re talking. Russell is so kinetic as a person and to fall in love you have to be still with a person. So it was accessing a different side of him – I think that’s how he is with Katy [Perry]. Also acting with Helen Mirren is … awesome. Her approval means a lot to me.
How did things change for you after Greenberg?
It left me just a mess. A total mess. I came home from LA and I couldn’t get hired for nine months. Casting directors didn’t even know that I’d had a big part in it. So they’d go “Oh you were in Greenberg, did you get to meet Ben Stiller?” And I’d be like “he went down on me, thank you very much!” There’s an idea that if you do a Hollywood movie then you’re swept up and saved and you’ll always have jobs. It’s not true.
But now you’ve got loads of things in the pipeline and your career’s taking off. And I mean it as a compliment when I say you don’t seem like the sort of person who’s meant to be famous.
Yeah, I agree! I think I’ve always sort of stood out. Weirdly that’s one of the reasons that I was so honoured and happy to be cast in Arthur. I think films and television are a lens for the way people look at their lives and positions; they supply different narratives of how to contextualise your own life. I think people look at us, at how we are. It means so much more that we are the girls getting cast right now. I mean I think that there aren’t really roles like Florence that are just out there to be had.
Maybe you need to write them?
I know, I do. It’s true. What was brilliant about Florence is that she’s such a whole person. It wasn’t just the part that was charming – she was depressingly passive too.
How did it feel when AO Scott in The New York Times praised you as much as he did?
Oh. Oh. It was really, it’s really crazy. The fact that you’re only as good as the films that you’re in means it feels scary because not all of them are going to be great. It’s something I could never possibly live up to, but I think that’s OK. I’m just incredibly touched that he even considered it; it made me feel heard and watched.
Did you feel part of a movement when you were making films like Hannah Takes The Stairs and Nights and Weekends?
No, because I think artistic movements are [generally] as political as they are artistic. I think what’s notable about this group of films is that they’re really apolitical in a way. We don’t scream at each other any more – we go off in our rooms, we live politely. And I feel like I don’t want to live politely. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone does.
Photography: Steven Pan
Fashion: Anthony Unwin
Words: Hermonie Hoby
This article first appeared in Wonderland Issue 26, April/May 2011