Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Greta Gerwig on Lola Versus

In Theaters

Greta Gerwig on Lola Versus

(from June 7, 2012)

LolaVersusGretatwo.jpg Greta Gerwig, photo by DP
Only a couple of years ago I had no idea who Greta Gerwig was or that she'd soon be "a star," but, it turns out, I was impressed by the funny, young unknown when she was in Ti West's creepy horror film, House of the Devil--as the lead's best friend, she has a shocking demise!--and the Duplass brothers' cool horror parody, Baghead. I just didn't realize it was the same actress in those art-house and festival favorites and didn't think I'd see her again. But since dazzling critics playing opposite Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach's Greenberg, Gerwig has became the quirky "It Girl" of indie comic romances and the "Go-To Girl" for some of our wittiest auteurs. Woody Allen's To Rome With Love is on the horizon, but you can already see her in local theaters in Whit Stillman's sophisticated lark, Damsels in Distress, and, now, Daryl Wein's Lola Versus, which opens in New York this Friday. Gerwig is, happily, on screen the whole time as Lola, who is about to marry her long-time boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) before she turns thirty. But when he calls off the wedding, her orderly life goes out of whack. During her downward spiral, she jeopardizes her friendships with sassy Alice (Zoe Lister Jones, who wrote the film with her life partner Wein) and Henry (Hamish Linklater) and dates Nick (Ebon-Moss Bachrach) an off-putting prison architect with a huge penis. The only people she doesn't have issues with for now are her parents Lenny (Bill Pullman) and Robin (Debra Winger). I'll soon be posting roundtable interviews with Wein and Jones (who also collaborated on the clever Breaking Upwards, about their own temporary breakup and open relationship). Below is a roundtable I participated in with the charming Gerwig (who displays her green fingernails in one of my two photos). I note my questions.
Danny Peary: What do you think the title means? Should there be a third word?
Greta Gerwig: I think the title references the fact that Lola is against everything and feels everything is conspiring against her. It's a fill in the blank title. I like the title, it has always been evocative to me. It is catchy and mysterious.
DP: And would Lola pick that title for herself?
GG: Lola Versus, yeah. It feels like she's in a boxing match.
Q: Her name is Lola and theres reference to the song "Whatever Lola Wants."
GG: That's from Damn Yankees. You cant put one over on me, I'm a musical theater girl. But I always think of the Kinks! There's no connection at all. I don't think Daryl and Zoe really knew their song "Lola Versus Powerman" when they started writing the script. Now they know do.
DP: Well, in the Gwen Verdon song Lola gets whatever she wants, but your Lola doesn't really get anything.
GG: No, she's the opposite. Whatever she wants she doesn't get.
Q: Your character is supposedly a writer. Is there a background story of her writing?
GG: Well, she's a Phd student. She's working as a T.A. and grading papers. What she's writing is the thesis that she's trying to finish. I have a lot of friends who are in graduate school right now and it didn't seem like a fake movie job to me. I found that real. Sometimes in movies they'll have the character work for no reason in, say, a pet store.
DP: Why do you think Lola's dissertation in about silence?
GG: Thematically, it was something that resonated with Daryl and Zoe. They know someone who is getting her PHd, who helped them create this theme for Lola's thesis. It leads you less into the territory of "this crap's all made up" and makes it real. Lola has an overly chatty mind that's always churning and commenting on and criticizing everything. What she's attempting to write about is silence created through art but is then not being mirrored in her life. That silence is what she is looking for.
lolaversuslolaalice.jpg Zoe Lister Jones and Greta Gerwig
Q: The film makes a big deal of Lola turning thirty.
GG: I haven't turned thirty yet so I dont know what that's like, but since I've lived through it fictionally I will be much more elegant about it when I actually turn thirty.
DP: It seems that she has a sense of urgency about turning thirty but comes to realize that there is no need to feel panicked.
GG: Exactly. I dont think it's a universal anymore that people want to get married by thirty, but when you turn thirty there's still the feeling that this counts! People feel that they should be farther along in their lives and be more established, like owning an apartment or having a good job, or whatever. Thirty is one of those birthdays where you take stock and say, "Where am I? Where did I think I would be?" That's a universal theme.
DP: Did you guys talk it over that since she's turning thirty and is single and lonely she must start desperately dating ridiculous people like Nick?
GG: Yeah, she's frantic because she feels she's running out of time. She's twenty-nine and realizes that the life she expected to happen isn't going to happen anymore. She is frantically trying to fill the void so she can again know what her future will be.
Q: Did it help you to have the writers on the set with you?
GG: I liked having them right there, and it was fun to act with one of the writers as well, Zoe. I write, so I like writers and I like writers who act. Zoe and Daryl are really fun people. They do want the words they write to be said and they have definite ideas they want to get across but I found that helpful rather than restrictive. I find it frustrating when filmmakers don't have a point of view or an idea of how they want things to be played. I find that harder because there are no parameters--I always need parameters!
Q: Lola's relationship with Alice is very interesting.
GG: Zoe is so funny and she wrote this crazy, out-there character and plays it so well. I loved doing the scenes with her. I always love doing scenes with girls; that's the most fun for me. I think it's because I have great girlfriends in life and there's something about those relationships--when they seem real and good--that I love watching. I've played the best friend in movies and those are my favorite scenes.
Q: You have some great reactions and nonreactions to Alice's lines.
Greta Gerwig and Zoe Lister Jones as best friends

GG: I have a friend who's not unlike her. If you spend enough time with someone who says outrageous things you just kind of roll with it. You just accept it.
Q: The scenes in which Lola is with her parents, played by Bill Pullman and Debra Winger, are interesting, too.
DP: Yes. I love those scenes. The ones with her dad are my favorite. They feel very buoyant. Her parents are sort of aging hippies and they see Lola's rebellion as being very conventional--she's going to have a long-term boyfriend and get married to him and she was going to follow a plan. She has a set life that is superconventional in comparison to what her parents experienced. I think a lot of people try to build a life that is different from their parents' life. There's also something about people who grow up in New York City, which Zoe did and can speak to. There's a strange dichotomy where on one hand they are the most sophisticated, erudite people you'll every meet because they grew up in the greatest city in the world and had access to the best art and culture that the world has to offer. But on the other hand if they never left New York, they're like a townie who never left a ten-block radius and maintains a small world--I feel Lola falls under this strange demographic. Going away to college at Bard for four years doesn't mean she's lived in another city. She basically stayed in New York City. I really like that she's a big city girl but there's also a small town element to her because she's never been away.
DP: In the production notes, Zoe talks about how Lola is unapologetic in making mistakes. That sounds like Ben Stiller's Greenberg character. It is one of his less endearing qualities.
GG: Oh, right! He is bad at apologizing.
DP: Your character is bad at it, too. Maybe that's a reason she doesn't have many friends.
GG: She has two good friends, Alice and Henry, but not a lot of other friends. She's not a bad friend but she has just made her world very small. She made her whole world this guy Luke and didn't really expand beyond the two people that they knew, Alice and Henry. It happens in relationships that you become a two-person world. Lola just stopped trying to make friends. I dont think it was because she was a difficult person necessarily--she just didn't put herself into situations in which she wasn't comfortable or any place where she'd actually grow. But she has to do that after the breakup with Luke and that's what the movie is about. Once you have taken away the half of yourself that you were sure was you, what do you do?
lolaversuslukelolabed.jpgJoel Kinnaman and Greta Gerwig
Lola alone

Q: Make mistakes. Usually, women in movies don't make as many mistakes as Lola makes.
GG: One of the things I loved about the script is that Lola isnt a mess in a cute way. She's just a mess. It is hard to always be on her side. She had to really screw up these relationships and really make mistakes, because she has to earn something back. It couldn't be just that she was adorably missing the mark. She had to really do something hurtful, and that's partly what I responded to. It was dynamic and interesting and I didn't feel that I was just a placeholder in a movie for who people think girls are. She has to earn her keep.
DP: So you think she's a good friend?
GG: Yeah, I think that ultimately she is a good friend. Although over the year we're watching her, she's not a good friend. She is a good friend at her core and will be again. She's just having a bad year.
Q: The movie doesn't have typical rom-com cliches. Were there challenges to avoid them?
GG: The script didnt fall into the typical rom-com traps, so there wasn't any need to fight against that. My goal as an actor was just to make it as real and truthful as possible. I let other people worry about whether Lola is likable or pretty.
 The studio did worry that Lola wouldn't be likable and that people would turn on her and not want to watch her make all these mistakes. SPOILER ALERT And how can we be on her side if she doesn't end up with the guy? I really fought to keep it how it was because that's what is special about it. I didn't feel that I'd make the movie only if Lola ends up with a perfect guy. I've already seen that movie a million times and I didnt need to make it. END SPOILER ALERTDP: At one point in the movie, Lola says, "I wish I could say this was somebodys elses fault, but it's me." I dont totally agree with that. Do you?
GG: She didn't choose to be broken up with and she doesnt choose to go through a lot of stuff, but she does perpetuate some poor decision making. I think what she's saying is that she is the only person who is going to make sure she's happy, and she thinks, "I need to figure that out because no one else will. It's a waste of time for me to sit around and blame oteher people for what's happened."
DP: I blame all the other people.
GG: You blame all the other people?
lolaversusgretahamish.jpgHamish Linklater and Greta Gerwig
DP: I think Luke, Alice, and Henry all let her down.
GG: Good! Youre on her side! In some ways they do let her down, but if you're an adult when people let you down, you're still responsible for your own life.
Q: How has it been working with independent directors who are working with studios?
GG: I think its great that all these people I knew coming up are doing well. Were all together and broke and making movies or web shows for no money. We were able to make movies our own way. We didn't ever have to compromise so in some ways the visions remained pure. We never had experienced making movies where someone said, Oh, no, you cant do that. We always just did it. It didn't cost anything. In a way it allowed people to hone something very specific without someone watching them and telling them they can't. One of the reasons there is a response from Hollywood to such directors' films is that they feel original, and it doesn't feel like they're making anything in an attempt to please anyone. It all feels genuine and that's what everybody is always looking for. You'll keep making these movies whether anyone watches them or not. That's a powerful thing.
Q: If it's too edgy it might make Hollywood nervous.
GG: I dont think being too edgy is ever a problem. I think the problem is when something is softened too much. While it may become softened or diluted, you never want to approach something like that and put away your weapons. The spikier, the weirder, and the more original will do better even in a system that is more corporate because there is more of an arsenal. If you don't have much of anything to begin with, when they take it away from that you have nothing left but a glob of cliches. So the spikier the better.
DP: You have an image of being unconventional and that's considered a plus today. But going back a couple of years, did you worry that being unconventional was a minus for you?
GG (laughing): Yeah! I was hoping I wouldn't be unconventional. I had this idea that I would somehow become conventional and look like and sound like everyone else and be like everybody else just by virtue of the fact that I was in movies. Then they figured out it's not true. I'm unmoldable! Which is ultimately a good thing! I had no agenda to be different and wanted to fit in very badly but now I think I'm in a very particular moment in film and in the world where people are craving a realness, especially from women. I'm just very lucky to be making films at a time when someone can look at me and say, "Ah, yes, we'll cast her!," as opposed to "Who is this person? She's so weird!"
DP: With directors like Daryl Wein, Whit Stillman, and Woody Allen, do you come to them as a performer or do they say, "This is how she is, let's let her perform"?
GG: I come to them. With all of them but particularly Whit and Woody, I like giving into the directors' world and vision and rhythms. You can't bring Whit to you, you bring yourself to Whit. The language is too complicated and the plot and characters are too arched to bring it down to my level. So I had to figure out how to make myself be like Whit Stillman. I love that, it's the best part. You get to step into these weird worlds that these auteurs create, and that's my favorite thing. That's the kind of cinema I look for. That's why I like acting.
LolaVersusGretaone.jpgGreta Gerwig displays green nails. Photo by DP


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