NEW YORK, Nov 4, (Agencies): Greta Gerwig has been an actress in 25 films, a co-writer on five and co-director of one. She’s assembled wardrobes, done makeup and — thanks to her 5 foot-9-inch height — held the boom mic. She has, in a sense, been building up for a long time to her directorial debut: “Lady Bird.”
“I was accumulating my 10,000 hours,” Gerwig said in a recent interview in a tucked-away room at Lincoln Center. “When I finished this script, I thought: You’re still going to learn things but you’re not going to learn anything more by not doing it. Whatever learning happens now is going to happen by doing it. I just decided to take the leap.”
It’s at this moment while contemplating the culmination of her professional life that a famished Gerwig first spies her lunch. “Oh my goodness it’s a sammy,” she exclaims — a revelation quickly followed by another. “Oh my feet are so dirty from standing outside barefoot.”
For Gerwig, it comes naturally that the most earnest inner ambitions can appear, from the outside, a little funny, too.
Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” which opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles, is a loosely autobiographical coming-of-age story about a high-schooler named Christine with the self-proclaimed nickname “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) who aspires beyond her middle-class Sacramento life. From Roman Catholic school, she dreams of New York or at least “Connecticut or New Hampshire, where writers live in the woods.”
The film — richly detailed, shrewdly observed, altogether a beauty — has already found some of the best reviews of the year, placing it among the early awards-season favorites. It boasts numerous revelations — including the performances by Ronan and her fictional mother, Laurie Metcalf — but none more so than this one: Gerwig is an exceptional, fully formed filmmaker, right out of the gate.
“She nailed it in the way that she did because she’s incredibly open to people and characters and places,” says Ronan, speaking by phone from London. “One of the reasons why she’s such a fantastic storyteller is because she’s incredibly sincere. Everything that comes out of her, whether it’s on the page or when she acts or when she directs, it only comes from the most genuine place.”
Why is it that Gerwig, at 34, has made the leap to directing so flawlessly? It could be that she was a writer from the start. Her most recent scripts were “Frances Ha” (2013) and “Mistress America,” both co-written with Noah Baumbach, with whom Gerwig has been in a relationship for several years. Even her acting — simultaneously natural and self-aware — has, as Baumbach has said, carried with it something “authorial.”
Gerwig is also a proud cinephile. Claire Denis’s “Beau Travail” first awakened her to cinema as something more than theater-on-film. “I thought, ‘That is its own country,’” she remembers. During production on “Lady Bird,” her email was overrun with screen grabs she snapped of relevant films. A sampling of inspirations: the low-key naturalism of Mike Leigh, Agnes Varda’s “Cleo From 5 to 7,” Eric Rohmer’s blocking, Howard Hawks’ dialogue (“I make talkies,” says Gerwig), “America Graffiti” (shot in nearby Stockton, California), Chantal Akerman’s rendering of a woman doing housework in “Jeanne Dielman.”
“Plainness with a purpose never gets rewarded the way it should,” she says. “Our catchphrase for the way the film looked was: ‘Plain and luscious.’”
A short description of “Lady Bird” tends to undersell it. While it has the basic framework of a teenage high-school film, Lady Bird’s story — one of the bittersweet thrill of fumbling toward a much-yearned-for future — isn’t told in isolation. Her relationship with her mom, an overworked nurse, is strained. The movie’s working title was “Mothers and Daughters” — a conflict “as old as the hills,” sighs Gerwig. “To me,” she says, “that was always the central love story of the film.”
“The movie is a bit of a Trojan horse, in a way,” says Gerwig. “Around the middle, it catches and you kind of realize there’s something very aching and sad at the core of it even though it’s funny and fast-paced. It’s about young people but it’s just as much about the other generation. It’s about this whole community. It’s not just this pinhole of this teenage girl. I’ve always disliked the coming-of-age title given to it. Every coming-of-age story in life is equally the story about the parent, the person who’s letting go. It’s secretly as much the mother’s movie as much as it’s her movie.”
LOS ANGELES: Carey Mulligan has been cast to play Gloria Steinem in FilmNation’s “An Uncivil War,” directed by Dee Rees.
Production will begin in March 2018. This marks the second Steinem-focused project in the works as of late, with Julianne Moore recently attaching herself to “My Life on the Road.” Julie Taymor is directing that pic, but sources say that script is still being written, while “An Uncivil War” is a greenlit film.
FilmNation Entertainment said Tuesday that casting on the film is underway with the goal of shooting in the first quarter of 2018.
The movie will focus on efforts by feminist activist and journalist Steinem, lawyer and activist Florynce Kennedy, and others to ratify the ERA, while conservative organizer Phyllis Schlafly advocates against it. The ERA was written to guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex, and although it passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification, it fell short of enactment after receiving 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications.
Rees has adapted David Kukoff’s script. FilmNation Entertainment is fully financing “An Uncivil War” and is producing the film alongside Peter Heller. FilmNation VP of development Ashley Fox will oversee on behalf of the company.
The project reteams Mulligan with Rees, who recently worked together on the critically acclaimed film “Mudbound,” which is scheduled for release on Nov 17.
Mulligan is represented by WME and Julian Belfrage Associates. Along with “Mudbound,” she will next be seen in “Wildlife” opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Paul Dano. She also stars in David Hare’s limited series “Collateral,” which will air on BBC next year.