A short exchange with Greta Gerwig goes a long way. She's identified with a loosely defined film movement called mumblecore but she is beholden to no style but her own. Scene stealing work in Ti West's House of the Devil (2009) and Baghead (2008) led to bigger roles that have turn her into an indie heartthrob, and the chance to play opposite everyone from Ben Stiller to Russell Brand in Greenberg (2010) and Arthur (2011). Besides a role in the new Woody Allen film To Rome With Love (2012) and a starring role in the upcoming Lola Versus (2012) she recently found time to star in the utterly enchanting Damsels in Distress for Whit Stillman. The lady is heading places.
I was just joking with someone that doing interviews can be just as boring for the press as for the talent. I keep wanting to show up in costume just to spice things up. Maybe I should have come as Satan's little helper from House of the Devil (2009)?
GG: I do come in costume! LOL. Stylists pick your clothes a lot of the time. I don't usually wear heels and dresses. It's a version of awesome, it's fun. I get to play the role of the person being interviewed which is also not how I usually live my life. You get used to it. The first time I did a press junket the cameramen waited the until a few of the journalists had rotated through and then they stopped and pulled me aside and said, "You have to stop actually answering the questions or we're never gonna get out of here!"
You do feel more like a cog in a machine when all people want is sound bytes. I think that might be true on the bigger projects I've been involved in. But you have to be careful complaining about that. Every job has it's share of paperwork that nobody wants to do. The bigger the job the more paperwork. It does help the project get out there and get seen. Let's face it, this could be a lot worse.
So does moving between say, an Arthur (2011), where there is a huge machine behind you and something like Damsels in Distress feel qualitatively different in that regard? Either way the film has to be sold right?
GG: They aren't dissimilar in the sense that acting always feels like acting. I can be working with Woody Allen or Ben Stiller or with people like myself who aren't that well known, but once the cameras are rolling that doesn't change. Of course the big difference is that when you make a project for less money there are far fewer people looking over everyone's shoulder.
For instance, here I am talking to you about Damsels in Distress because Caste Rock wrote a small check for a movie that they were willing to take a small chance on. So now I get to go out and talk about it and get peoples reactions to something that was far from a sure thing when we all agreed to do it. This isn't a movie like No Strings Attached (2011) or Arthur where you're promised something on the poster and you go to the movie and it delivers because it was tested to deliver. Don't get me wrong. I love niche movies. Genre can be brilliant. I love Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch, they used formula alot but they were geniuses.
Was that why you wanted to work with Whit Stillman?
GG: Absolutely! I saw The Last Days of Disco (1998) when I was in high school and that made me want to find the rest of his movies. They were so quotable. I'm such a film nerd. My friends and I used to do the Chloe Sevigny dance from Last Days all the time. His work was so iconic for me that I put him a list that I gave to my agents and told them, "If this person ever contacts you the answer is yes. I will do any part I don't care what it is. "
It's funny you mention Chloe Savigny because in a way she helped pave the road for young actresses doing something off the beat and path. Do you ever feel pressure to pursue the mainstream more? You have been in some mainstream stuff of late.
GG: You know, there will never be a shortage of pretty talented girls who can take my place. Chloe's career, especially the projects she chose, the people/director's she's supported, is a real inspiration. Tilda Swinton as well. Carey Mulligan. The truth is you are only as good as the film you're in. You can give a great performance in a bad film and it might advance your career in certain ways but in the long run you are better off looking for director's who are doing good memorable work.
Did the script here scare you at all? This is a really stylized sort of comedy.
GG: It didn't scare me. I had too much trust in Whit as a filmmaker. That's my preference as an actor anyway. Find somebody with a vision and surrender yourself to helping them bring their way of looking at the world to life. I also had enough sense of who Violet was to feel like the choices I made for her weren't artificial. I knew I wanted her to run with her arms at her sides, take baby steps. She's a creature of self invention who also happens to be utterly sincere in her desire to connect with people. She's a fabulist, someone who lies about themselves because they think it's the shortest distance to get where they need to go. The strange thing is that in the middle of trying to create this idealism out of white lies she's also totally willing to be wrong, to be told that she's wrong. For her, the distress is that the world is bumping up against her ideals, all the things she can't control like falling in love with the wrong guy.