Greta Gerwig on Developing Acting Skills: “You get better at it, and you get more skilled at it, and more consistent, but it never feels safe”

Talk about remaining independent: despite starring in big roles alongside Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached and Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in Arthur in 2011, actress Greta Gerwig also had time to appear in The Dish & The Spoon, a low-budget drama from writer/director Alison Bagnall (best known for penning the script for Buffalo ’66). The film spent much of 2011 playing in various festivals and will open on Friday at the awesome ReRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn.

Though Gerwig appears in Woody Allen‘s Nero Fiddled and Whit Stillman‘s Damsels in Distress in 2012, the actress spoke to the Wall Street Journal about why she took a role in such a small film and what she learns from appearing in independent films.

Gerwig admits that although she shot the film because she is friendly with Bagnall, she also found it difficult to find another major role after appearing opposite Ben Stiller in 2010’s Greenberg.  “It was hard.  After I finished shooting Greenberg, no one really knew I had made it, or if they did, it didn’t matter. Nothing was really panning out.” 

As a result, Gerwig thought that returning to a film similar to the independent films she appeared in early in her career would provide, at the very least, a reminder of why she loves acting.  She confesses, “I really needed to connect with something like that again.  Something that felt more self-generated and more self-reliant, and less reliant on the gods. I always feel when I’m on a huge set, that it isn’t really making a movie. I think, ‘This is like a paid vacation. This is pretty plush.’ The hours are long but they make it very easy on you. It’s really making a movie when there’s four people.”

Not only that, but Gerwig understands that by working with independent filmmakers she is more likely to share a deep appreciation for the “language” of the film, which helps her focus.  “I really like working with filmmakers who have a world that they’re building and their own language. I like trying to figure out how to speak their language and exist in their world. I think some actors connect to the essence of the story or some essence of the character, but I connect almost totally through language. Even if there’s a sparse script and there’s a lot silence, that’s the way I understand character and emotion.”

On the other hand, the young Gerwig believes that acting in smaller films will help her expand her range as a true actress.  “I still always feel like I better make sure I can do other things, because someone’s going to realize at some point that I’m not an actor.  Everyone always feels like they’re a bit of a fraud. I work hard and I try to do my best with things, but it’s a slippery art. You could spend weeks researching a role and be terrible. Or you see actors walk in, they haven’t rehearsed, they look at it and they’re genius. And then there’s genius actors who have worked really hard at something. You get better at it, and you get more skilled at it, and more consistent, but it never feels safe.”

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