“When I suddenly feel like I can’t find my footing, I listen to a song or look at a photograph or read an essay, and reconnect with what I felt the essence of the character was.” – Greta Gerwig
In recent years, Greta Gerwig has inherited the “indie darling” moniker held by talented actresses before her, like Parker Posey. Gerwig is a go-to lead for quirky indie comedies or serious dramas, and has also played supporting roles in higher-profile films like Jackie and Mike Mills’ 1979-set 20th Century Women. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Gerwig talked about how Mills helped her get into character for 20th Century Women and explains why new actors can get ahead by creating their own opportunities.
Gerwig reveals that Mills provided her with a wealth of material in order to ensure she got her portrayal of Abbie correct. She explains, “He gave me a thumb drive of music from 1979, which I then tracked down in record form. I took photography lessons to use these 1970s cameras Abbie would’ve used and learned how to develop film. I looked at photography and art books, and read a lot of art criticism and feminist essays — particularly Susan Sontag and her writings on photography — but also about the intellectual questions of the ’70s. And because Abbie was based on his sister, I spoke to her a lot, who also gave me food for thought. Mike was always giving me something new to look at. Directors don’t usually give all the material, but I love it. The more material they give me, the better; I have all these points of reference that feel vivid. When I suddenly feel like I can’t find my footing, I listen to a song or look at a photograph or read an essay, and reconnect with what I felt the essence of the character was.”
Though she’s primarily known as an actress, Gerwig also works behind the camera. She has co-written the screenplays for films like Frances Ha and Mistress America, and she co-wrote and co-directed Nights and Weekends and wrote and directed the upcoming Lady Bird. One of her pieces of advice to actors is to follow that path by creating one’s own content. She says, “Make your own things. Even if it’s just a short play with friends or a movie you put up on YouTube, it helps you figure out how to make things and what you’re good at, and it gives you community quickly. I think you’ll get more from it than it takes from you.”