Q & A With Writer/Director Greta Gerwig (Cont'd)
LET'S TALK ABOUT KYLE. HOW DID YOU COME TO CAST TIMOTHEE IN
Timothee auditioned for me, and he was just a tremendous actor, so young and
talented and intelligent. He went to Columbia University, he's a pianist, he
French and Italian and he's honestly quite intimidating. There was something
about his supreme intellect that I thought would work really well for Kyle. Kyle
a frustrating character, but he's very sharp. It's easy to laugh at his ideas,
are grounded in real capacity for deep thought. Timothee could do it in a way
I gave him a lot of literature to read about socialism, economic theory, and
mathematics, and also academic writing about the internet. There is a book of
essays called The Internet Does Not Exist, which I loved, and gave my copy to
Timmy. He read it, as well as the notes I had taken in the margins. He was
shocked that I shared so much of Kyle's worldview. He said to me, "Everyone will
think that you're Lady Bird, but actually, you're Kyle." I had him watch My
At Maud's, the Eric Rohmer fi lm, so he could absorb the rhythms of a young man
who is certain he is right talking at a woman, not to her.
WHAT IS IT THAT LADY BIRD FINDS ATTRACTIVE SPECIFICALLY ABOUT KYLE?
Through Kyle, Lady Bird experiences that knock-you-over sexual attraction for
first time. The stage directions read "She understands all R&B songs in one
It is true lust. She constructs a narrative about him that doesn't exist,
that's what teenage girls do.
I would play a lot of songs from John Hughes movies on the set, from Pretty in
Pink and Sixteen Candles. Movies that I love. Women are raised on these
and they are very hard to shake as ideals. Even when it is incredibly clear that
object of your a ection is not behaving like a movie-star heartthrob. I wanted
fi lm to both be inside of the fantasy and outside of it: to feel the intensity
emotions while acknowledging that they are a house built on sand.
HOW DID YOU FIND BEANIE FELDSTEIN FOR THE PART OF JULIE?
Beanie Feldstein walked in and auditioned for Julie, and she did exactly the
performance you see in the movie. It was just right there, right away. It was
emotional, very open, funny but not arch, and never self-pitying. There was a
resilience in it. After she walked out of the audition room, I had a full-on
moment of turning to the casting directors and saying, "That is our Julie."
WHAT DOES THAT FRIENDSHIP MEAN TO THE CHARACTER OF LADY BIRD?
It is the pure friendship-love of her youth. There is a quality, when you fall
friendship-love with someone in high school- and usually I think it happens in
school because it is the first time you have any real autonomy-where you
could spend every waking hour with them and still want more. The minute you are
dropped off at your house, you call them and say, "What are you doing now?"
I like appropriating movie tropes from girl-boy romances for other
like a mother running through the airport to find her daughter, not a man
for a woman. Similarly, the moment when Lady Bird goes and gets Julie for prom,
it has the same feeling of "Go get your girl!" that you get from heterosexual
stories. It's the boom-box-over-the-head moment, but with your best friend.
I COULDN'T HELP BUT NOTICE THAT A LARGE CHUNK OF THE CAST HAS
WAS THAT A CONSCIOUS CHOICE WHILE YOU WERE CASTING OR DID IT
JUST SORT OF HAPPEN ORGANICALLY?
I love theatre actors. I love theatre. I'm a theatre nerd. My first love was
and I've never gotten over it. The veteran actors in this film, Lois Smith,
McKinley Henderson, Laurie Metcalf, and Tracy Letts, are people that I've
and admired and read about for years. They are these giants of American theatre.
Having Scott Rudin's help was key in accessing this caliber of actor. Every time
to his offce, I see all the posters on the wall, and they represent the very best
fi lm and theatre, some of my favorite things ever made.
LET'S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE SPECIFIC YEAR WHEN THE FILM IS SET, 2002.
The glib answer is that I wasn't interested in shooting smartphones. If you make
fi lm about teenagers now, so much of their lives happen online that I don't
how you'd make a movie about them without shooting a lot of screens.
The more honest answer is that I wanted to make a film that took place
in the post-9/11 world, what I think of as ushering in an entirely new era which
are only now beginning to understand. My goal was not to comment on global
politics or domestic economy, but to present it. We lived through the complete
erosion of the middle class. We are still living within that new economic
The invasion of Iraq is a very vivid memory for me, although I was in college,
high school, when it happened. And, of course, we are still there today, we have
not pulled out all of the troops. I was interested in the modern televised war,
propaganda of it and the theatre of it. How the horror is both available to you
also completely managed and distant.
There is the terror of war and the uncertainty of the job market, and there are
also crushes and friendships. Life doesn't divide itself up into subjects.
not history over there and personal life over here. It all happens together.
YOU TALKED A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THE ICONOGRAPHY AND THE
NARRATIVES OF CATHOLICISM HAVE INFLUENCED YOU AS AN ARTIST AND
YOUR POINT OF VIEW. HOW DO YOU THINK THAT CATHOLICISM FIGURES
IN LADY BIRD'S LIFE?
Early in the film, during the credit sequence in the church, the first words
are: "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." This is always
in mass, all the time, constantly. As a teenage girl, you think: "Well, where am
those people? I'm not a father, son or holy spirit." I guess you could strive to
the Virgin Mary, but that seems to be off to the side, not the main event,
It's a feeling of, "Where do I fit in this patriarchal structure?"
I think religion is storytelling, a way to create meaning in life, and it's diffcult if
you don't see yourself reflected in it. Lady Bird is running into this problem,
railing against it.
However, Lois Smith's character, Sister Sarah Joan, presents an alternative side
Catholicism. She is not gushy or saccharine, but she is solid and loving in a
way. She's a bit of a hard-ass, but very invested in the lives of her students.
She presents another option, another way of expressing faith.
The idea of grace, theologically, is fascinating to me. It is not something that
can earn, it is given to you. It is not because you're a good person that you
experience grace. Baptism is a moment of grace. You could see it as saving
from hell, but you could also see it as experiencing love and grace before you
been able to do anything at all to "deserve" it. A definition of grace that
is that it is generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved. This kind of
grace continually happens to Lady Bird, and her journey is one of accepting it.
Lady Bird is not a specifically religious character, and she doesn't have a
experience, but it is the occasion for her transformation. The place that she is
and the tradition she was raised in gave her both roots and wings. She goes back
to the church in the end because it is home, but she cannot stay there. She can
move forward and accept the gifts that have been given to her and say "thank
WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE CLASS PLAYING IN THE FILM? LADY BIRD
HAS SOME CLEAR SHAME SURROUNDING HER OWN CLASS STATUS.
WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT TO THE CHARACTER?
I don't think anyone ever feels like they have enough or are enough. Lady Bird's
particular fixation with class is grounded in something real: her family is
financially. Also, they are caught in a squeezed middle class, where the
resources and money are being shifted to the top. However, one of the themes of
the film is recognizing the riches of your life, understanding how much you
not how little you have. In a hyper-capitalist society where there are have and
have-nots, it's difficult to connect with the feeling of "enough," but it is part
Also, I think girls have it much rougher than boys when it comes to connecting
their self-worth to their family's financial situation. Boys had the same
but there was less status conferred by things, and they always had the escape
route of sports. If you were good at sports, you were safe. The culture of girls
centered around how much money your shoes cost and how fancy your car was.
Part of being a teenage girl was wearing your money by the brands on your
clothes. You wanted people to know how much you spent on what you owned.
It is something that Lady Bird both finds incredibly distasteful but also
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO END THE MOVIE IN NEW YORK AFTER LADY BIRD
WENT OFF TO COLLEGE?
I don't think endings are ever real endings and I don't think beginnings are
beginnings. You are always in the process of looking backwards and wrapping up
a story that seems to have ostensibly ended. Taking off in the plane: that's a
ending, and a false beginning of a new story. She isn't done with her old life
because she gets on a plane.
There is a Quaker concept that I thought about while making this fi lm, the idea
of "Way Opening" and also "Way Closing." "Way Opening" is the feeling that the
next steps are clear to you, that where you have to walk is laid out for you.
Closing" is the opposite. It is looking back from where you came and realizing
the doors are closed. The end of the film is a moment of both "Way Opening" and
"Way Closing." There is nowhere to go but forward, as you can never run
into childhood. You can just express your thanks and put one foot in front of
other into your new life.
OKAY. LET'S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SOME TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF THE
FILM. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR COLLABORATION WITH CINEMATOGRAPHER SAM
LEVY AND WHAT YOU GUYS WERE AIMING FOR WITH THE LOOK OF THE FILM.
Sam Levy has shot three movies that I've been in, two of which I co-wrote, and
I've been incredibly blessed to have him as a collaborator. I love the way he
the world. We would spend hours together looking at photographs and films, shot
listing and talking about movies. There was a shared language we had that came
through years of work together and I trust him completely. He felt like the
half of myself, and we had a shorthand that was invaluable while making the film.
I wanted every shot to be very specifically framed, like a Medieval triptych,
quite presentational. Nothing shaky or handheld or documentary. We talked
about always having a sense of the proscenium, of the film unfolding in a
of placed scenes like Stations of the Cross presents the story of the Passion.
I had always seen the story as a kind of an allegory and I wanted the
to reflect that.
We also wanted the color to look like a memory of a time, not to be literally
how the world looks. At the same time, we didn't want to pretty it up too much.
I wanted Sacramento to look beautiful because it was portrayed honestly, the
way I wanted the characters to be beautiful because of their flaws, not in
them. We looked at the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud and Gregory Kondos because
they captured the color and the flatness and the beauty that is specific to
California. The density of the pastels they used always feels like home to me.
So to achieve that Sam Levy and I worked very closely with our colorist, Alex
who is a real artist. He was with us from the beginning, and helped us to set
look of the film. There were a lot of tests, a lot of trial and error to find
I kept saying that I wanted to feel as if the film was "over there." I always
to feel the frame and to feel the medium of cinema.
TELL ME ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF EDITING THE FILM AND WORKING
WITH NICK HOUY.
Nick Houy actually came to me through Jen Lame, who had edited Frances Ha
and Mistress America. Editing is like writing the film again, and when Nick
read the script, he responded with very careful notes that felt like a writer.
He understood the tone we were going for, how it was like a pop song that you
only realize is sad when someone else covers it at a slower tempo and you really
listen to the words.
I like films that catch in the middle, that you don't realize are weaving a
underneath you. Mike Leigh is one of my favorite filmmakers, and his films
that quality. Nick Houy understood the lightness I wanted, the way the film
be frothy and exciting like waves breaking on a beach, but that then suddenly
undertow would become apparent and before you know it, you are in much
deeper waters than you expected.
ANYTHING YOU HAD TO REMOVE THAT YOU REALLY LOVED IN THE EDITING?
ANYTHING THAT HAD TO GO?
Most of what was in the script is in the movie. Because I wrote a few other films
and was very involved with the editing process, I had a good sense of what we
would want in the final version.
There were some things. A goodbye between Julie and Lady Bird which I had
to remove because it felt like they had already said goodbye. There was also a
campaign speech when Lady Bird runs for Student Body which just didn't fit.
Mostly, though, the difficulty was recognizing that I couldn't use every single
take that my actors gave me. I had to pick just a single line reading, and they
gave me such incredible material with every take.
EACH SPACE THAT YOU USE IN THE FILM HAS A VERY DISTINCT PERSONALITY.
IT COMPLETELY FITS THE TIME PERIOD. IT FITS PERFECTLY INTO THE STORY.
HOW DID YOU AND YOUR PRODUCTION DESIGNER, CHRIS JONES,
I met Chris Jones when I worked on Mike Mills' movie 20th Century Women.
That film had such a specific world. It was Santa Barbara in 1979 and he did
incredible job at creating something very particular. He was sensitive and
He knows the meaning of one chair versus another chair, if that makes sense.
He knows that objects carry story and psychology and personality. Also, Chris is
a painter and so he has a very strong sense of color and the emotion of color.
He treated every set as a still-life painting, you could photograph it all on
and it would transmit so much information and feeling.
OKAY. THE COSTUMES. THEY'RE UNASSUMING, BUT EVERY COSTUME
IS INCREDIBLY SPECIFIC AND PERFECTLY FITS THE CHARACTER.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR COLLABORATION WITH APRIL NAPIER?
April Napier also came as a recommendation from Mike Mills. I sat down to meet
and we were wearing the exact same outfit. That felt like a sign if there ever
I gave her yearbooks to look at and we dug up old snapshots and magazines, all
the usual research, but I think what was really magical about her process was
she collaborated with the actors. They would have meetings on their own and then
show me what they had discovered. She and Beanie came up with the little clips
that Julie wears in her hair and her white Skechers. That kind of attention to
is always what I'm looking for. I see every department as telling the story
their particular medium, and for her it was clothes.
WHAT ABOUT THE SCORE? WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE OF WORKING
WITH JON BRION? WHAT DID YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE WITH THE MUSIC?
Jon Brion is my all time favorite musician/composer/producer, and working with
him was a dream come true. It is an old-fashioned movie score with melody, which
is exactly what I had hoped for. I didn't want the score to feel like background
ambient, I wanted it to be very present and structured, in the foreground of the
storytelling. The very first conversation we had he played a sketch of what
become the theme of the film. Lady Bird's theme, this descending tumbling
a falling down and getting back up. He already had an idea of woodwinds, which
felt more delicate than strings but just as emotional.
He's nocturnal so I would fly to LA and I'd stay up with him all night. He'd
working on it at around 10 p.m. and stop around 6 a.m. We would talk, watch
scenes from the movie, and then he would sit at the piano and write beautiful
melodies to picture. Then we would stop and talk some more. About movies and
life and everything. Sometimes I would just explain a feeling to him, and then
play something on the piano which was literally the musical equivalent to that
feeling. Bit by bit, he built our score this way.
THE SONGS YOU SELECTED FOR THE FILM: THEY MANAGE TO UNDERSCORE
THE EMOTIONAL BEATS, AND THEY ALSO CAPTURE THE TIME PERIOD. TELL
ME ABOUT MAKING THOSE CHOICES AND WHY YOU MADE THEM?
I wanted the songs in the film, the needle drop moments, to be a real reflection of
teenage taste at that time and in that place. I didn't want characters to be
to music that they wouldn't actually know. Music is how teenagers connect to the
world "out there," how they find articulation for their lust, their angst,
Some of the songs that are in the film I wrote into the script, like Alanis
"Hand in My Pocket" and Dave Matthews' "Crash Into Me." Alanis because she was
my Patti Smith, my Kate Bush, my Stevie Nicks. She was a woman who wrote her
own music and lyrics and performed the hell out of these very emotional songs
felt like they were written just for me. And I've always thought "Crash" is up
with the most romantic songs ever written. I remember playing it on a loop and
feeling like nobody would ever kiss me. I don't know any other song that
more deeply to teenage longing. Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" owned the
2002-03 bridge and is so snarly and sexy and of that exact moment.
Often with period movies, the music and the design will all be from that exact
If it takes place in 1955 suddenly every car on the road is from 1955, but
how the world works. You also have cars from 1951. Not all the fashion would be
exactly up to date. It is the same with music-the hits from the 1990s were still
Merrily We Roll Along is my favorite musical. My hope for Lady Bird is that it
audiences a little bit of the feeling that I got watching Sondheim's Merrily for
first time. That sense of time slipping away, the future charging into the
the bonds of childhood as only living on in memory. It is aching and beautiful
fleeting and the thing I always look for in art.
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