'I think today is just going to be a full-on celebration screaming day,' the director says
Greta Gerwig has been nominated for a Golden Globe before, for her star turn in Frances Ha, but this year is extra special. Lady Bird, her solo directing debut, scored four nominations for this year’s awards: best drama, best actress in a drama (Saoirse Ronan), best supporting actress (Laurie Metcalf), and best screenplay (Gerwig).
It’s a major accomplishment for any first-time director, and it’s made all the more sweet by the fact that Lady Bird — about a young woman trying to navigate life, love, and family in 2002 Sacramento — is loosely inspired by Gerwig’s own adolescence. Ever since the film made its debut at the Telluride Film Festival, it’s been connecting with both audiences and critics, becoming Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed movie ever.
So yeah, Gerwig is having a good awards season. Even though she was shut out of the Globes’ best director category — a choice many critics and fans have decried as an egregious snub — Gerwig is just happy that her unconventional coming-of-age tale is connecting with so many people.
“I’m going to see Laurie Metcalf later tonight, which is thrilling, and I’m currently trying to rustle up as many crew members as I can find to have a toast tonight because a lot of them actually live in Los Angeles,” she says. “So I’m trying to find a lot of them and be the annoying people at a bar!”
EW caught up with Gerwig after nominations were announced to get her reaction to the news and talk about why so many moviegoers are falling in love with Lady Bird.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations! How did you find out about the nominations this morning?
GRETA GERWIG: Thank you! Well, I knew they were coming out this morning. [laughs] I made myself sleep, and I said, “Don’t set an alarm. Sleep, wake up, make a cup of coffee, and then open your phone.” So I kind of forced myself to do everything, but I just wanted to look at my phone. And then I looked, and I had like 36 text messages and I thought, “Okay, something must have gone really well.” And then there was a lot of screaming and excitement and joy. That’s just sort of continued up until this moment. I think today is just going to be a full-on celebration screaming day.
The best kind of day.
It really is! [laughs] I’m just so proud of everybody who worked on it and so honored it was included in this year’s group of extraordinary movies. I want to see everyone who made the movie and give them a hug.
You’ve been nominated before as an actress, but what does it mean to you to be nominated for this film specifically?
Well, this is my first writing-directing solo situation, and it was nominated for Saoirse and Laurie and me and the movie. It’s like the most exciting thing ever! [laughs] And it’s a movie that was such a labor of love from everyone who made it that for it to be received this way and celebrated like this just means the world to me. We could never have anticipated this. It was just kind of this movie that we poured everything into, but you just never think it’s going to be received like this. It’s something that’s beyond our wildest everything.
Since the film has come out, the reaction has been so strong, and so many people have connected with Lady Bird and her story. Have you been surprised by how people have identified with it?
Yeah. I feel like movies are such a collaborative art form that it’s really the response to every single person who gave so much of themselves to the movie. There is this feeling of love around it because there was all the love that went into it.
And I also think it’s such a specific story, but it ends up being universal because it’s specific. I was in France and I was in the U.K., and I was talking to people there, and there were journalists saying, “I’ve never heard of Sacramento, but I feel like this is my story.” [laughs] It’s about home and how home is something you only really come to understand as you’re leaving it, and I think that’s something that everyone has a connection point with. That’s something that people can relate to. But it’s the wildest thing to be in a country that’s so far away, and yet they’re saying, “That’s me and my mom, and I grew up in Paris.” It’s very moving.
There’s that moment where Lady Bird and her mom go look at open houses, and I was sitting there, like, “My mom and I used to do that when I was growing up! Whenever we were sad or stressed, we’d do that and imagine what it’d be like to live there!” There’s a universality in that relationship that is so lovely.
Yeah! It’s funny, so many people have said, “I used to do that with my mom!” Men and women. It’s this thing where you go and almost imagine another life. Like maybe our lives would be perfect if we lived there. And I think people understand what that is.
As you mentioned, Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both got nominated too. What was it about each of them that made them the right people to portray these two characters?
They’re both just such formidable actresses in their strength, and also in their powers of empathy. They have such a deep need to communicate, and I think for me — I had cast Saoirse, and then I cast Laurie next — it was this feeling where they could really take each other in the best way in both love and conflict. They could hold what the other person was putting down because they’re both just so formidable as actresses. I think that even though we were telling this very specific story of one year of this life, they would be able to bring the sense of a whole life. And that was true for every single actor, but for me, the heart of the movie is really a love story between a mother and a daughter, and I knew I needed two women like that to inhabit that space and really give it the stakes of something that’s monumental, even though it’s about a quotidian life in some ways.
One of the other key relationships that I love in this film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her best friend, Julie. That friendship feels so smart and real. How did you approach that friendship between the two of them?
Well, Beanie Feldstein is a treasure. She walked into the audition and she basically gave the performance you see on the screen. She was just so funny and so real and so heartbreaking and so detailed. She knew exactly what this relationship was and how to play each moment.
And the thing that made me so happy was I had cast Saoirse early, and we had a year before we actually shot the movie. She was going to go be on Broadway in The Crucible. So there were times where I would just get her and Beanie together to just hang out. Not to make it perfect or rehearse the scenes, just so they could trade phone numbers and get some inside jokes going. They got so close as people that I felt like that really translated onto the screen, and the scenes that still make me so happy are the two of them cracking each other up. These two young women making each other laugh, and genuinely making each other laugh. We just kept rolling on them laughing because they so got under each other’s skin in the best way. They knew how to make each other break, and it was so much fun to watch because it did feel like we were just getting to document a friendship.
I also have to ask about the music because it’s such a wonderful element of this film. When you were sitting down to write the screenplay, did the music change or evolve over time, or did you always know, “These are the songs I want”?
I did write Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews and Justin Timberlake and Ani DiFranco and Stephen Sondheim. Those were all written in. I didn’t really have a plan B when it came to those songs. [laughs] I just felt like I need these songs. I went on an extensive letter-writing campaign, and they were all so gracious and kind that they let me use their music. And then I had the good fortune of being able to work with Jon Brion, who’s one of my favorite film composers of all time. I knew I wanted the music that was playing in the world that these teenagers would listen to to be very specific and very clear and tell the story of the time, and then the score that exists in the world of the movie is this lush, romantic, achy, old-fashioned score. And he was able to understand what that juxtaposition was. So to me, when I think of the music of the movie, I think of those two things together and how they play off of each other.
That makes sense, having those two juxtaposed elements.
Jon Brion was so fun too, to work with. Especially because I’m not a musician, so it’s like somebody doing a magic show! I would explain a feeling to him and he’d play a chord and say, “Is that the feeling?” And I’d say, “How did you know the chord that went with the feeling!” He’s like, “That’s what I do!” It’s like, that’s amazing!
How did you approach 2002 without making it feel kitschy or like a throwback?
I think the thing for me was to treat everything with utmost respect and like it was very real. So to acknowledge the fact that, yes, this is a Justin Timberlake song that came out that year, but also the songs on the radio were still songs from the ’90s. Or cars on the street, not every single car was from that year. To sort of have the traces of earlier times in the year that it’s taking place. Because I feel like that always makes it feel more realistic to me. That was something with the production design and the way that we put the movie together that we were very careful about because we didn’t want it to be too cute. Even though it’s recent history, it still is not now.
In making this film and directing your first feature, was there anything about the process that really surprised you?
The thing I had a hunch about, but I didn’t know until I’d really done it, was how much I’d adore directing films. It’s absolutely the most fun I’ve had doing anything. I love directing films. I love working with a team. I love working with actors. I love being the person who’s able to bring all these people together with a common purpose. I thought I would love doing it, but then when you’re actually there, you think, “This is the best time I’ve ever had.” You don’t totally know how it’s going to work out.
And then in terms of challenges, I think one of the benefits of how long I’ve worked in film and how my film school happened on set — both in front of the camera and behind the camera — is that I knew in my bones that the difficulties that you’d face along the way in making a film were necessarily part of making a film. That doesn’t mean that the film is going to completely implode. That’s just part of it. Every day there’s going to be something that comes up that seems insurmountable. And then you all get your heads together and figure out how to get through it! [laughs] I think because of working in movies for so long, I knew that that was the path. That wasn’t some aberration from the path.
So I’m assuming you want to direct something else very soon?
Oh my God, there’s nothing I more want to do. I’m itching to do it again. [laughs] I also feel like it’s hard to codify what you’ve learned because so much of it is developing your intuition. It’s hard to break it down into, “I’ve learned the following 20 things!” But there was that feeling when I got to the end of it, like, I want to do this again right away because I have so much more information about how to do this and how to go ahead and how to push something forward. And it’s wanting to continue to grow and challenge myself. And the truth is, on the next one, it’ll be a whole new set of challenges. But I think you just keep adding to your toolbox. So yeah. One hundred percent. I can’t wait to get back on a set.