On a wing and a loaner for first-time direc­tor Ger­wig

‘I took big things and tiny things,’ she says of de­but

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Chris Knight Lady Bird opens Nov. 10 in Toronto; Nov. 17 in Van­cou­ver, Cal­gary, Ed­mon­ton, Win­nipeg, Ot­tawa and Hal­i­fax; and wider on Nov. 24.

As an ac­tress, Greta Ger­wig has worked with some great di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Pablo Lar­raín, Todd Solondz, Re­becca Miller, Whit Still­man and Woody Allen. So she had a lot to draw upon for her solo writ­ing/di­rect­ing de­but, Lady Bird. And she wasn’t above steal­ing some tricks.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing about film di­rec­tors is that they gen­er­ally only know how THEY make movies,” she says. “They’re never on an­other per­son’s set; they don’t know how an­other per­son does it.”

This ex­tends even to her life part­ner, Noah Baum­bach, in whose films she’s acted three times. “When I’d work with other peo­ple he’d say what do they do? And I’d say — ” ever the ac­tor, she pauses for dra­matic ef­fect — “You don’t know. Why would you know?”

She con­tin­ues: “I took big things and tiny things. From Noah — he for­bids cell­phones on set. It’s the best rule of all time, be­cause noth­ing takes you out of the mo­ment more than to look over and see some­body tex­ting. If you need to text or make a phone call, you can leave the set and come back and be to­tally present.”

From Mike Mills, with whom she made 20th Cen­tury Women? “Ev­ery sin­gle crew mem­ber in­clud­ing him would wear name tags. Usu­ally when you’re on set as an ac­tor ... you won’t have enough time to re­mem­ber the boom op­er­a­tor’s name or the sec­ond elec­tric’s name. It makes them feel like they are their po­si­tion, not full peo­ple.”

From Spike Jonze, with whom she shot a mu­sic video for Ar­cade Fire? “Big ad­vice like you have to trust your gut and your hunches be­cause that’s the only rea­son ev­ery­one’s there. You have to fol­low your north star.” But he had quirky ad­vice as well. “Like if you don’t like a shot and you don’t know why, just start turn­ing off lights. And you do that partly be­cause you prob­a­bly have too many lights on, and also be­cause it gives you just enough time to think about what you don’t like about the shot.”

Lady Bird is the story of Chris­tine “Lady Bird” McPher­son, a head­strong woman fin­ish­ing high school in Sacra­mento, Calif., in 2002. Ger­wig was born in 1983 and grew up in Sacra­mento, lead­ing to the in­evitable ques­tion: Are you Lady Bird?

“I am from Sacra­mento and I did go to a Catholic girls’ school,” she ad­mits. “But I was so much more of a rule fol­lower, a peo­ple pleaser type of per­son who wanted the gold star. I mean, I never made any­one call me by a dif­fer­ent name or re­ally coloured out­side the lines in that way. But was an ex­plo­ration of things that maybe weren’t ac­ces­si­ble to me as a teenager, this sort of wild­ness and brav­ery and a lit­tle bit of cock­i­ness that I ad­mired and never re­ally let my­self have.”

Em­body­ing that wild spirit is Ir­ish ac­tor Saoirse Ro­nan, who met Ger­wig in the fall of 2015 at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, when Ro­nan was in town with Brook­lyn, and Ger­wig with Mag­gie’s Plan.

“We read the en­tire script out loud; she read Lady Bird’s lines and I read ev­ery­body else’s lines. And I just knew she was the per­son.” So much so that when Ro­nan told her she was head­ing to Broad­way in the spring to star in The Crucible, Ger­wig said she’d wait, and de­layed the film by eight months.

“We had a year of know­ing each other be­fore we started shoot­ing,” she adds. When they fi­nally did, “we’d laid down all this sed­i­ment, which was so in­cred­i­bly use­ful.”

Ger­wig also had time to hone her script, which is re­mark­ably lean. Best orig­i­nal screen­play is one of sev­eral likely Os­car nom­i­na­tions for the film.

She said: “Just try to take it apart; you can’t. I like things like that. It’s kind of an echo of when Howard Hawks was shoot­ing his stu­dio movies — di­rec­tors at the time wouldn’t sit in the edit­ing room the whole time. So what they’d do if they were smart and they were con­trol freaks is they’d shoot in a way where there was only one pos­si­ble cut. And I feel that I do that as a writer. You can’t take it apart be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble.”

Greta Ger­wig

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