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Greta Gerwig Talks Lola Versus, Not Fitting In In Hollywood, And Helen Mirren's Rack

Normally when you interview an actor, you try not to dig too deep into their personal life-- you've just got 10 or 15 minutes after all, not long enough to really get into detail, and you're there to talk about the movie after all. But even though Greta Gerwig's life isn't much like that of the character she plays in Lola Versus, the movie brings up so many personal concerns about getting older and figuring out your own priorities that it seemed fair to bring them up with Gerwig. And plus, both she and I are around the same age as Lola, stuck in a quarter-life crisis at age 29, so it seemed like we'd probably share some common ground about figuring out just what you're supposed to be doing with your life at the cusp of 30.

Gerwig is an actress who's steadily building up a lot of name recognition, starting with her work in micro-indies like Hannah Takes the Stairs that led to a breakout performance in Noah Baumbach's Greenberg. Now you can find her all over the place, from roles in big studio films like Arthur and No Strings Attached to this summer's Woody Allen film To Rome with Love. In Lola Versus she plays the title character, a woman dumped by her fiancé just after her 29th birthday and trying-- and failing, mostly-- to put her life back together.

Lola Versus-- which is directed by Daryl Wein, co-written by Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, and co-stars Lister-jones, Hamish Linklater, Joel Kinnaman, Bill Pullman and Debra Winger-- opens this Friday in limited release. Gerwig and I started by talking about her character, but moved on to all kinds of other topics, including how actresses are considered dead at 40, the astrological idea of the return of Saturn, resisting the urge to become more like typical Hollywood actresses, and of course, Helen Mirren's rack. You can check out our entire, very fun conversation below.

You are not yet 29, like Lola is in the movie. Do you see this as like a terrifying harbinger of the future? Do you believe in that Saturn returns stuff?

They say Saturn returns goes from 27 to 30. I'm in the middle of Saturn returns right now. I don't believe in it, but at the asme int if you're hanging out with someone who believe in it, you find yourself putting more stock in it than you ordinarily would.

Did playing someone who believes in it affect you?

It's not that I believe in it more now, but I was hoping maybe playing a part like this and going through it in this fictional world would help me go through it in my actual life. It's almost like I've play-acted the whole thing, so I'm prepared for all the future trauma. I don't know if that's actually true, but I hope it is.

Having the job you have kind of makes all the life stages different. Have you noticed non-actor friends hit this phase more? Does this happen as an actor even though your life is changing all the time?

As an actress, part of the problem is I think everybody assumes you die at 40. Not that many people manage to find work after 40. I'm hoping that it will change and that by the time I get there it will all be worked out. My friends who are approaching 30, who are my age right now, there is a little bit of the "What the fuck am I doing with my life, and is it going to keep working out? Is this the person I'm marrying? I don't know." My girlfriends, we've had a lot of moments lately-- we'll get together and go running or drink wine, do something either healthy or not healthy, but I've found we have these conversations lately where it all turns to "We're getting old." The conversation almost always ends there for some reason. And then someone will say "But it's good!" and we get excited about getting older, and maybe people get married. But it's also this realization we're not kids anymore. It's hard too, because when you get older, you've only been young in your life. You've never been older than young.

Although doing what you do, and working with people and befriending people who are older than you-- like Woody Allen, who's been doing this since he was 16. That's got to help, at least, to watch that example.

I think it's easier for people who create. Obviously there are certain actors you can point to. Part of what is amazing is you get to interact with so many different people ,and so many different ages. There's octogenarians who are still making movies.

Or even like Helen Mirren, getting better roles the older she gets.

It's because she's super hot. I don't even think she works that hard at being hot, I think she is hot. She just came into her own. She was always a very attractive woman, but something happened, and she just became everyone's ideal of what an older woman should look like.

It's kind of encouraging-- you get your most beautiful in your 60s.

She's got a great rack. It helps.

You started your career working with Joe Swanberg, who's basically your age, then went on to work with veterans like Whit Stillman and Woody Allen. Now you're working with Zoe and Daryl, who are young. Does it feel different working with people your age again?

I don't think age really has anything to do with it. Directors' personalities are directors' personalities regardless of their age. Being on a lot of movies sets, you know more of what you can control and what you can ask for. But my guess is Wes Anderson was Wes Anderson when he was 25. And in an interesting way, I think has age has very little to do with it. I think someone said you make your best movies between 30 and 60 if you're a director. Before 30 you're imitating people, after 60 you're repeating yourself.

Do you feel the same way as an actor?

I think I've definitely gotten better, yeah. I've gotten better as I've gotten older. I've also always felt much older than I am, so in a way for me getting older is more approaching the age I've always felt in my head, which is about 40. I hope that the roles I get to play, I don't know, get more interesting and deeper, and that I grow along with them. I think Ira Glass did this thing where he says if you have great taste, but make stuff, there's this disconnect when you're young between your taste and what you make. You know it's not quite good yet, so you kind of hate yourself, but you also want to keep going, and there's this point where your taste and your abilities are much closer together. As you approach 30, if you've been able to work through your 20s on what you do, that gets closer. I'm excited for what comes next.

Do you find it harder to watch your older stuff?

I don't watch my stuff. I do watch it when it comes out-- I don't avoid looking at the films-- but I don't revisit them. Not even for like curiosity's sake do I pop something in and say "What was that like?" I think what's most embarrassing about that, even though I haven't seen those films in a while, I remember that I thought I had a good idea of what I was doing. There was this embarrassment-- I'd get embarrassed about things like, 'You thought you knew so much!" That arrogance is really embarrassing to look at when you get older. I'm lucky that some things worked and landed and other things didn't, but more things worked than didn't work. Acting is a slippery-- ti's slipper, because as soon as you think you know what you're doing, you're kind of fucked. I think it's an ever-evolving thing.

You've started getting roles in bigger and bigger movies, but it feels like you're choosing carefully in a way a lot of people don't.

Some of it is just the realities of, I have to work-- I'm not a trust fund kid, I don't have a fallback, I earn my living as an actress. Others, it's just luck. I've been really lucky that the things that have come to me are things I want to do and things I think re good. But there have been things I've turned down, and things I've thought "It would be good if I could figure out a way I could get excited about this and do it." I think it's kind of self-selecting. If you don't fit a cookie cutter mold, the chances that the films that are interested in you are the films you're interested in. You don't want to be too good at being something you're not, because then you'll find yourself in films where you don't really belong.

Did you ever feel like you needed to do that, fit in more?

Totally. It's really hard to avoid the impulse. I'm perfectly secure with how I look and my body and my face, but I don't have perfect teeth, and I have kind of a big, gummy, goofy smile, and I'm not a size 2 or 4 even. There are parts of me that are like "You should really watch what you eat, and maybe get your teeth fixed." But then it's not authentic to who I am, and I think in some ways an over-concernment with that would interfere with what I do feel good about, and what is unique about me. Sometimes, especially with women, they get very cookie-cutter. I think people come to Hollywood, and I don't know what happens to them, but it's like they get pressed into a plastic box. They get there and they have their weird, rough edges, and they dress kind of strange. Then something happens and they become this sleek, digestible plastic item.

And you can't tell them apart!

My mom can't tell them apart on television. And i"m like "Mom, how can you not tell them apart, they're different races!" I sympathize with that feeling ,and I can tell them apart, but i feel like there is this uniformity that seeps in at one point. And I used to really want to be able to fit into that uniformity. I used to think it would just happen to me.

Like it seeps in the longer you're in LA?

I just thought if you're in studio movies, by the nature of doing it, you'd start looking like everyone else. I was really looking forward to that! And I realize that was not going to happen, and I really had to try.

And you realized you didn't want to try.

No. I think I would be a poor excuse for that. I will leave that to other people.

is it a matter of sticking with directors and collaborators who don't want the cookie-cutter thing?

Yeah. Until you're 40, and then you're dead.

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend