‘Frances Ha’s’ Greta Gerwig has it all planned out, actually


She hornswoggles you, but there’s a method to Greta Gerwig’s madness.

Just as she tricked us all with her ditsy-seeming blond in “Baghead” who turns out to be the smartest person in the movie, it turns out all those crazy little flourishes that made her struggling-dancer protagonist in “Frances Ha” so vivid were all carefully planned.

“There was no improvisation in the movie,” says the film’s co-writer and Golden Globe-nominated lead actress. “There were no unplanned moments, actually. I think the process of writing it was taking down spontaneous moments in conversation, shaping them and making them come to life in a way that feels spontaneous.


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“Like when she’s smoking a cigarette and the security guard tells her not to, and she throws it in the woods, that was a written-out moment. We wanted it to feel planned, but handmade.”

This, from a woman who one moment has her ear to her purse (“I know this makes me seem crazy,” but she’s just searching for the source of the disembodied music we both hear), the next is enthusiastically describing as “bifurcated” the structure of movies by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the next is proposing a repertory house double-feature of “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Babe: Pig in the City.”

“They’re both shot mostly on soundstages, and they’re really surreal and violent and crazy. The lighting — I just feel there are more similarities between those movies than people have totally acknowledged to this point,” she says with a mischievous grin.

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She’s like and unlike Frances. Both came from Sacramento and went to New York to become artists (“I don’t know anyone like that,” Gerwig deadpans), but the actress’ self-assured intellectualism belies the character’s haplessness. For instance, it’s hard to reconcile that the rapid, unheard conversation Frances conducts in her head after rejecting a would-be suitor’s touch was a scripted moment.

“I’m really flattered when people think it was improvised or that we’re just pointing cameras at things, because that’s the effect it should have in some ways.

“But I do like this feeling that a movie’s taking care of you. I think maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to appreciate movies that make me feel completely uneasy. I like to feel held by a movie. It’s like an assured dance partner. I enjoy the wildness of free-form dance, but I also want it to have structure.”

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Gerwig is careful to note that she herself is not a dancer. And Frances the dancer is painfully awkward at times. Her occasionally goofy physicality is yet another of the very specific choices Gerwig and director and co-writer Noah Baumbach made for the character.

“The leather bomber jacket — in the script it was described as, ‘She always wears this leather bomber jacket, even when it’s too hot out. And it’s not cool. It’s too big on her. It’s just something someone gave her once.’ I wanted her to be wearing that too much. And the backpack. If you live in the outer boroughs in New York, when you leave, you leave for the whole day. So you carry a backpack. And the Dansko shoes, the clogs that she wears, a lot of waitresses wear them and dancers wear them because they’re good for your feet and they’re comfortable. And we wanted her to always have her dance clothes on underneath. We put her in all these kind of flimsy, floral dresses. That’s not something I wear; I just thought it would look kind of oddly feminine and whimsical and sad and weather-inappropriate,” Gerwig says, laughing.

“There was a lot of playing with weather-inappropriateness because it’s just a sign you’re not prepared for life.”

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The film is about Frances, a work in progress, growing up a little. But the story’s engine is the deep bond between her and her best friend, Sophie.

“It’s 100% a love story,” says Gerwig. “The best love stories are the ones where they don’t end up together. We very deliberately tried to make it like a love story. She has girl, she loses girl, she tries to win girl back. Just trying to make it feel like it was existing within the tropes of a romantic love story, then letting the reins go. It’s sad.

“That’s my favorite feeling in movies, that ache.”