Interviews with hot, young actresses tend go something like this: starlet arrives wearing borrowed togs, artfully disheveled to look like hers; starlet offers the requisite sound bites on how lucky she feels between sips of Diet Coke; starlet teeters away on heels, leaving in her wake a cloud of sycophantic gushing and untouched food.
It takes Greta Gerwig — a hot, young actress, to go by just about every film critic and editor — all of 30 seconds to upend that time-tested script on a freezing winter afternoon at Schiller’s Liquor Bar. First, there’s the whole milk she requests with her coffee. Then she discovers the back of the lunchtime menu.
This story first appeared in the February 1, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Oh my God, breakfast till 4? Are you serious?” she exclaims, eyes widening. “[I’ll have] huevos rancheros. Is that so L.A. of me? And can the huevos be well done? What are they, poached? Can I get them scrambled?”
Next up, her thoughts on fashion.
“I like things that have, like, little cute waists and little cute things,” says Gerwig, wearing a cozy, salt-and-pepper Jil Sander cardigan and purple Theory miniskirt with tights. “My biggest stand [on red-carpet dressing]: nothing short, no huge heels. I’m not a streetwalker. I don’t see the need to wear streetwalker shoes. I went to Barnard. I have a degree. That equals low heels.”
Gerwig marries old-fashioned opinionated with youthful exuberance in a disarming cocktail. And it’s one that has found a following: after her much-lauded performance in last year’s “Greenberg,” the actress has a handful of major projects in the works, including a supporting turn in the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher rom com “No Strings Attached,” easily Gerwig’s most commercial film to date.
“Playing the best friend, it’s really fun and also I’ve always felt that was the kind of actor I was,” she says of her wing woman role. “I always played the sidekick role in musicals in high school because I was too tall to be that girl. I always played the girl who had the Carol Channing song.”
Gerwig, 27, hails from Sacramento, Calif. At Barnard College, she majored in philosophy and English and threw herself into acting and playwriting. From there, she partnered with director Joe Swanberg on movies like “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “Nights and Weekends,” which were labeled “mumblecore” for their awkward characters and improvisational style.
“I think that’s something you do when you’re 21 or 22, and it really gets you going and it gets you out the door. But I don’t think you want to make art like that forever,” she says.
Little danger of that. In addition to “No Strings Attached,” Gerwig is about to finish reshoots for the remake of “Arthur” starring Jennifer Garner and Russell Brand, and just wrapped Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress,” in which she plays a girl trying to prevent suicides at a college center by encouraging victims to partake in musical numbers.
It’s also unlikely that Gerwig will morph into one of those overly cautious types bent on translating newfound attention into perfectly calibrated cinematic currency.
“When I’m in L.A. I’m like, God, I should start sculpting my career,” Gerwig says. “When I’m in N.Y., I do what I’ve always done, which is do what seems to be interesting to me at the time, don’t worry too much about how it will turn out.…Living in Chinatown, it’s this whole world where they don’t give a s–t about any of it. I feel like they look at me and my friends and they’re like, ‘You all look the same. You’re all just white kids and I don’t know who you are.’ It’s lovely.”