‘Maybe I shouldn’t talk about this,’ says Greta Gerwig, sipping tea in a Soho hotel. Conversation has turned to how few decent roles there are for actresses in Hollywood. The career-sensible thing for her to do now is keep quiet. But she pulls a what-the-heck face and tells it how it is.
‘It drives me nuts. You see tip-top actresses who’ve been nominated for Oscars playing the babe role in stupid superhero movies. Those parts should go to random babes. If great actresses are taking those roles, it means there’s nothing out there. Which is depressing.’
She talks like this, in perfect paragraphs. And she isn’t whingeing. Like Kristen Wiig and a growing list of funny, smart actresses sick of one-dimensional girlfriend roles, Gerwig is writing her own films. In her brilliant new comedy Frances Ha – co-written with her boyfriend, director Noah Baumbach – she gives one of the performances of the year as daffy Frances. A struggling dancer, she lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in Brooklyn – ‘like an old lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex’.
Frances is stuck in that just out of university, can’t-pay-the-rent phase. Trouble is she’s 27. Unlike Frances, Gerwig’s own twenties looked effortless. After writing and starring in tiny indie films, she became an accidental ‘it’ girl when Baumbach cast her in Greenberg with Ben Stiller. Films with Woody Allen and Whit Stillman followed. ‘I had a lot of luck early on,’ is her take on success. ‘And it never feels secure. It always feels like it could crumble underneath you.’
Frances Ha isn’t an autobiographical film, but the emotional core of the main character comes from Gerwig’s life – the panicky, jealous feelings early in her career. ‘I think that in your twenties, envy is so central to everything. It always feels like somebody is doing it better, faster, younger.’ These days – she turns 30 soon – she’s more comfortable with who she is. ‘I was always so defensive in my early twenties. Like I needed to prove myself. Now I care less.’
She met Baumbach, who’s 43, making Greenberg. He was married to the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh; the couple divorced not long after. Gerwig and Baumbach got together halfway through filming Frances Ha. Did dating change their professional relationship? ‘No. We work together the same way we always have. We’ve just got someone to go out to dinner with.’
Inevitably, people are comparing Frances Ha to Girls. Gerwig has been mates with Lena Dunham for years and is flattered – ‘but I think they’re totally different. Lena’s show is much more about sexuality. And my film is less directly funny.’
Like Dunham, she is officially a poster girl for hipster cool. Which is weird: ‘I’ve never been fashionable or cool. I’m too sincere to be a hipster. I go to the gym and read self-help books.’ Hipsters don’t exercise? ‘No. I feel like a hipster girl doesn’t work at it. They just ride their old bikes around New York looking awesome. It’s summer and they’re not sweating. I sweat. And if you sweat you can’t be a hipster.’