By Mara Siegler, for AVENUE Magazine
Actress Greta Gerwig got her start in the mid aughts as the sweetheart of the awkwardly dubbed ‘Mumblecore’ movement, a low-budget film genre marked by stripped-down realism, trailing sentences, and a do-it-yourself ethos. Slowly evolving into more mainstream fare, the 28-year-old has impressed even the toughest critics with The New York Times speculating she “may well be the definitive screen actress of her generation.” It’s a grand statement, but with upcoming roles in films by upper crust chronicler Whit Stillman and New York’s hometown auteur Woody Allen, she seems poised to prove it true.
Working with such quintessential New York directors seems a perfect match for Gerwig. The sandy blond Sacramento, California transplant came east to study English and philosophy at Barnard, graduated in 2006 and decided to call the city her home. “New York gave me my direction and purpose,” she gushes. “This city lit me on fire! My dad spent some time working in New York when I was a child and on one of my trips to visit him I saw 42nd Street on Broadway. That was it for me. Nothing else would compare. Acting and New York were tops.”
Being the type of woman that can say “tops” with no trace of irony is part of what makes Gerwig so endearing. Whether she is sitting in a bathtub with a friend wearing goofy goggles in the relatively obscure cult film Hannah Takes the Stairs, receiving the most uncomfortable oral sex ever filmed from Ben Stiller in Greenberg, or playing across Russell Brand as the quirky girl with an unabashed love for Grand Central in the big studio remake of Arthur, she exudes a sort of nuanced innocence and authenticity. She has brushed off the ‘It Girl’ label confessing, “I don’t even really know what that means,” and remains nonplussed about the recent attention she’s getting for her upcoming roles and new leading lady status. “I feel pretty good in general,” she says.
This month, Gerwig takes the lead and shows off her comedic and tap dancing skills in director Whit Stillman’s Damsels in a Distress, his first film in 13 years. Known for focusing on the “urban haute bourgeoisie” with Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), and The Last Days of Disco (1998), his new movie focuses on a group of preppie women promoting hygiene and dancing at a suicide prevention center as they desperately try and cope with the male population at their cloistered college.
Later in the year she will follow in the footsteps of Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow and Scarlett Johansson and many other beauties in the role as Woody Allen’s muse in Nero Fiddled, playing alongside Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin and Penelope Cruz. Fresh off Allen’s Oscar-winning and box office success, Midnight in Paris, the film was shot in Rome and is set for theaters this June.
The roles are a perfect fit for Gerwig. “In a way, New York City is the reason I wanted to be an actress. I was in love with the city through films —Woody Allen especially,” she exclaims. “I adore them both [Allen and Stillman]. I want more. If I could, I’d spent a few years making films only with them—perhaps alternating.”
It is sure to be a whirlwind year for the rising star who is already signed on for the 2013 HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, but we are convinced she won’t let fame get to her head. When asked what she loves in the city, she told us unaffectedly, the subway. “Especially where all the subways converge at Times Square. There is an area where everyone is running from the NRQ to the 123 to the Shuttle – it is my favorite. It makes me feel alive and calm and part of something just by living here.”
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