20th Century Women is a marvel to watch. At its heart, Annette Bening plays Dorothea, a single mother raising her young son, Jamie. Greta Gerwig plays Abbie, a punk rock girl who’s a tenant in their home, living in the same house. Elle Fanning plays Julie, Jamie’s best friend. We follow all their stories, their lives, all the joys and concerns of these characters living in 1970s Santa Barbara.
I caught up with Greta Gerwig recently to talk about playing a 20th Century Woman and working with Mike Mills. “I was a big fan of Mike’s work.” She says of receiving the script. ” I tend to choose work based mostly on who the director is because it’s a director’s medium, and they’re the person you’re going to be collaborating with.”
“The film really was very much what it is on the page.” She says when talking about the incredible female dynamic that we see on the screen. Mills gave the cast homework. In her case, Mills gave Gerwig, “Music to listen to.” In preparation for the role, she also took up photography.”It was physically learning to use these old cameras,” she says. Co-star Billy Crudup learned to fix cars. “We were all working individually, and for two full weeks before we started so much time creating these relationships between the characters.” She says praising Mills for allowing time for the actors to develop a bond, not to rehearse, but to improvise, to have dance parties, switch roles, or be given assignments to explain a concept. “We would do them either as one-on-ones or in groups and it allowed us to strengthen those bonds.” Of that experience, Gerwig says can be seen in the movie, and describes it as “extraordinary.”
To prepare for working on a film set in the ’70s, aside from learning how to use cameras from that era, Gerwig says it was “more about trying to place more what it would feel like to encounter it for the first time.” She was already familiar with Susan Sontag’s book, On Photography, and wondered what it would be like to see it for the first time when the idea was introduced. She took the same approach to the music used in the film. Her character takes Jamie to a punk club one night. Punk music is also used to open the world to young Jamie. “I knew punk music, but that feeling of what was it like the first time Abbie heard it and where did she hear it.” Finding answers to uestions like these helped her imagine the world of 1979.
Gerwig also appears in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie which she describes as “Natalie’s movie.” In the film, Gerwig plays Nancy Tuckerman, Jackie’s right-hand Girl Friday, and friend. She adds she adored watching Portman play the former first lady.
Take a listen to the full interview below. Greta Gerwig can be seen in 20th Century Women and Jackie – Jackie is on general release. 20th Century Women opens on December 28