“That scene still really touches me. I see some of my friends’ teenage girls who don’t think they’re good enough, but they’re so beautiful and so smart and you just want them to know.”
Gerwig was never taking requests, but now feels like a good moment to express my disappointment that another product of the ’90s, Teen Talk Barbie (played by Industry’s Marisa Abela), didn’t deliver her infamously offensive line: “Math class is tough!”
“Oh, we did it,” she emphasizes. “It just never fit because it was such a weird long list of crap she says, like it belonged in a horror movie.”
Gerwig pulls up the truly outrageous (shout-out to Jem) Teen Talk Barbie statements on her phone, beaming as she reads them out loud. It is, in fact, a weird long list of crap. But it would be funny even if it wasn’t all about malls and ponies and beach parties, even if it were sentences like, say: “I adore Sacramento! Truffaut was bigger for me than Godard. I love showpeople! I don’t like milk made from other things.” Even the most extraordinary women will sound silly when filtered through a doll. Gerwig’s feat was that she gave Barbie a soul while still having her speak exactly like herself.
“She directs as she is,” Baumbach says. “It’s not a performance, she’s utterly herself. Actors feel like here’s someone who is also laying themselves bare and it gives them confidence to let go of habits that they may have formed, to be brave. She’s just there without any pretense, figuring it out alongside everyone else and it’s inspiring to people. With Barbie, I saw her direct on set more than I have before, and I felt: She’s delivering a speech today? I don’t know that I’ve ever delivered a speech. It’s intoxicating. I will be a different director having gone through this movie with her.”
Speaking of paradigm shifts, Hollywood has gone through three distinct ones in recent years: #MeToo, COVID, and the strikes. Gerwig is a three-guild member—writer, actor, director. It’s been “a lot of upheaval and reassessment,” she says. But will any lessons last? I ask her how much of the “swirling crap” that led to #MeToo ever hit her (poor phrasing, given the morning’s events). Gerwig is relieved to be “luckier than a lot of people in terms of not having truly traumatic things happen.” Part of this is, indeed, being “one step removed from the apparatus” because she lives in New York: “I get to use the studio system but I don’t have to live in it. And I’m conscious of not wanting to be too attached to what Hollywood thinks is a good or bad idea because I don’t want to know if my idea is ridiculous. And when you live in LA, you know everybody. They all know each other’s lawyers. I often don’t know who the powerful person in the room is.”
These days, it might be her.
“That being said, there’s plenty of stuff that happened in my life, when I look back at it. I’m like, wait a minute. That was not okay. Just a million little things. It almost didn’t register. Which might be generational, you know? I think one substantive change is intimacy coordinators. They make perfect sense. It’s like a fight choreographer. Nobody would ever say, ‘Just take these swords and see what happens, just duel a little and see where the spirit takes you.’ That’s insane,” she says. “Aside from being a woman, the parallel world I see is getting stuck in some whirlpool of development where you never get out, you never get the thing made or find the right champions. I’ve been extremely lucky that I’ve managed to be supported by the system and not eroded by the system.”
She has also been supported from the creative side, becoming someone who has both found the right champions and done some championing.
“My experience with directors is totally generous. They’ll get on the phone and talk to you about how they did it. It’s not guarded at all. I mean, everybody has their own ego and their own sense of competition, but if I asked, they would spend all day showing me how they did it. I know because I asked Steven Spielberg to do it before I shot Little Women. He showed me all his research from Lincoln, he showed me everything.”
“She’s a spectacular talent,” Anderson says. “When I showed Greta Moonrise Kingdom, she had the reaction you really hope for, it seemed to work for her in all the ways I wished for. It made me feel more than reassured, it made me think maybe I made something good.”
“I don’t want to miss it,” Gerwig says, last Americano down and seemingly more at ease discussing the magnitude of this year. “I don’t want to not take the extraordinariness in. And I do, I feel it, it’s incredible. But the thing that makes me not feel overwhelmed is to keep doing the work. Now, get back to work. Keep going.”