We’re starting February in the best possible way with a brand new Saoirse photoshoot, this time for The Sunday Times Style! Our gallery has been updated with six high quality images that were released with the interview -featuring her Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig- and you can read it below.
I hear the giggling before I get to the door of the suite in the Soho hotel in London, where I’m meeting Greta Gerwig, 34, and Saoirse Ronan, 23 — both “women of the moment” thanks to Gerwig’s much-hyped debut solo directorial film, Lady Bird. It’s a damp, cold Saturday evening and the pair haven’t seen each other since filming wrapped on the movie several months earlier. Right now, they’re sitting face to face, intertwined, on the sofa and holding hands. Legs tucked beneath them, they talk intensely and at a hundred miles an hour, Gerwig in her languid Californian drawl and Ronan in a — surprisingly broad — Irish brogue. It takes a good five minutes for them to stop reminiscing about their time on set and gossiping about recent projects and who has seen who since the movie wrapped and even notice I’m in the room.
Warm, engaging and positive, they both confess the experience of making Lady Bird was “very special” to them; indeed, it’s hard to overstate the critical reaction to this coming-of-age movie. (The notoriously acerbic host of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert, called it one of the best films he’d ever seen.) Since it came out on general release in America last November, it has won two Golden Globes and been nominated for three Baftas and five Oscars, including one for best director. Gerwig is only the fifth woman nominated in the category in the 90-year history of the awards.
Set over a year, between the autumns of 2002 and 2003, in Sacramento, California (where Gerwig herself grew up), it follows the teenager Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who is a young woman at odds with her mother (a nurse, like Gerwig’s mother, and played by Laurie Metcalf), her strict Catholic school and her home on the wrong side of the tracks. She yearns for a different life, to go to college on the east coast, “where writers live in the woods”, some place she can reinvent herself.
Lady Bird isn’t the first film Gerwig has written — she has created several screenplays with her longtime boyfriend, the indie-film dreamboat Noah Baumbauch (The Life Aquatic, Frances Ha, Mistress America). The pair met on the set of the romcom Greenberg in 2010, and together form the linchpin of an achingly cool set of young mumblecore American writers, directors and actors that includes Wes Anderson, Jesse Eisenberg, Adam Driver and Lena Dunham.
Now, in Lady Bird, Gerwig has corralled the perfect indie Venn diagram in Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name), Lucas Hedges (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Ronan, who has been billed by Ryan Gosling as “a genius” and “Meryl Streep reborn”. For Ronan herself, with a Golden Globe already under her belt and the Bafta and Oscar best actress nominations, Lady Bird certainly seems to be a coming-of-age movie. “Saoirse has what the greats have, what Meryl has, what Julianne Moore has,” Gerwig says. “It’s what you always hope for in an actor.”
SR I’ve been longing to ask you, what was the first scene you wrote for Lady Bird?
GG I wrote the first scene in 2013, and it featured a girl at college. When someone asks her where she’s from, she says Sacramento, and when he mishears, she says San Francisco. I was drawn to the topic of how, at some point in your life, you inevitably disown where you’re from. It’s part of growing up.
By early 2015, I went out and tried to raise money for the movie. Most people who have money to invest are guys. If they’d been raised with sisters or had a daughter, they totally got this movie. But if they hadn’t, they’d say: “Can women really fight like this?!” And I would say: “Whoa there, yes! Welcome to the greatest show on earth.” While it’s not literally autobiographical, there are definitely things drawn from my experience. Actually my mother said the funniest thing to me. I showed my parents and brother the movie…
SR What did they say?
GG They loved it. They called me crying on speakerphone and they were just so moved by it. But my mother said the funniest thing — she said: “You wished I’d given you the silent treatment growing up.” [Laughs.]
SR I watched the film for the first time with my best friend in October. We had a couple of glasses of white wine before we went in because I was so nervous, but we had our arms wrapped around each other. Even though I knew what was going to happen in the film, I was laughing one moment and sobbing hysterically the next. It’s about the beautiful struggle of being a teenager, growing and changing and getting to know yourself, and having the realisation that relationships change. I identify with a lot in Lady Bird. The great thing about how you’ve written the character is that she doesn’t know how great or special she is. And there’s a huge sense of the importance of belonging, belonging to a place, a time in your life.
GG And also belonging to yourself.
GG We’d never met before this film, had we? I had no idea what you were going to be like.
SR I could have been a nightmare.
GG You really could have been.
SR Maybe I was and you’re just not telling people!
GG You had this lovely bond with all of the crew.
SR The crew are the people I want to hang out with when I’m working, and that’s why, usually, I actually don’t get anything out of watching the final cut of a film. Most of the time, as cheesy as it sounds, I’m not doing a movie for that, I’m doing it because I get to work with these brilliant people. I think there’s definitely an Irish thing in my head that tells me not to take up all the oxygen in the room, too.
GG It was a dream for me to be on the other side of the camera. I’ve always wanted to direct, and sitting at the back of the theatre watching other people act my lines was the most addictive thing ever. I’ve never done heroin, but I’m sure that is what it feels like. I am crazy about all my actors. When I see them I get all teared up. I was actually told I need to stop saying that I cry when I see them. [Laughs.] But it’s true, I really love them!
SR Maybe they just said don’t cry so much. [Laughs.]
GG Don’t cry so much. I know. [Laughs.] Also, your mom is a magic lady.
SR She is, she really is. She is a perfect human being.
GG When I first met her, she made me tea and had cookies, it was so cute!
SR She went to Whole Foods. It was before the guys got there, and we were dyeing my hair for the film and Mam was like, “I’m after getting them some biscuits and some cupcakes.” I said, “Mam, don’t!” When she came back with armfuls of stuff, I was like, “Mam, why did you get them so much? They probably want a salad or something.” But no.
GG I wanted the biscuits. I wanted all the biscuits!
SR Have you told anyone about the Cheetos?
GG No, I haven’t told anyone about the Cheetos. I ate a tremendous amount of Cheetos.
SR She likes the original cheese flavour, but a crunchy variety. She inhales them in 60 seconds flat. By the end of the shoot, there were more and more.
GG I was fuelled by them. There was a code on set, with everyone who had a walkie-talkie. They’d say, “We need a Greta on set.” I asked, “What’s a Greta?” and they said, “Cheetos and a Diet Coke.” [Laughs.] I thought, that’s so sad, all I’m eating is chemicals.
SR There was so much love on the set.
GG So much love! Every picture I have of the two of us, we are embracing and hugging each other. [Laughs.] I’ve had incredible luck with the people I’ve worked with, but it’s hard to imagine something or dream something if you don’t have an example. I look forward to a time when half of all movies are directed by ladies, because they should be. And I hope things are changing for women in Hollywood. The first time I understood cinema as an art form was Beau Travail by Claire Denis. I’d never seen anything like it, and at the end, when her name came up, I thought: “Well, either that’s a strange man’s name or a woman directed this.” And a little seed was planted in me.
SR I think we’re entering a better time.
GG I think we are. I’m friends with Lena Dunham and I admire her — she’s younger than me and I look up to her. I want more women to write and direct, and be producers and executives, and be presidents of companies. It’s no mistake that I started firing up on this movie right after I worked with both Rebecca Miller and Mia Hansen-Love. I thought: “All right, this is a must. I want Saoirse to direct, too, and I want a girl who is 15 right now to see this film and say, ‘I can do it.’ ” It’s essential we pull each other up and push each other forward.