There's something emphatic and final to the new Greta Gerwig movie "Frances Ha," which she co-wrote with director (and beau) Noah Baumbach. Often cast as a somewhat hapless, happily (or unhappily) floundering 20something trying to figure out love, career and life in the big city, Gerwig makes Frances a definitive portrait of a "Greta Gerwig character."
"Since I wrote the movie with Noah, I feel much closer, emotionally, to Frances than to anybody else I've played," Gerwig says. "She's different from Lola ("Lola Versus") or Florence ("Greenberg") in that she's all about ambition and not about whether or not she has a boyfriend. I never get to play that."
"Ambition," yes. But remember that word "hapless." Frances has been a dancer all her life, and her dream is a career in modern dance.
"She is wildly ambitious. It's just not working out. She's cocky and competitive and yet she isn't that good. I wanted to explore that, as an idea. When we're confronted with the realization that our idea isn't working out the way we want, we do not respond gracefully. She might have been the best dancer in college, but at 27, she's facing that humble pie of taking a day job and accepting life as she's living it, not as she dreams it.
"Other people confront the same issues. Her best friend gives up her career to leave the country with her man. That's a real thing women my age face. 'Are you in it for yourself or are you in it for a relationship?'"
Gerwig isn't apologizing for the raft of similar characters she's played in her few years on the screen.
But she's been playing the roles other people gave her, for the most part. And if they see her a certain way, well ...
"I try not to draw too many comparisons between characters, because you end up writing the reviews in your head before you even start the movie. I'd like to play a lot of different characters. Unfortunately, in films, you're hamstrung by the fact that you get cast as your age, your gender and your race. I tend to play 20something white girls. But that will change. Well, some of it."
Gerwig turns 30 in August, and she's smart enough to know that the cute-but-clueless thing doesn't age well on the big screen.
That's a big reason she revived the writing career that she was intent on when she graduated from Barnard College. Writing the definitive Greta Gerwig character "and every other character in the movie," she adds, "was an answer to a need that I didn't even know was there."
"When Noah and I wrote her, we wanted to make her complete and as psychologically acute as we could. I went through a phase where I didn't want to play Frances at all, because I was worried that she might be similar, that I might not be good enough for the part. But I'm glad I did.
"Because of the fact that I co-wrote this, I have ownership of this character. It really feels, for me, like my first time at the rodeo. This time, I think I got it right."