Greta Gerwig on Playing Dress Up

Greta Gerwig has gone from improvising in no-budget films with her pals to starring alongside Ben Stiller in Greenberg, but what you’ve heard less about is the fashion education she’s been getting lately. The 26-year-old actress was studying up, in a way, at a launch party for Prada’s new Swing sunglasses line at Joe’s Pub in New York. The house had lent her a camouflage dress for the occasion—”military Betty Draper,” she suggested, referring to January Jones’s pin-up housewife in Mad Men. (PHOTO COURTESY PRADA)

For the jazz-themed party, Prada put svelte models in sixties beehives and shades.  “I love models up-close, they’re so beautiful,” Gerwig enthused. Fashion, the Columbia grad added, is “this whole part of New York that I knew existed, but was never part of.”  And while her roles in critically successfully little movies like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Baghead (whose creators, Jay and Mark Duplass, just dipped a toe into the mainstream with Cyrus) put her on the indie film map, they hardly prepared her for Prada parties.

But now that her star is rising—Gerwig is appearing alongside Russell Brand in Ivan Reitman’s upcoming Arthur remake, and it was recently revealed that she’s been cast in Whit Stillman’s next project—and, having walked the carpet at international Greenberg premieres, she’s starting to see the whole dress-up thing from the other side. “I think when you’re sitting at home looking at magazines or watching the Academy Awards, you think to yourself, ‘Why do you look bad? I would do it right.’ Then you’re there and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, it’s so hard to look good.'”

Luckily, Ralph Lauren and Albert Ferretti have also been sending dresses her way, and Gerwig has struck up a helpful friendship with Vogue stylist Heidi Bivens. “She’s the one who usually gives me the disapproving shake of the head,” Gerwig said. 

Of course, she isn’t totally helpless. Gerwig cites the time a studio exec suggested using the wardrobe team from one of her earlier films. “He really liked the way I looked,” she said. “But it was just me! I cut my own hair and bleached it and then picked out those clothes. I have style!”

Greta Gerwig on Playing Dress Up

For many actors, landing a lead role in a Noah Baumbach film would be an unmitigated dream-come-true. But for 26-year-old Greta Gerwig, the thrill of being cast in Greenberg—Baumbach’s latest venture, in which she stars as a personal assistant who falls for a middle-aged basket case (played by Ben Stiller)—was tinged with terror and self-doubt. “The night before we started shooting, I keptthinking, ‘Oh my god, I can’t mess this up. I’ll never forgive myself if I mess up a Noah Baumbach movie,’” Gerwig says. Indeed, up to that point, the Sacramento, California, native hadn’t been involved in a film project anywhere near as high-profile—although she’s no novice to acting. Gerwig is considered something of an ingenue in the recent indie-film movement critics have dubbed “mumblecore”—the movies of which are characterized by super-low-budget production quality, improvised scripts,and themes of angst-ridden post-graduate hipster ennui. Some of Gerwig’s best-known works, including Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007) and Nights and Weekends (2008), which Gerwig co-directed with Swanberg, were shot with the general impression that no one would ever actually watch them. “It didn’t even feel like low stakes—it felt like no stakes,” says Gerwig. “We weren’t thinking, This is going to fit into the canon in this way. It wasn’t that self-aware. You make messy art when you’re young. I didn’t think anyone would see those films.” Incidentally, it was through these early films that Baumbach discovered Gerwig. (He’s even cited Hannah as a favorite movie of 2007.) Nonetheless, Gerwig—who went to Barnard College and still calls NYC home—isn’t a big five-year planner. “I’m not strategizing about my next move,” she says. “My lease is up, and they’re raising my rent. I don’t even know where I’m going to live next month. So thinking along the lines of, like, ‘I need to get my superhero franchise locked down’ seems a little premature.”

Photo: Greta Gerwig in Los Angeles, January 2010. Coat: MichaelKors. Fragrance: Very Hollywood by Michael Kors. Styling: Moses/Margaret Maldonado Agency. Hair Products: Kerastase Paris, including Vinyle Nutri-sculpt. Hair: Maranda for Kerastase Paris/ Makeup: Melanie Inglessis for Chanel USA/ Special Thanks: Siren Studios.