An interview with Greta Gerwig & Lola Kirke

We spoke to the costars (and in Gerwig’s case cowriter) of Mistress America, the latest hipster comedy by Noah Baumbach.

Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig
Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America is the story of two women falling in platonic love, so it goes without saying that casting is key. Its stars, Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, didn’t know each other before making the film, so the final product also doubles as a document of life imitating art.

“Lola auditioned,” says Gerwig. “We thought she was great and cast her. The movie mirrors the relationship in the sense that intimacy grows quickly when you’re together all the time. I think by day two, I felt I’d known Lola forever!” she laughs.

“I think especially because Greta and I both talked at length about our ideas and feelings,” Kirke adds. “I really liked hearing what Greta has to say.” Gerwig interrupts: “I feel similarly about Lola! And I like making her laugh.” And, wouldn’t you know it, Kirke bursts out laughing.

Kirke plays Tracy, a college freshman at Barnard who finds her new life in New York lonely and alienating. Her mother suggests that Tracy should give her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke (Gerwig) a call. Bridget is everything (or at least, appears to be everything) Tracy isn’t: ambitious, plugged-in, trendy, self-possessed, epicurean and hip, a sort of forward-thinking capitalist Earth Mother hipster trendsetter. Tracy becomes fast friends with Brooke as she attempts to secure funding to open a homey restaurant/hair salon/music venue/yuppie mecca in Williamsburg, basing her fledgling writing career and submissions to the literary society on a character that’s a thinly veiled portrait of Brooke.

Mistress kitchen

“(I definitely relate more to) Lola’s character,” says Gerwig, who co-wrote the film with Baumbach. “When Lola started playing her, she became her own and became something much better and deeper than what was on the page,” she says, before hesitating. “Actually, no, that’s not true. Our pages were amazing!” she laughs. “That’s what you want out of an actor, that they bring something to the part that you didn’t even know you wanted. That’s what we felt when Lola auditioned. She has this kind of energy that’s completely right but literally nothing we could’ve said we wanted out of it. In terms of where I am located in this movie, it’s definitely Lola’s character. I went to Barnard. We shot in the hall where I lived when I was 18. I dressed her in my clothes!” says Gerwig.

Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig

Mistress America is the third time Baumbach and Gerwig (who are also a couple in life) have worked together, and their second co-written script. I asked Kirke if it was more reassuring or daunting to enter a working relationship of the sort.

“It was really reassuring. I didn’t read a script before — not because I’m lazy, but because they didn’t give me one — until after I was cast. It wasn’t difficult saying yes to a project I hadn’t read the script for knowing that Noah and Greta were both behind it, whereas I don’t think I would do that in any other case… unless it was like, you know…”

Gerwig butts in: “Terrence Malick!”

But you won’t find the elliptical conversations and shimmering fields of Malickian wheat in Mistress America.

“Most of the influences for the film that you guys talk about so much are ’80s movies and screwball comedies of the ’40s,” Kirke says. I bring up that many writers have perplexingly compared the film to Bringing Up Baby.

“Because of Connecticut, yeah,” says Kirke, before being interrupted by Gerwig. “And the fact that we have a leopard
in our movie,” says Gerwig as the pair erupt in laughter.

“Brooke is more like Carole Lombard and I feel more like Michael J. Fox,” says Kirke. “You’re definitely Griffin Dunne,”
Gerwig retorts. “Oh! My shoe just broke! Oh my fucking God!” says Kirke. (Impossible to tell if the shoe committed hara-kiri upon hearing the Griffin Dunne reference.)

The generation gap is an ongoing concern for both Baumbach and Gerwig, starting with Frances Ha and going through While We’re Young (with which Gerwig was not involved in any official capacity). At one point in the film, the 30-year-old Brooke is asked why she’s arrived at her former best friend’s house with a gaggle of 18-year-old kids in tow. “They’re not kids,” she yelps. “If they’re kids, so are we.”

Mistress America explores a world where it is becoming increasingly undesirable to be seen as an adult even when pursuing so-called adult pursuits.

“As fate would have it,” Gerwig says, “the first time I distinctly remember feeling old — like really on the outside of being a teenager — was actually at an event that Lola was at. I had just graduated from college that year, I think I was 23, and it was a birthday party for someone who was turning 18. My friend said, ‘Oh, my cousin’s turning 18, let’s all go up to Rhinebeck and go to this party!’ and I wore — as Lola likes to recount — a white pantsuit. There were a bunch of free-spirited, energetic 18-year-olds who were all in various states of intoxication and beauty. I felt so old and so on the other side of whatever that hopefulness was. Even though I was still young myself, I didn’t feel that way.”

“That’s something that Noah and I have shared a lot,” she continues. “I don’t know if that was just me, but that was the first time I thought: ‘You are not 18 anymore. They are in a different place than you.’ (…) I’m going to be 32 in a couple of weeks and I think that what’s nice about it is that when I was 25, I had this sense of ‘Oh, fuck, I’m 25 and there are 20-year-olds’ and ‘God, are they gonna come up behind me?’ Now I feel like I’m not even… I’m just an old person! I can just enjoy the young people. I don’t have to feel threatened by them.” ■
Mistress America opens at the Cineplex Forum Cinemas (2313 Ste-Catherine W.) on Aug. 28. Watch the trailer here: