Photo: Fox Searchlight

INTERVIEW: Greta Gerwig: The New Gay-Loved Girl

Actress talks gay fake-out in upcoming film, preference for gay boyfriends and stepping in Liza Minnelli's shoes

By Chris Azzopardi

It was only a matter of time before Greta Gerwig would enter gay consciousness. Roles in the "Arthur" remake, with Ben Stiller in "Greenberg" and as Natalie Portman's bestie in "No Strings Attached" made her a bona fide movie star, but it was "Damsels in Distress" - gleefully riffing on the power of dance in suicide prevention - that earned her queer cred. Why? Just ask her. "It's like an absurdist college version of 'Mean Girls,'" the actress says.

Now Gerwig, 28, stars in Fox Searchlight's "Lola Versus," a post-breakup dramedy about one woman's (reckless, slutty and drunken) journey to self-fulfillment that opens on June 15 in Detroit. The actress also appears alongside Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page and Alec Baldwin in Woody Allen's summer release "To Rome With Love."

Charming and upbeat, Gerwig spoke to us about the gay best friend she should've had in "Lola Versus," how even straight guys can like Ani DiFranco and the best era to be lesbian.

You're really put through the wringer in "Lola Versus." Where's a gay best friend when you need him?

I know! What's sad is that a lot of people who saw the trailer assume that Hamish Linklater is my gay friend, and he's actually not gay in the movie. They just assume because he makes that Rupert Everett joke. I don't know what kind of New York girl I am that I don't have a gay BFF. There's something wrong with that.

Are we past having the gay guy be the proverbial shoulder to lean on for the damsel in distress?

It's very stereotypical of that kind of movie. I think we're ready to have just a full-on mainstream rom-com that's just guys. Someone should make a rom-com about two guys falling in love and then they can have a sidekick straight girl best friend.

Would you star in it?

I would play the sidekick, and Bradley Cooper would star in it. (Laughs)

That means no sex scenes with Bradley.

I know. It would just be platonic. We'd make milkshakes together in my cute apartment with my cat.

Tell me what you learned from having your first boyfriend be gay.

It's a very good thing to have a gay boyfriend as your first boyfriend. We really liked each other, and we liked all of the same things - he loved musicals; I loved musicals. We had so much fun together. He didn't want to have sex with me, which then - at 14, 15 - you don't really want to be having sex anyway. We used to go to dances together and, regardless of the theme of the dance, we would create our own theme and go as whatever we had decided the theme was, so we went to dances as people from the Roaring Twenties - not the theme of the dance, but very fun. We just had a great time. It was much better than dating some meathead who just wants to touch your breasts.

So what's your call on the one-night-stand rebound who was an incubator baby and had a thing for Ani DiFranco, which he plays during your sex scene with him in "Lola Versus." Gay or not?

Yeah, no. I think he just really likes Ani DiFranco! (Laughs) One of my high school boyfriends loved Ani DiFranco. He did! He learned how to play Ani DiFranco songs on the guitar, and he's fully straight. It's a real thing.

There's the scene where you wander drunk into a strip club. Was that your first time in one?

It was, actually. We didn't have full-on strippers, though. I have been to places where there are naked people, but I've never been to a strip club. I always expect that to happen to me one day, but it's never happened to me. I have only been in the fictitious world.

Where else do you find naked people?

The Box in New York; it's a club, and there were lots of naked people and I was working there. But it wasn't, like, proper strippers. Just naked people. (Laughs)

What interested you in "Damsels in Distress"?

I love Whit Stillman and the crazy universes he constructs. I just think he's totally unique as a voice; there's no one else like him. He's almost like the Oscar Wilde of now, in a way. I don't think there's another person who writes quite like he does and has this strange, absurdist, satirical sensibility that is also somehow totally sincere.

How cool was it to exercise some of your musical-theater background in it?

I feel like I've oversold my actual credentials in musical-theater. A lot of my credentials in musical-theater is just singing along to them in the car. (Laughs) I'm not like Lea Michele; I was not in "Spring Awakening." I just loved musicals.

Adam Brody had a great line in "Damsels in Distress" that suggests he may have been homosexual in a different era, before it became so trendy. If you were lesbian, which era would you be lesbian in?

Obviously 1992-1997. Sinead O' Connor, Lilith Fair - that was a super good time to be lesbian, right? And Melissa Etheridge, baby doll dresses with combat boots - awesome!

What was it like going to an all-girls college?

I love Barnard. While I was at Barnard, they changed the policy - my RA was transgender and was starting the process of changing from being a girl to being a boy. Barnard officially came out and said that's totally cool and our students can do that and we support it, which was pretty awesome.

You played opposite Russell Brand in "Arthur," in the part Liza Minnelli originated in 1981. How did it feel stepping into those shoes? And did your gay friends approve of your performance?

They did. Although everybody was really sad that I didn't get to wear this one pantsuit that she wears in the original: this giant pink pantsuit that's shiny and crazy. It's insane. They were sad I didn't get to wear her outfits.

My favorite Liza movie is definitely "Cabaret" - the ultimate. She's so great in that, and I used to watch that movie and wonder if my legs were as long as hers. (Laughs) I just thought she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. I used to do that with Cyd Charisse with "Singin' in the Rain" and Ann Reinking. All of those saucy girls that could get their legs way up there, I wanted to be like them.

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