In Maggie's Plan, a screwball romantic comedy directed by Rebecca Miller, out today, indie ingénue Greta Gerwig plays the title character, a self-serving, slightly neurotic woman who plans to have a baby on her own before she falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke). Then, after he leaves his "glacial and terrifying" wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), she decides that he was better off before and devises a scheme to reunite the divorced couple. "One of the big questions in the film is 'How much control do you have and how much is destiny?'" Gerwig recently told InStyle over the phone. Below, we talked with the actress more about her new role and the Hollywood gender gap.
Most of your films address themes of post-graduate angst and hipsterdom. Maggie’s Plan is a departure from that, with real adult issues like marriages, careers, and children at the center of the drama. What exactly drew you to the script?
"I can only ever be the age that I am. With Frances Ha and Mistress America, I was writing stories about the world I was living in. Other times, I choose projects based on whether or not I like the director and the world they create. I’m specifically drawn to writer-directors—people who I consider to be auteurs and monarchs of their own little cinema kingdoms. I have tremendous respect for Rebecca as an artist, so when she asked if I want to work on this film with her, I immediately said yes. I loved the many threads of the stories between characters and their children and careers."
How did you prepare for the role?
"We had a year before we actually started filming, so I spent a lot of time discussing the role with her [Rebecca] and going shopping for the character. I get little flashes of who I think characters are, then I try to build on that. Sometimes it’s an item of clothing; sometimes it’s a particular way of walking or a stance. When I’m acting, it’s all embodied."
Where did you shop for Maggie?
"There’s this terrific store called Archerie in New York that has perfect dresses. It’s based on the 1950s idea that you have to wear a dress all day. All of the pieces are incredibly flattering and fit perfectly. It felt right for Maggie, because she’s both very modern and also modest. She’s an interesting contradiction. It’s almost a Kindergarten teacher vibe."
Any noteworthy pieces that she’ll wear in the film?
"In one scene, Ethan and I came up with the idea of her wearing a long nightgown with a million buttons. The fact that he takes the time to unbutton each one seemed very sexy and old-fashioned. I think so much of what’s considered to be sexy in film is using visual language established by men, but men often don’t know what’s sexy to women. If you think back through the sexiest moments of your life, it’s never being thrown up against a wall by a sweaty man. It has to do with attention and carefulness and being seen."
Speaking of sexy, what was it like acting with Ethan?
"He’s a man after my own heart in terms of the way he approaches things—with enthusiasm. He’s a director, he’s a writer, he’s an actor. He’s constantly churning with ideas."
You also worked with a female director and a female-lead production team (Alexandra Kerry and Lucy Donnelly at Locomotive). Did it feel empowering to be surrounded by such a strong crew of women?
It’s a rare thing that unfortunately doesn’t happen too often. It feels special in that way. The fact that these jobs skew so much toward men is very odd considering that it has nothing to do with gender—it’s a personality thing. It’s a big-ass problem. I hope it’s changing.
Watch the trailer for Maggie’s Plan below, and catch the movie in theaters this weekend.