A Barbie boss! Inside Greta Gerwig's extraordinary career journey
Barbie director Greta Gerwig’s extraordinary career journey – from low budget actor struggling with ADHD to the first female director to produce a $1bn-grossing movie
- Greta Gerwig has made history as Barbie movie grosses $1billion in two weeks
- READ MORE: Barbie director Gerwig hopes film challenges existing stereotypes
Greta Gerwig made history over the weekend when her movie Barbie hit the $1bn mark at the box office – making her the first female director to even hit this landmark milestone.
In the past, only 53 films have ever hit the billion-dollar category – with studio representatives now coining the phrase ‘Barbillion’ in reference to Greta’s mammoth achievement.
But while the director is currently being credited for inspiring a new generation of filmmakers, her remarkable journey to global recognition has not been an easy one.
As an adult, she was diagnosed with ADHD and struggled to forge a career as a female playwright in a male dominated industry.
Here FEMAIL takes a look back over Greta’s rise from low-budget actress to Hollywood’s most in demand director.
While Gerwig is currently being credited for inspiring a new generation of filmmakers, her remarkable journey to global recognition and A-List status has not been an easy one. Pictured in June 2012
Struggling with ADHD
Gerwig, 40, was born in Sacramento, California, to Gordon – who worked as a software engineer – and Christina Gerwig, who was a nurse.
As one of three children, Greta took up several after-school activities – something she now realises was a symptom of her ADHD.
Speaking to The Observer in July, Greta recalled: ‘As a kid, my mum was like, “Let’s sign her up for every activity. Let’s tire her out”.
‘I’ve always had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. I was just interested in, like, everything.
‘I had a really active imagination. I had a lot of really deep feelings. I was emotional.’
Growing up, she always had an interest in theatre – but described ballet as her first ‘great love’.
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, she explained: ‘I was an intense child. When I loved an activity, I had trouble doing it halfway.
Gerwig had always been interested in pursuing her passions in writing and theatre, attending Barnard College in New York City to study a B.A. with theatre majors
Gerwig quickly made a solid decision to be a playwright after attending college, but noticed a recurrring theme in the niche industry: they were all men
‘It was scary with ballet – I would have gone to class for four hours a day, seven days a week, if I could have. And it’s kind of a cultish world.’
At the age of 12, it dawned on Greta that she didn’t have the physique for the sport – and so her parents signed her up to fencing instead.
As a teenager, she was ranked third in California and eighth in the United States.
Looking back on it, Greta says the sport – which she reportedly had to give up due to increasing costs – inspired her love of acting.
She told Collider in 2013: ‘The best part about it was it was my first real moment of being involved in sports, and in an interesting way, as an actor, it really helped me. There’s an economy in sports that I always think is a useful metaphor for acting.
‘You have an objective. You’re trying to win, and of course, you want to do well. You want to use good techniques so you enforce it, but also you don’t do things you don’t have to do. It’s very economical, and I think that in acting the most economical way through a scene is always the best.’
Gerwig was educated at an all-girls private Catholic high school. While studying, she was highly involved in her school’s theatre productions, such as “Into the Woods” and “Pippin.”
Gerwig played the eponymous title character of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world in Hannah Takes the Stairs, which launched her career as an actress
It was during this time that she developed a love for playwriting and quickly turned it into a desire to make it her career after graduating in 2002.
After many rejections to universities, Gerwig was finally accepted by Barnard College in New York City. In a press junket, Gerwig later said, ‘I was instantly drawn to the place and the women.’
It was there she studied a B.A. with theatre majors, Her lecturer, Patricia Denison, has said: ‘She was so intellectually curious – so remarkably creative.’
Playwright pipe dreams
After finishing Barnard, Greta had her heart set on becoming a playwright.
Frances Ha became a rare independent success – grossing $11 million on a $3 million budget – with Gerwig’s script and acting receiving critical acclaim
The Little Women director applied solely to study a master’s degree at prestigious universities such as New York University, Yale, and Juilliard School.
Unfortunately, Gerwig was rejected by each of the institutions.
Appearing on the Employee of the Month podcast in 2016, she told host Catie Lazarus: ‘I recently went back and read the play that I had submitted and I thought I was going to have that thing where you look back at something you wrote and you think, “Oh this was terrible. I understand.” And I still thought it was pretty good
‘It was funny! It was a play about Kant and Newton as 13-year-old boys trying to date girls and debating the nature of space, and it’s really funny. I don’t know, I think they made a mistake.’
Determined to still make it in Hollywood, Greta turned her attention to acting.
Changing course as an actress
Pictured: Greta Gerwig (right) at the 2012 premiere of Frances Ha with her co-star Mickey Sumner
Gerwig began her career by starring in Joe Swanberg’s LOL. This micro-budget film was well received by critics, consequently putting her name on the independent film map. It was through this breakthrough moment that Gerwig was trusted more as an actor and writer.
The director then appeared in another Swanberg film – Hannah Takes the Stairs – where she played the eponymous title character of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world.
The film was almost entirely improvisational – with Gerwig even co-credited with writing – and her raw performance helped to rocket launch her acting career.
With the success of LOL and Hannah Takes The Stairs, Swanberg and Gerwig teamed up again to create Nights and Weekends – the film the became Gerwig’s first directorial credit.
The directional style of Nights and Weekends cemented Gerwig’s status as a mumblecore “It Girl.”
The ‘mumblecore’ movement is a type of filmmaking that is low-budget and features naturalistic performances, improvised dialogue, and mundane or everyday life stories.
Meeting future spouse and collaborator Noah
Noah Baumbach has said of initially meeting his ex-wife, ‘Greta is a brilliant writer and an extraordinary actress. She’s also one of the funniest people I know’
In 2010, Greta first met husband Noah Baumbach – who directed her in the hit indie movie Greenberg.
Baumbach told NYT of initially meeting Gerwig: ‘Greta is a brilliant writer and an extraordinary actress. She’s also one of the funniest people I know.’
Noah – who directed the Netflix movie Marriage Story – was so intrigued by Gerwig that he hired her even though he initially thought ‘she wasn’t right for the part.’
When Gerwig and Baumbach collaborated on the film, the director was still married to Jennifer Jason Leigh.
However, Leigh filed for divorce shortly after the film’s production had been completed. After that, Gerwig and Baumbach started dating.
Natalie Portman, whom Gerwig collaborated with on Jackie, famously wore a Dior dress with all the names of female directors snubbed from Oscar nominations – including Gerwig
To avoid investing time in a film that wasn’t being noticed, Gerwig and Bambauch decided to create a lighthearted and funny film – shot entirely in black and white as an homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Frances Ha became a rare independent success – grossing $11 million on a $3 million budget. Not only was it commercially successful, Gerwig’s script and acting received critical acclaim.
The next few years of Gerwig’s career were defined by more minor roles in big-budget or highly-marketed films. In 2011, she appeared alongside Natalie Portman in No Strings Attached and Jackie, and in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love.
Gerwig later made her Broadway debut in Our Town. The actress played Emily Webb, a young woman who comes of age in a small town.
Gerwig decided she wanted to do something new – becoming a solo director. Lady Bug became a massive commercial and commercial success, putting Gerwig’s name on the map
Alongside her acting career, Greta Gerwig had been writing the screenplay which become the critically acclaimed movie Lady Bird.
The original script reportedly came in at over 350 pages and was loosely based on her own experience as a teenager in Sacramento.
During the promotional tour for the hit film in 2019, Greta said: ‘None of the events in the movie are the events of my life.
‘I never made anyone call me by a different name and my parents 100% knew I was applying to schools in New York.
‘But there is an emotional core and truth to it in the relationships that feels right to me.’
Pictured: Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan proudy hold their Golden Globe awards for Lady Bird in 2018
Lady Bird was drawn from Gerwig’s experiences of growing up in Sacramento. The 350-page-script for the critically acclaimed film took two years to write
Lady Bird – which starred Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein – was a critical and commercial success, grossing $78 million against a budget of just $10 million.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Gerwig won the award for Best Original Screenplay, becoming the fifth woman to win the prize.
The success of Lady Bug was a significant turning point in Gerwig’s career.
She was already a respected actress, but this established her as a notable director – only propelling female directors’ visibility in Hollywood.
Little Women awards snub
Pictured: Greta Gerwig with her Little Women stars at the film’s special screening in LA in October 2019
Gerwig began working on the 2019 Little Women adaption with Emma Watson. In March of that year, Gerwig and Bambauch had welcomed their first child, Harold Ralph.
Even though the writer-director was six months pregnant by the time shooting wrapped in December 2018, Gerwig was in the editing room up right up until her due date.
She revealed to that she submitted the rough cut to the producers and delivered her son 24 hours later.
While Little Women was recognised by the Oscars for its screenplay, acting, and film overall, Gerwig was not included in the Best Director category this time.
The Academy’s decision received widespread disapproval as she was one of eight names left out of a purely male-nominated category.
Natalie Portman, whom Gerwig collaborated with on Jackie, famously wore a custom Dior dress with all the names of female directors snubbed from nominations at that year’s Oscars.
Becoming a Barbie boss
Although Little Women and Lady Bird put Greta on the map, Barbie has catapulted her career the next level.
Barbie director Greta Gerwig has made history over the weekend as the film grossed $1 billion in box office sales – becoming the first movie directed solely by a woman to do
Before Barbie, Greta has said: ‘I want to make films that make young women feel seen and heard. I want to make films that make them feel like they’re not alone.’
What intrigued Gerwig about the Barbie movie premise was its ‘chock-full of contradictions.’
According to the writer-director, Barbie is a symbol of female perfection that no person can ever maintain, and she wanted to tackle the idea of being ‘perfect’ when the very ideal does not exist.
She said: ‘I wanted it to almost invert that formula and find a way to give you permission to just be yourself and know that that’s enough.’
The anticipation of the film’s release created the term “Barbie Buzz.” The world was literally buzzing about the movie because of Gerwig’s involvement, Robbie’s role, and the sheer dedication to marketing the film.
This very formula made the film a global success – grossing $380 million in its first week of screenings on a $135 million budget, making it the most successful opening of any female director ever.
What intrigued Gerwig about the Barbie movie premise was its ‘chock-full of contradictions’ – including the idea that perfection is attainable when it doesn’t exist
A source told the New Yorker, “Gerwig’s ambition is not to be the biggest woman director, but [rather] a big studio director.”
The director co-wrote the Disney blockbuster remake of Snow White starring Rachel Zegler as the title character. She is also set to direct two films in a reboot of the Narnia series for Netflix.
While Gerwig has been credited for inspiring a new generation of filmmakers, her films are not solely intended on reaching young women.
Her films are a refreshing change from the clichéd stereotypes that are often assigned to female characters in the industry. Gerwig has successfully nailed combining the authenticity of mumblecore with elements of large-scale cinema.
Gerwig told The New York Times in 2017: “I want to make films that make young women feel seen and heard. I want to make films that make them feel like they’re not alone.”
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