With months of hindsight now under her belt, Greta Gerwig looks back on the stunning summer success of “Barbie” and acknowledges the independence she was able to exercise at the helm of her first big-budget Hollywood film.
Gerwig, in long form Interview with Vanity Fairsaid the key would plow through with blinders on, blissfully unaware of their studio environment.
“Honestly, there was nothing but fear from the beginning,” Gerwig said. “You are dealing with a topic that is already so full of opinions. But the trick is to say, “Instead of trying to tiptoe around it, what if we just step in it?” And the whole exercise was definitely like, “Drive like you stole it.” Go! Go! Go. Don’t tell them, don’t tell them where we’re going.”
At the box office, they were well over $1.4 billion, a tangible sum that hardly anyone predicted for Warner Bros.’s $100 million film. Gerwig said the production didn’t happen without a certain amount of negotiation, which she trivialized in her conversation with Vanity Fair with a period piece from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Did you know they tried to cut ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow?'” Gerwig said, presumably about MGM executives. “They thought it would slow everything down, be boring and people wouldn’t like it.”
Gerwig recalled similar experiences with “Barbie,” none of which, fortunately, resulted in the cancellation of Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” or any of the other standout musical performances.
“There was a lot of that,” Gerwig said. “Some: ‘You need something? Why do we need a dream ballet here? I thought, ‘Because it will be a joy.’ But with every movie there’s always a moment where you say, “You could cut this, you could cut that,” and at the end I say, “Or we could cut the whole movie.” We could just cut the movie. We don’t have to do it.’”
Gerwig, who lives in New York, also pointed to the geographical distance of her daily life from Hollywood creators.
“I can use the studio system, but I don’t have to live in it,” Gerwig said. “And I’m aware that I don’t want to get too caught up in what Hollywood thinks is a good or bad idea, because I don’t want to know if my idea is ridiculous. And when you live in LA, you know everyone. They all know each other’s lawyers. I often don’t know who the powerful person in the room is.”
Gerwig, coming off the outsized success of 2019’s Little Women ($219 million on a $40 million budget) and 2017’s Lady Bird ($79 million on a $40 million budget). Budget of $10 million) getting the chance to direct “Barbie” is easier compared to directing and being a parent.
“When you get to the end of a movie, you know how to direct that movie,” Gerwig said. “You learn how to do it while you’re doing it, but then it’s over, the moment is gone. And children are like movies. You’ve never had it before, you just don’t know what it has up its sleeve.”
Gerwig has two sons and a stepson with his partner, fellow director and “Barbie” co-writer Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story,” “White Noise,” “The Squid and the Whale”).
“She directs as she is,” Baumbach told Vanity Fair. “It’s not a performance, she’s being herself. Actors feel like here’s someone exposing themselves, and that gives them the confidence to let go of habits they might have picked up and be brave. She’s just there, not pretending, figuring something out along with everyone else and it inspires people. With “Barbie” I saw her directly on the set more often than ever before, and I had the feeling that she delivered a great performance speech Today? I don’t know that I’ve ever given a speech. It’s exhilarating. I will be a different director after going through this film with her.”
Now that the success of “Barbie” is completely obvious – although she insists that “everything I know about the film’s success is anecdote,” referring to moviegoers who previously couldn’t remember when the last time they were in a cinema – Gerwig can enjoy it. But only for a moment.
“I don’t want to miss this,” Gerwig said. “I don’t want to ignore the extraordinary. And I feel it, it’s incredible. But the thing that doesn’t overwhelm me is to keep doing the work. Now get back to work. Keep going.”