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Greta Gerwig Explores Mother-Daughter Love (And Angst) In 'Lady Bird'

Actress Greta Gerwig has made a career starring in movies about quirky women. She played a driftless dancer in Frances Ha and a punk photographer in 20th Century Women. Now she's written and directed her first film, an exploration of mother-daughter relationships called Lady Bird.

"I don't know any woman who has a simple relationship with their mother or with their daughter," Gerwig says. "It has a tremendous amount of love — and a tremendous amount of angst."

Gerwig felt Hollywood wasn't giving mothers and daughters the screen time they deserved, so she set out to change that. Her new film stars Saoirse Ronan as a high school senior who renames herself "Lady Bird," in part as a rejection of the name her mother gave her.

Though the main characters argue about everything from choosing a college to prom dresses, neither is presented as the villain. Instead, Gerwig says, she wanted the audience leaving thinking, "Oh man, it's so hard to love people and to be in a family."

Interview Highlights

On the arguments between Lady Bird and her mother

I'm always interested in how people use language to not say what they mean. I think in so many of the fights with Lady Bird and her mother, what her mother wants to say is, "I'm terrified." And she can't say it because it feels too vulnerable for the myriad of reasons that you can't say you're scared. ...

I never really thought about [women's fighting] being different until I had the script for the film and I was going around and I was talking to different financiers about putting money into the film and making it. And most of those people are men. And if they were raised with sisters or if they had daughters, they knew what it was. ... But if they didn't, they had no idea that that was how women fought — and how they loved, too. I think it was kind of like they were getting to look into a world that they didn't know existed.

On the scene in which Lady Bird ends a fight with her mother by jumping out of a moving car

It's an emotional truth, in a way. I think everybody knows what it feels like to be in a car — particularly with your mother or with your daughter — and either you want to shove them out of the car or you want to jump out of the car. There's a quality to fighting in cars where you're trapped, and it felt like it kind of gave the right tone for the movie — that it's grounded, but it's not realism exactly. There's something heightened about it, and it's going for something that's emotionally real.

On where the name "Lady Bird" came from

I had been writing all these other scenes and I couldn't find exactly how it all fit together. I felt like I kept hitting a wall. And then I put everything aside and I wrote at the top the page, "Why won't you call me Lady Bird? You promised that you would."

And I have no idea where it came from. And I looked at it and I thought, "What's this and who is this person who makes someone call her that?" And then I kept pressing on it and I found this character behind it. ...

I remembered later — and this is the creepy, mysterious part of writing — there's a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, "Lady bird, lady bird, fly away home." ... I think that had lodged itself somewhere in my brain.

Lauren Krenzel and Heidi Saman produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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