Greta Gerwig's directorial debut Lady Bird is a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age dramedy set in 2002 during her final year of Catholic high school. But Gerwig, 34, offers more than a trip down memory lane of awkward adolescent sexuality and parental power struggles. Lady Bird was written as a love letter to Gerwig's hometown of Sacramento.

"I wanted to make a film about how home and family is something that you can only understand as you are leaving it, as it is receding from view. Then you realise how much you loved it and how much it meant to you."

Greta Gerwig is just the fifth female ever to be nominated for best director at the Oscars. Photo / Getty
Greta Gerwig is just the fifth female ever to be nominated for best director at the Oscars. Photo / Getty

In person, Gerwig comes across as genuine, warm and witty.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but Sacramento is not very well represented in movies," she says. "So, I have taken it upon myself to photograph it as if it were Rome. I would like to be the Fellini of Sacramento." She chuckles as she leans forward and adds: "You can print that if you like."


Hailing from a close-knit family, Gerwig's mother, Christine, is an ob-gyn nurse, and her father, Gordon, worked for a credit union. She also has a younger brother, a landscape gardener.

Educated at Barnard College with a degree in English and philosophy, Gerwig was set on a career path to become a playwright, however, it was her on-screen performances as an actress that first gained attention. Her most recent roles in movies include 20th Century Women (2016), Jackie (2016), and To Rome With Love (2012).

Considering Lady Bird is such a personal project, it was an interesting decision for Gerwig to cast the Irish-born Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) to portray her formative years growing up in California. Geographically speaking, Ronan couldn't be less connected to Gerwig's Sacramento roots.

Gerwig nods: "When Saoirse read the script, she said to me, 'I'm from a tiny town in Ireland, all across the world, but I understand this movie in my bones. I understand this part. And we met up and we read the whole script out loud," she recalls. "She read Lady Bird's lines and I read everyone else's lines. I just knew right away that she was the perfect person for it," says Gerwig. "A) she wasn't imitating me, and B) she was playing everything out of this extreme honesty."

Ronan stars as Christine (presumably named after Gerwig's mum), who goes by the self-proclaimed nickname Lady Bird. Changing her name marked her first act of defiance, as well as dying her hair an unnaturally bright red. Gerwig says she never actually dyed her hair "but I did give my mother hell and for that, I feel guilty".

The Gerwig-Ronan collaboration has proved a winning combination, as evidenced by this year's award season.

Gerwig has become just the fifth woman ever to be nominated for the best director Oscar and the first since 2010 when Kathryn Bigelow was honoured for The Hurt Locker.

The film also garnered an Oscar nod for Best Actress for Ronan, who took home the Golden Globe in the same category. Additionally, the film won a Globe for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), and Laurie Metcalf, who plays Lady Bird's passive-aggressive mother, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film has also proven a box office success, earning more than $60 million at the US box office - more than three times its modest $14 million budget.

"When I made this film, I didn't just want to create a coming-of-age movie, I wanted to create a kaleidoscope of people and places and what home is."

The mother-daughter relationship is a battle of wills, but to Gerwig's credit, she doesn't offer a one-sided account of navigating teenage life.

"A lot of movies focus on teenagers and there's a sense that the adult world is kind of played like a joke or it's not really given the same amount of real estate. And I wanted it to be equally weighted," she says. "One person's coming-of-age is another person's letting go and that is just as vivid and meaningful. That is the heartbreak, how you let go."

Gerwig has been in a relationship since 2011 with her writer-director boyfriend, Noah Baumbach, whose most recent work, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), received critical acclaim.

One can only imagine the lively and creative discussions between this wildly prolific duo.

"Sometimes it feels like we live in a movie factory," she says. "It's incredible to have your partner be someone that you really talk about your project with and about cinema in general. Obviously, the work I have done with him as a co-writer was hugely formative for me. And I know I am biased, but he is one of my very favorite film-makers," she laughs.

"I respect him so much, and when I write the draft of a screenplay, he is the first person that I show it to and his is the opinion that I care about the most. Getting to hear him laugh when he is reading something I have written, feels pretty good."

She will next voice a character in the upcoming animated movie, Isle of Dogs. It's hard to imagine what this imaginative writer-director-actress is like when she's not embroiled in a project.

"I am dreadful when I don't have a project to work on," she confesses. "I am at my peak when I am in the middle of making something. That is when I'm the best version of me. I have got to go out and build the castle again."

Who: Director Greta Gerwig
What: Lady Bird
When: In cinemas today