The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Lady Bird.
One of the most priceless moments in the film is when Lady Bird escapes from the car. What was it like putting that scene together?
Greta Gerwig: That scene was such a monster on the page because there are so many emotions. It starts out with them crying together and then they get mad at each other and then the fight gets crazy. We actually scheduled that to be shot as one of the last things that Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse shot. I feel that it’s best to schedule the first scene of the movie late in the shoot to give the actors time to settle and learn each other’s patterns. They’re so locked in by the end of the shoot that there is no more pressure to perform, so they’re just riffing off of each other.
Saoirse Ronan: This is the introduction to the characters. It’s the first time we are seeing them, who they are, and how they interact. So, it’s great to do that at the end because we had built a rapport with each other and had gone through our own journey together as actors. It was great shooting this in a car because nobody can get to you during the scene. Greta was on the walkie and was just a voice in the air somewhere. We only shot it for an hour or so, and from the very first take it just felt right and every beat felt real and natural.
“I wanted it to look like a memory, but something you only realize in retrospect.”
When you read the script for the first time, was there a scene where you fell in love with Lady Bird?
Ronan: I think it was that first car scene because so much happens. There’s also an incredibly written rap that was cut! I remember reading it and thinking, “a mom and a daughter are in Sacramento talking about colleges and she jumps out of a car… that’s a bit weird.” A minute later she’s rapping a title to try to win class president of her high school and it was just so funny to me.
What was the process of developing the look of Lady Bird?
Gerwig: Our costume designer, April Napier, is an artist and a real storyteller from the perspective of costume. Everything for her has to be grounded in who the person is. Something they did was instead of choosing costumes, they built a wardrobe for her based on the idea that these are the things Lady Bird owns. April and I talked about wanting her to have a tomboy way to wear the Catholic uniforms like the skirt is pants instead.
Ronan: There’s also something about the shoes. We had these clunky shoes and the character of Julie has, like, these fancy white Sketchers, so I think that says a lot about the characters. I find that wardrobe is always a really great way into the character and it informs how they move. I think it helps to look a certain way because of the physicality.
Gerwig: Even the hair was great. I remember that I got this idea that Lady Bird has this bright red hair that she’s dyed herself and it’s kind of terrible. We found the perfect shade of red that she would have done in her sink. I also like actors to pick their details and personalize to so there is a sense of ownership over these characters.
What was it like working with Laurie Metcalf, especially in those two shopping excursion scenes?
Ronan: Laurie was very good at rehearsals. She was adamant that we find the trigger points in each of these arguments to find why it blows up at a certain point and how we can make each argument different whether it’s more emotional or hot headed. I think that because she comes from a theater background, there was a real pace that just developed with all these scenes between us that really did happen organically as we got on set. We found the rhythm quite quickly and I thought we really bounced off of each other well. It was almost like music and it was nice just to have a pace to it.
Gerwig: It’s important to understand that we’re meeting these characters at this moment where they’re being pulled apart by life and how difficult that is for both of them in different ways. I think that Laurie and Saoirse established this real respect and affection with each other, which comes across even when they’re fighting. I love that every scene had so many layers to it and was never just one thing. I wanted the audience to feel like they understood every character and never felt this need to pick a side even if they said the wrong thing.
What was the process of working with your cinematographer, Sam Levy?
Gerwig: He’s a great cinematographer and just the person you want to spend fourteen hours a day with. We started working on this a year before we were actually in preparation because I just knew he was the person I wanted to work with. We spent so much time together looking at films, photographs, paintings, and talking about how he wanted it to loo, and the philosophy of shooting. I kept saying to him that I wanted it to look like a memory, but something you only realize in retrospect. When we were looking through all this art, he made a lot of photocopies and there’s a quality of photocopies we realized was the look we wanted. Photocopies are more saturated but they look like they’ve lost a layer.