Actresses Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister-Jones, and director Daryl Wein talk about their new film, Lola Versus
In the new film Lola Versus, starring Greta Gerwig (Greenberg), Lola must pick up the pieces of her life and start over after her long-time boyfriend and fiancé, played by Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), breaks off their wedding only a few weeks before the big day. I recently sat down with director/writer Daryl Wein (Breaking Upwards), writer/actor Zoe Lister-Jones (Breaking Upwards, Whitney), and actor Greta Gerwig to discuss the film a bit.
Zoe, from where did you draw inspiration when writing this film? Did you draw from your own life or from people that you knew?
Zoe Lister-Jones: When Daryl and I were in an open relationship, which our first film, Breaking Upwards, was loosely based on, we realized— when writing about it and talking about it—how different it was for me as a single woman on the scene than it was for him as a single man. He wrote a scene for Breaking Upwards in which my character had a one-night stand and it was the most perfect, easy experience that a woman could go through. I said, “by the way, that has never happened.” (laughs) Most one-night stands for women are pretty terrible. I think that sort of opened up the floodgates for creating a story around a single woman living in New York City. And we really wanted it to feel authentic and funny. We also wanted to deal with raw human emotions and what it means to be single as a woman approaching 30 in New York.
How did having a male/female writing team affect the writing?
Zoe: I think it was helpful. Since Daryl and I both come from acting backgrounds, all of our characters, we strive to make them three-dimensional, even supporting characters, and make sure that everyone has an arc of sorts. I don’t think Daryl and I write according to gender—I don’t necessarily take on the female roles and he doesn’t take on the male roles. But I do think it’s helpful. The way we write, we each take whatever scene feels like something that we’re excited about and we write them and we pass them back and forth.
Can you talk a bit about shooting this film in New York? What did you love about filming here and what were some of the challenges?
Zoe: There are many joys because it’s such a great city to shoot. Cinematically, there’s no place like it. We worked really hard at showcasing parts of New York that hadn’t necessarily been shot before, which was definitely a challenge since New York has been shot extensively. We shot in Vinegar Hill and DUMBO in Brooklyn. We were the first film to shoot on the Highline. We shot in Russ and Daughters, which is a really old school smoked fish shop on the Lower East Side. What’s great about shooting in New York is that there are so many varying locations that can give a lot of texture and character to the film. We were lucky that New Yorkers just aren’t phased by much. So there aren’t a lot of people just staring at you. New Yorkers just kind of have tunnel vision when they’re on their way to where they’re going. So that was really helpful. The challenge was that New York is jam-packed and so it can be difficult. It was also so hot. It was during a New York sweaty summer and we were in tiny apartments on fourth-floor walk-ups that had no air conditioning. That was definitely brutal. There was a lot of mini fanning that was happening.
I particularly enjoyed Henry’s character. Is he based on anyone in particular?
Zoe: He’s not. When Daryl and I write men, they tend toward the sensitive, thoughtful type rather than the sort of alpha male. That’s probably because those are the men we know and Daryl is that kind of man. It’s more interesting too, when you’re dealing with modern relationships, not to have the gender portrayals be so rigid. There’s something somewhat feminine about Henry, in a really beautiful way. He loves women and totally relates to women. It was important for him to be a softer character who has always been in Lola’s life. She’s never seen him as a sexual being because he’s always been there and been her friend. And once she’s single, suddenly she gets to see him in a new light.
Daryl, this is the second movie you’ve written and directed with Zoe Lister-Jones. How does Lola Versus differ from your first movie, Breaking Upwards? Was there more pressure?
Daryl Wein: We went from a $15,000 budget to a multimillion dollar budget so all of a sudden I had a union crew behind me. Having a lot of new resources made it so different. There was just so much more to play with, so many different people to collaborate with. It was cool to just have other people to help bring the vision to life. But there was a lot more pressure. It was my first studio film with people counting on me. If we didn’t make the $15,000 back [on Breaking Upward] it would’ve sucked, but it wouldn’t have been as bad as if we don’t make back a few million dollars with Lola Versus. The stakes are definitely a lot higher.
What is your relationship with New York? Do you live here?
Daryl: We’re lovers. [laughs] I have been living here for over ten years. I went to NYU. But I grew up an hour outside the city, so I’ve always been coming in and out of the city. I feel like a New Yorker, even though I wasn’t born here. To me it’s the greatest city in the world. Where else can you get as much culture and diversity? I love shooting here. There’s just so much life and energy to constantly capture.
Greta, how much did you relate to Lola’s character?
Greta Gerwig: I related a lot to Lola. But even more, I was just happy to see a movie where a female character is kind of a mess and making big mistakes and is not just cute. She’s deeply flawed and she has big things to get over. That’s what I responded to. As a character, she’s very different than I am. But I related to the realness she was going through.
You live in New York. Did you relate more to the movie due to the setting?
Greta: Interestingly, I kind of didn’t. Lola is a native New Yorker and I grew up in Sacramento, California and went to college here and stayed here. But I think there’s this weird thing of people who grew up in New York City and they’re kind of simultaneously the most sophisticated, erudite people in the world because they’ve been around all this amazing culture their whole lives. But also, if they never left New York, they never left a 10-block radius. They’re actually like small town people. They’re not that different than the people that I knew who didn’t leave Sacramento. And I think Lola has that a bit. But there were days when we were shooting two blocks from my apartment and we shot by my subway stop. I feel that when a production from LA comes in and they shoot New York, they’ll pick a picturesque subway stop, but not a subway stop that anybody uses or lives near. How does she live in the West Village, but her subway stop is at City Hall?
I like how the guys are portrayed in this film. What types of relationships does Lola have with the different guys in the movie?
Greta: I liked that they didn’t make anyone a villain and I think it’s really easy in movies like this to be like, “That guy’s a jerk. He sucks. He’s horrible,” when he’s not. He just needs some time. And it’s actually really brave to say that. I think it’s a lot easier to go ahead with the wedding and just feel like “I’ll deal with this later.” It’s really hard to stop a train that’s moving. I think they cast really great actors—Joel Kinnaman and Hamish Linklater and Ebon Moss-Bachrach—they’re all very funny and real.
How was this as your first lead role? Were you nervous?
Greta: Yeah, I was nervous. I’m still nervous. It was very scary. I did a big movie called Damsels in Distress where I was the lead in that. But it was more of an ensemble movie anyway, so there was just more of a group of people around. Lola Versus felt very much like I was out there and exposed, which made me nervous. You have to get over the part of yourself that feels like “why would anyone want to watch me for an hour and half? I think I’m boring.” And you have to just act in the scene and not worry about what people will think about it because you can’t control that. It is very scary.