Whit Stillman & Greta Gerwig On 'Damsels In Distress'
Whit Stillman and Greta Gerwig have come together to collaborate on Stillman’s first film in 13 years. Damsels in Distress is an indie rom-com about a group of girls who aim to transform the social etiquette of potentially suicidal girls and the frat boys that they’re attracted to at a fictional Ivy League school.
Stillman, director of The Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, was born in Washington D.C. and bred in Cornwall, N. Y. Stillman graduated from Harvard, where he wrote for the school newspaper, The Crimson. Though he began his career in journalism, Stillman’s heart was clearly in screen writing and in 1991 he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Damsels in Distress is his fourth feature film.
Gerwig, a Sacramento, Calif., native, plays the emotionally distant ringleader of the pseudo-sorority in Damsels In Distress. Gerwig attended Barnard College in Manhattan, where she studied English with the intention of being a playwright. But the writer/actress has coveted some serious roles since she appeared as Natalie Portman’s roommate in No Strings Attached and Russel Brand’s Grand Central tour-giving love interest in Arthur last summer. This year alone, she has played leading roles in two other major films aside from Damsels In Distress, Woody Allen’s, To Rome With Love and Lola Versus.
Stillman found his inspiration for the script in the joys of working with such youthful cast members. "And so it’s a bit like the culmination of the story in a fantasy sequence,” Stillman told Uinterview exclusively, “and they put on a show, and they dance through the college campus.”
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WHIT: I was inspired a little bit because I had been so miserable in university myself. So we wanted to offer a fantasy version of university life, with these charming girls who are helping the depressed and nearly suicidal.
GRETA: I like to think of Violet Wister as—she’s a zealot, and she’s like the Joan of Arc of perfume and good-dressing and tap dancing, that she’d lay everything on the line for these things. I did relate to her. I relate to her utter passion, and her willingness to “get into it” with people about what she believes. WHIT: And her sincere funniness, which is a very attractive quality. GRETA: I don’t know that I relate to the sincere funniness, although, maybe I do. I am an actress, after all. She’s just this strange combination of being—she’s a liar, but she’s also totally sincere about being a liar. She has opinions but she’s open to criticism. She seems like, within herself, she’s a Hegelian, thesis-antithesis synthesis, at all times.
WHIT: When I was writing this script I was listening to our collection of Griffin’s song. I think it had two sets, one of Fred Astaire songs and one was one of Griffin’s songs and they overlapped, and there was a beautiful Fred Astaire song, called “Things Are Looking Up” and it’s the perfect sort of depression cure. Such a cheerful song, but out of profound melancholy, and there’s something very moving about it. And I wanted to use it in the movie in some way. And so it’s a bit like the culmination of the story in a fantasy sequence, and they put on a show, and they dance through the college campus. We were really helped a lot by the cinematographer, Doug Emmett, who had the idea of using a crane in a very interesting way. And the choreographer, Justin Churney, who did a beautiful job with these talented actors. And I don’t think people were aware of Greta and Adam Brody’s talents in the musical field, and they were really striking and wonderful. GRETA: And I love dancing. I mean, I think that’s another reason why I really wanted the part of Violet—she has the most dancing and the most musical theater moments. I think dancing is the most fun thing to do. And doing it on film - there’s that moment where Adam and I are tap dancing on the fountain, and the camera’s coming down, and the sun’s setting—that’s the most cinematic moment I’ve ever had in my life. Sometimes when you make a film you aren’t aware of how beautiful it is while you’re doing it. I think at that moment, we felt the way it looks in the movie. We were like, “We’re tap dancing, in a fountain!”
WHIT: For me there was something magical, when I was too late for the van, taking us to the Staten Island Ferry to go home, and I was allowed to travel in the actresses’ car back to Manhattan. So you’re in this quiet, silent car, with these beautiful women, half dozing, half chatting. And that was a wonderful female moment that I got to be a witness to.
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