ORLANDO, Fla. — For a film actor, there’s no clearer indicator that things are going your way than a summons to appear in a Woody Allen movie. Allen, the elder statesman of the American screen, provides a kind of career imprimatur to the chosen, whose ranks in recent years have included Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Owen Wilson and now, with this summer’s “To Rome With Love,” Greta Gerwig.
“They — the magic ‘THEY’ — don’t send you a card or a telegram or anything — ‘You’ve MADE it!’ ” Gerwig says with a laugh. “But that’s what it feels like. You get a call to come be in a Woody Allen movie, that’s the ultimate sign that you’ve arrived. I don’t know what to make of it, but that’s how it feels — TOTALLY getting called up to the big leagues.”
Gerwig, 28, has made a rapid ascent, from indie film’s smart, wounded blonde-next-door in “Baghead,” “Nights and Weekends” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” to indie-feeling films such as “Greenberg” (opposite Ben Stiller), to supporting work in a studio film (“No Strings Attached”) to now, Woody Allen.
Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” which features Gerwig in the ensemble, will roll out nationwide over the summer. Meanwhile, Gerwig is front and center of a couple of smaller films of the sort that gave her a start in movies. Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress” features the Barnard College-educated Gerwig as a bookish coed determined to improve the lot of her fellow women and the sort of college men (frat boys, poseurs, etc.) they’re attracted to.
“It’s quite different from the Barnard experience,” she says. “Well, MY Barnard experience. When you’re in a Whit Stillman (‘Metropolitan’) movie, you’re in his world, and his idea of a what an Ivy League or Seven Sisters college experience is like is a lot more elite than the real thing. He’s one of my heroes. If I hadn’t been in that movie, I would have hated myself for missing it.”
And Gerwig has the title role in “Lola Versus,” a post-breakup breakdown comedy about a jilted bride who struggles mightily to pull herself together after being dumped.
“It’s unusual to read a script where there was a real, three-dimensional female character who drives the action,” Gerwig says. “Lola’s choices, good and bad, are the heart of the movie. She screws up in huge ways and very real, as we all do.”
Gerwig has said that she’s drawn to stories that reflect her generation, and “Lola Versus” fits neatly into that — sort of.
“I wouldn’t be one to say that my generation, my ENTIRE generation, wants the things that Lola wants — the big wedding, all of that,” Gerwig says. “But I think we’re all very conscious of what it means to turn 30, the taking stock you’re supposed to do. You’re getting older, and you start to feel you aren’t where you think you should be. You aren’t married, you don’t have the job or career you hoped you’d have. You haven’t bought a house. You haven’t bought an apartment. I think that’s why my peers, my generation, will relate to Lola. Especially the women. You’re in charge of making your own happiness, ultimately. You can’t subcontract to other people. That’s something Lola has to find out.”
Gerwig has long been a critics’ darling, with John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter describing “Lola Versus” as “a welcome showcase” for her talents, with Gerwig “predictably charismatic in ambivalence” as Lola.
But as she closes in on 30, Gerwig is starting to take stock herself. She’s worked with friends, co-starred in a Hollywood hit and made movies for two of her idols. But, as she’s a playwright turned screenwriter, there are still mountains to climb. She’d love to get one of the scripts she’s written before the cameras before her 30th birthday — with her directing. While she hasn’t been relegated to “quirky best friends” in major studio pictures, she has yet to make a mark in a major motion picture.
Still, she says, she’s not sweating it, not hearing the clock ticking.
“My next birthday (Aug. 4), I turn 29. I haven’t experienced Lola’s brand of angst. Not yet. But I hope making this movie will lessen the blow of turning 30. I do.”