With months of hindsight now at her disposal, Greta Gerwig is looking back at the runaway summer success of “Barbie” with an appreciation for the independence she was able to wield at the helm of her first big-budget Hollywood film.
Gerwig, in a long-form interview with Vanity Fair, said the key was plowing through with blinders on, blissfully ignorant of her studio surroundings.
“Honestly, there was nothing but fear around all of it from the outset,” Gerwig said. “You’re dealing with a topic that is already so filled with opinions. But the trick is to say, ‘Well, instead of trying to tiptoe around it, what if we just stepped in it?’ And the whole undertaking was definitely like ‘Drive it like you stole it.’ Go, go, go. Don’t tell them, don’t tell them where we’re going.”
Where they went was well north of $1.4 billion at the box office, a palpable sum few if any had predicted for the $100 million Warner Bros. film. Gerwig said production wasn’t without a degree of negotiation, for which she turned trivial in her conversation with Vanity Fair, with a historical nugget from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Did you know they tried to cut ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow?’” Gerwig said, presumably of MGM executives. “They thought it slowed everything down and was boring and people wouldn’t like it.”
“There was some of that,” Gerwig said. “Some, ‘You need what? Why do we need a dream ballet here?’ I was like, ‘Because it will be a delight.’ But there’s always a moment, with every movie, where they say, ‘You could cut this, you could cut that,’ and I end up saying, ‘Or we could cut the whole movie. We could just cut the movie. We don’t have to do it.’”
Gerwig, who lives in New York, also cited the geographical distance of her daily existence from the movers and shakers of Hollywood.
“I get to use the studio system but I don’t have to live in it,” Gerwig said. “And I’m conscious of not wanting to be too attached to what Hollywood thinks is a good or bad idea because I don’t want to know if my idea is ridiculous. And when you live in L.A., you know everybody. They all know each other’s lawyers. I often don’t know who the powerful person in the room is.”
Gerwig, who got a shot at directing “Barbie” after the outsized success of 2019’s “Little Women” ($219 million global gross on a $40 million budget) and 2017’s “Lady Bird” ($79 million on a $10 million budget), more simply compared directing to being a parent.
“By the time you get to the end of a movie, you know how to direct that movie,” Gerwig said. “You learn how to do it while you’re doing it, but then it’s over, the moment’s gone. And kids are like movies. You’ve never had this one before, you just don’t know what it’s got up its sleeve.”
Now with the success of “Barbie” fully apparent — though she insists “everything I know about the movie’s success is an anecdote,” referring to moviegoers who previously couldn’t recall the last time they had been to a theater — Gerwig can enjoy it. But only for a moment.
“I don’t want to miss it,” Gerwig said. “I don’t want to not take the extraordinariness in. And I do, I feel it, it’s incredible. But the thing that makes me not feel overwhelmed is to keep doing the work. Now, get back to work. Keep going.”