Not only does Greta Gerwig act in movies by her boyfriend, the filmmaker Noah Baumbach; she writes them with him too. Before they were an item they cowrote “Frances Ha.” Now that they are they’ve collaborated on “Mistress America,” which stars Gerwig as Brooke, a mysterious and possibly crazy New York kook who takes a young, inexperienced freshman collegiate (Lola Kirke) under her wing, with quip-strewn but less than ideal results. And as with any script she’s worked on, Gerwig — who manages to seem articulate and self-doubting at the same time — isn’t sure how it got done.
Brooke has this patched-together life of odd jobs and squatting that I feel is something that is very New York right now — although perhaps it’s always been that way.
Brooke was a character who to us felt like she belonged to an older time. Nothing was a commentary on what’s happening right now. I do think there are a lot of people who are putting together their lives in this fashion — “I do this, and I do that, I’m an exercise instructor and an interior designer and a tutor. But my dream [laughs] is to ride horses.” And you think, “How is this related to that other thing?” But to us it felt almost reminiscent of the ’80s in a way. There were a lot of influences we had — “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “After Hours” and “Something Wild.” Brooke felt connected to an older New York. Even the fact that she lives in Times Square seemed old-fashioned somehow.
Maybe Times Square is the next cool neighborhood.
That’s the new neighborhood, I know. I think we’re constrained by what Times Square looks like. It’s set right now, but I was imagining her walking by nudie bars, even though they don’t exist now. That’s my conception of it. I first came to New York when I was five. I have all these memories of steam rising from the sidewalk and things seeming shady and dicey. Something about that feeling we wanted to capture, even though we couldn’t literally capture it.
There are parts that are still shady and dicey. There are still some questionable dives around Port Authority, last I checked.
Port Authority is still really down and dirty. Also Penn Station is a little bit on the edge. If you want some excitement go to Port Authority and Penn Station! [Laughs]