In “20th Century Women,” we see Greta Gerwig as we’ve never seen her before: With red hair — and a lot less giggly and insecure than usual. The acclaimed actress plays Abbey, a young, serious photographer and cancer survivor who lives in a Santa Barbara house in 1979. She shares a commune-style house along with her landlord (Annette Bening), her landlord's teenage son (Lucas Jade Zurman), a teenage girl (Elle Fanning) and a 40-something fix-it-man (Billy Crudup). The latest from filmmaker Mike Mills (“Beginners”), it finds characters eking by and hanging out, unaware of the looming Reagan '80s.
Gerwig, 33, talks to us about exploring the era’s music, Jimmy Carter and being a New Yorker who’s a California girl at heart.
For one thing, making a movie set in 1979 means you get to do a deep dive in the music from that era, which is some of the greatest, coolest music ever recorded.
I know music pretty well. I’m a huge fan of Talking Heads and David Bowie and Television and Iggy Pop and The Band — just everything that was going on in the ’70s. There were some deep cuts for me, particularly in the punk scenes, like The Raincoats and The Slits. I had heard of them, but I didn’t know a lot about them. They didn’t feel like they were mine. When I was getting into the character and listening to the music, I really felt like I took ownership of that music that had seemed more oblique to me.
Did you have a favorite amongst the bands you’d never really listened to before?
I’m all for The Raincoats. They’re great. I can always tell when I love a song if my overwhelming sense is I want to put it in a movie. [Laughs] That’s when I love it. In a way, putting a song in a movie is almost forcing people to enjoy it the way you enjoy it — because they’re presumably trapped watching your movie.
It’s the same thing for DJs: You get to force people to listen to music you like.
Although I find it really frustrating when you play a song you really love to someone, and they’re not really paying attention to it. They’re texting or they seem like they get the song and they’re going to move on with their life and start talking. It drives me crazy. I actually don’t do that anymore, except with people I know are very respective and receptive. Which makes me sound like a control freak. [Laughs] But there’s nothing more disheartening than thinking, ‘No, you’re missing the song! I don’t want to talk about what your therapist said! I want you to listen to this song!’ [Laughs]