The Complete Evolution Of Barbie Director Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig is the woman of the moment. With her live-action Barbie movie shaping up to be the cinematic fever dream of summer 2023, the director is on the edge of massive success heralded by a projected opening weekend of up to $100 million at the box office, according to Deadline. If "Barbie" manages to make that pull, it wouldn't have been an overnight masterstroke. This scale of achievement has been many years in the making for Gerwig, who dabbled in theater and acting before striking gold with filmmaking. 

Though she came to the fore during the late 2010s, it was only in 2017 that she embarked on a solo journey as a director and amassed global renown. Already with multiple Oscar-certified projects to her name in her nascent solo filmmaking career, Gerwig has unstoppable dreams. "There's some movies I'd like to make that require a big canvas," she told Rolling Stone. "I want to play in lots of different worlds." 

Greta Gerwig started out wanting to do ballet and then theater

It was a long road for Greta Gerwig before she found her footing in filmmaking. At her very earliest, the "Lady Bird" director started out wanting to pursue ballet — a dream she had to discard owing to certain physical shortcomings. Her artistic inclinations changed as an older schoolgirl, when she became greatly drawn to theater. It was a passion that stayed with her through her college days at Barnard in New York City, where she busied herself around the stage. She did stints as a stage manager and even managed to land a place among Columbia University's coveted "Varsity Show" performing troupe. "I was never as funny as they were, but I was always enthusiastic," she admitted to Variety

The first seeds of her interest in making films were also sown around this time when she watched a young female director's work at a film festival. "I thought, Wait, are we allowed to do that?" she recalled for Time. Already an accomplished reader and performer, Gerwig further sought to expand her love for the arts by seeking out an advanced degree in playwriting — unfortunately that didn't work out. But the closure of that avenue was to be replaced by another that would wind up launching Gerwig's career. 

She didn't make enough money from films for a long time

A meeting with director Joe Swanberg in Greta Gerwig's 20s gave her a start in low-budget, improvised films that came to be classified as Mumblecore. The indie genre provided her an appropriate testing ground to try her hand at acting, writing, and directing all at once with films like "Hannah Takes the Stairs" and "Nights and Weekends."

As she told Variety, "We were learning a tremendous amount about how movies were put together." Though Gerwig's Mumblecore days were significant enough to get her name in the credits and pave the way to mainstream directing, it wasn't easy for the actor to get by back then. 

"When I started out, for a long time when I was making films I still had day jobs because I didn't make enough money to pay the rent," she told 52 Insights in 2018. "Now I have a balance between being financially stable and also continuing to do work I really care about." As a youthful actor, Gerwig was considered part of the core team pushing out independent art that, true to indie character, didn't cater to the masses. Call it fate, but it was only following her association with future partner Noah Baumbach in the 2010 film "Greenberg" that Gerwig hit pay dirt. And the rest, as they say, is history! 

She identified with Little Women's Jo from an early age

Greta Gerwig has always been immersed in stories. In fact, "Little Women" was the book of her girlhood days and she eventually went on to adapt a film on Louisa May Alcott's seminal novel. Gerwig has traced quite a journey in the realm of storytelling. "I was ambitious, I wanted to be a writer, I was angry, I was artistic," she told Deadline. "All of the things that Jo is, I was."

Gerwig's reading list always had a generous smattering of literature from the 19th century, spanning the range of Charles Dickens to the Brontë sisters. They were, as she put it to Crash magazine in an interview, her "jam." Pursuing an English degree at Barnard College would have doubtless granted Gerwig an opportunity to indulge her reading interests more deeply, even as she began exploring her skills in theater and playwriting.  

Her favorites are a feminist exhibit of some of history's most celebrated women in writing, with the first place occupied by George Eliot's "Middlemarch." "It is a book I hope to read at every decade of my life, because I think each time it will have something new to teach me," One Grand Books quoted the filmmaker as saying. 

Her directorial debut, Lady Bird, was drawn from bits of her own life

When "Lady Bird" hit theaters in 2017, it was difficult to overlook the parallels the film drew between its lead namesake character and Greta Gerwig. For one, Gerwig didn't shy away from making those similarities amply clear herself. "Even though these are not the literal events of my life and it's not autobiographical, certainly the setting in Sacramento and the school are very real to me," she explained to 52 Insights. It wasn't just the Sacramento link that intertwined Gerwig's story with Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson's. It was the far more universal theme of mother-daughter relationships that shone through for Gerwig, as it probably did for all the girls and women who watched the film.

However, as Gerwig told The Guardian, she didn't come to blows as dramatically as Saoirse Ronan's character did in the film. "There's a core of emotional truth that's very resonant," she said. Perhaps the most vivid illustration of "Lady Bird" drawing inspiration from Gerwig's life is the titular character sharing her name with Gerwig's mother, Christine. Conscious or not, this decision to name her star character as she did was a way for Gerwig to reach out to her mother with empathy, she discussed in an interview with NPR. Coming to terms with the complicated reality of leaving the nest — as Gerwig did when she moved for college — was also at the forefront of the film.

Little Women was kind of a dream project for Gerwig

Standing witness to "Little Women" reaching the competitive stage at the Oscars in not one, but six categories would likely have been an exhilarating moment for Greta Gerwig — especially since the filmmaker pegged her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel as a dream project. "I've been waiting 30 years!" she told Time, emphasizing how doggedly she pursued the production to have her name attached to it.

Olivia Milch of "Ocean's Eight" fame was originally roped in to write the screenplay for "Little Women" before Gerwig took her place, joining the film as screenwriter and director. "[Little Women] was something I wanted to do because it was the book of my youth, of my childhood, of my heart, of my ambition," she told Screen Daily about adapting the novel. A subversive revisionism of Alcott's 19th-century tale manifests through this tripartite identity of Jo, whose story ends differently (read: more empoweringly) than it did in the book. Gerwig also got the ultimate stamp of approval from film doyen and "Little Women" cast member Meryl Streep, who called this adaptation "epic personal filmmaking" when speaking to Vogue.

She became close with Saoirse Ronan

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Wes Anderson and Bill Murray. Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy. Great cinema is built on the foundation of iconic actor-director pairings. And it's safe to say that Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan, who have been delivering class act upon class act together, make up one such duo.

Both of Gerwig's solo outings as a filmmaker so far — "Lady Bird" in 2017 and "Little Women" in 2019 — featured the Irish star, with a glorious sprinkling of the couple's loyal third-wheel, Timothée Chalamet. Though Gerwig had been watching Ronan onscreen since her "Atonement" days, it took some time to bring the actor into her orbit. The two finally met in person for the first time at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is also when Ronan went through a script reading for "Lady Bird." 

"One of the things that Greta and I always say is that whenever we get together, we just get so giggly and very excitable. That was sort of instant," Ronan told The Hollywood Reporter in a joint interview with Gerwig. Separated in age by a decade, Gerwig and Ronan have developed a friendship so deep that for the filmmaker, seeing Ronan work with other directors inspires what she called an "incredibly childish" feeling. (Jealousy?) The four-time Oscar nominee is caught in a friendly three-way tussle between directors Gerwig, Anderson, and Joe Wright. 

Greta Gerwig may have gotten some of her artistic talent from her parents

"I don't know any woman who has a simple relationship with their mother or with their daughter," Greta Gerwig told NPR – as only she could have. The filmmaker is known to be close to her parents, especially her mother Christine, but is no stranger to acknowledging the complex truths of human emotion people are prone to avoid. "Lady Bird" is a telling exhibit. "I feel that it's such a rich relationship," Gerwig continued on the subject of mother-daughter relationships. "It has a tremendous amount of love and a tremendous amount of angst." Simultaneously from her mother, Gerwig has drawn some of her most defining attributes — including her indefatigable love for New York.

"My parents were hippies a bit. They didn't really want us to be inundated," she told The New York Times, recalling her childhood without the excesses of branded clothes or television. Her mother was a nurse and her father worked in finance. However, he also dabbled in multiple instruments, keeping the family home musically alive. Gerwig told The New York Times in another interview, "I always felt like they were both artists without being artists."

She was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult

Greta Gerwig lived with undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for the longest time — until a trip to the psychiatrist brought her face to face with her condition. "I drink too much coffee. I used to smoke a lot of cigarettes," she told Crash magazine. "I was on a drug which was to help me quit smoking, and it was an antidepressant as well, and I felt like it was carpet bombing my brain," Gerwig explained, revealing that she switched out her smokes for nicotine patches and that she may have to take the help of this alternative for the rest of her living days. 

A doctor she visited apparently suggested that her lifestyle and dependent habits pointed to self-medication for undiagnosed ADHD. The signs, she acknowledged, were always there. In an interview for Elle, Gerwig recalled that as a child she would obsessively switch between radio channels in search of a better song or replay the same one — "until it finally doesn't give me that dopamine hit," she explained. While this kind of hyperfocused attitude often irked her parents and other people around her, it helped give Gerwig a rush and meet her goals successfully. "I like things that have a great deal of pressure and a lot of deadlines, because I need it," she said. 

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach went from being colleagues to romantic partners

The universe must have worked overtime to align the stars back in 2009 for the coming together of creative powerhouses Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. The long-term couple met that year on the sets of Baumbach's comedy-drama "Greenberg," which starred Gerwig. Thus began a professional collaboration that would come to dominate cinematic discourse — and eventually also romantic Hollywood legend. Baumbach was amidst a divorce with Jennifer Jason Leigh when he and Gerwig coupled up.

While there is some ambiguity around the circumstances of the beginning of their relationship, the pair maintains that they began seeing each other after Baumbach and Leigh separated. A second project together, the 2012 film "Frances Ha," heralded the success of Baumbach and Gerwig's writing partnership.

For the couple, two writers living under the same roof isn't cause for friction — quite the opposite, actually. They hold each other in high regard and have admitted to wanting to keep the other partner impressed all the time. "He's my favorite filmmaker and my favorite writer. It means everything to me that he thinks it's good," Gerwig told The Hollywood Reporter. Their overlapping lives translate to an overarching impact on each other's works. "Since we've been together, the work I've done, even that hasn't technically involved her, is hugely influenced by her," Baumbach told Vogue. The pair lives in New York with their two young sons. 

The couple has a collaborative writing process

How many Hollywood couples can claim to make films that sweep award nominations every few years? Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach sure can. Between them, the writer couple shares a wealth of talent that manifested in a showdown at the 2020 Oscars when their respective projects — Gerwig's "Little Women" and Baumbach's "Marriage Story" — were up against each other in multiple categories. Notwithstanding the competition, Gerwig and Baumbach retained a collaborative approach through it all. "I'd show her a cut of my movie, and then a few months later, I'm watching her movie," Baumbach recalled to Vogue, calling it "a truly great thing to watch someone you love make something and love the thing they make." 

Contrary to any speculation about the professional volatility between the pair, Gerwig and Baumbach have actually cracked the code to cooperative writing over several films together. "We'll talk together a lot at first and we'll try to make each other laugh, but when we write, we write separately and then we trade," Gerwig told Elle. They have been spitballing ideas between them since forever and Gerwig, who has been directed by Baumbach in four screen roles, told The New York Times that "he'd be happy to ask what I thought of every shot." While Gerwig hasn't had the chance to direct her strictly-behind-the-camera boyfriend yet, she is centerstage with her 2023 film "Barbie" co-written with Baumbach.

Greta Gerwig ultimately settled in New York

Greta Gerwig isn't particularly fond of Los Angeles. The home of cinema, where its denizens find residence and recreation, is apparently too much of a depressor for the "Barbie" director. For one, "I like walking. And you don't walk in L.A.," she told Crash magazine. "I like public transportation and public spaces and being around people." Having spent her early years in Sacramento, Gerwig is a Californian by birth — but at heart, she is a New Yorker like her mother. 

In a piece for The New York Times, Gerwig recalled visiting the Big Apple as a child and instantly feeling at home amidst the bustle. "I loved the crowdedness of New York City, how when it rained it seemed like the buildings were raining, not the sky," she wrote. 

Gerwig would eventually kickstart her adult life in the city that she felt was her mother personified when she moved to NYC to attend Barnard College. She admitted to having an epiphany of sorts: "Ah, yes, now life can really begin." Talking to Mahershala Ali on Variety's "Actors on Actors," Gerwig explained that she had attached a "mythical" quality to the city of dreams: "I've never fallen out of love with it. I still feel grateful every day." Though Gerwig is now neck-deep in industry business over in L.A. — shifting between her actor, director, and writer roles — she takes peaceful residence in New York.

She became a strong champion for female representation in Hollywood

It's not hard to tell that Greta Gerwig is a strong believer in empowering women. One look at her filmography is enough evidence of how the actor-director is trying to push the envelope in a bid to elevate women in Hollywood both metaphorically and literally. For starters, her acclaimed films "Lady Bird" and "Little Women" are gloriously centered around female actors, with the upcoming "Barbie" following in their footsteps. With her first solo directorial debut in 2017, Gerwig joined a painfully small club of women nominated for a Best Director Oscar, which she hoped would inspire more women to join the party. "Because a diversity of storytellers is incredibly important and also I want to see their movies," she gushed to The Guardian

Gerwig is focused on bringing the lived experiences of young women to the big screen — something it has been missing in the hubbub of coming-of-age stories from the male gaze. It's not as if Gerwig plans to only make women-centric films. As she told Michigan Daily, "I'm sure I'll make a lot of other films." However, she revealed these themes remain a deliberate and active focus for her. "I've made it a goal as a writer and now as a director to tell stories about women that the primary emotional relationship is one between two women." 

The Barbie director still struggles with self-doubt

Being plagued by self-doubt is somewhat of a prerequisite for being a writer. Charles Bukowski acknowledged it too, when he said, "Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt." If you needed more proof that Greta Gerwig is a great writer, well, here's proof: "I'm always in the middle of some kind of deep, necessary self-doubt," the "White Noise" star revealed to Elle. Though her infectious energy and megawatt smile has charmed the industry for years, her private moments aren't without insecurities. But the filmmaker has figured out a way to positively channel that stress on her film sets. "You're just living in a panic attack for weeks, but it's marvelous," she said. 

An exhibit of how Gerwig constructively uses her nerves came about during her highly anticipated 2023 directorial "Barbie" starring an ensemble cast led by Margot Robbie. She disclosed that the process of beginning work on the fantasy film was nothing short of terrifying. "It felt like vertigo starting to write it. Like, where do you even begin?" she shared on Dua Lipa's "At Your Service" podcast. The undertaking, however, entailed something she dubbed "interesting terror." Despite (or, rather, because of) the sense that "Barbie" could be fatal to her career, Gerwig saw value in the project which has become a sensation even before its release.