Nominee Q&A

Laurie Metcalf on How 'Lady Bird' Mirrored Her Own Life

Courtesy of A24

The Oscar-nominated actress reveals how her relationship with her own teenager affected her performance and the difficulties that come with having to act while driving.

In Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, Metcalf plays Marion McPherson, a tough mom who is trying to raise a daughter, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who wants nothing to do with her or their hometown of Sacramento. Metcalf, 62, who earned her first Oscar nomination for Lady Bird, spoke to THR about how her relationship with her own teenager affected her performance and the difficulties that come with having to drive and act simultaneously.

What drew you to the part?

I confessed to Greta that I was kind of going through a bit of it, living through a headstrong teenage relationship in my own home at the time. I just give all that credit to her for nailing that kind of a conflict during those late-teen years, where it just seems like it will never end.

Did you see Greta’s background as a performer come out?

Just because you’re an actor doesn’t mean that you can automatically know how to talk to other actors as a director. But she has an instinct for it. The vibe on the set that she created was really collaborative and playful. In a maternal kind of way, she made everybody feel really secure in the roles that they were playing.

Can you take me through your final scene, when Marion leaves Lady Bird at the airport?

It was a little mini journey of driving away with her in the rearview mirror after having not spoken to each other for who knows how long, and then the regret and then turning around and hoping, fingers crossed, to get there in time to say goodbye and make amends. On the technical side, there was a giant camera strapped to the hood of the car. And I can’t see around it. I’m really driving, so I’m hugging the window trying to see past it. There’s two police cars on either side of me, blocking the other airport traffic from cutting us off. So it’s like your brain is split in half trying to do both these things at the same time.

What was a memorable day on set?

The day I wrapped. It was the scene where she and I are having a great time going to open houses together. The whole movie still had a few days left, but I was getting ready to get in the car, go back to hair and makeup, change and go straight to the airport. Everybody gathered, the whole cast and crew, on the front porch of the house that we had been looking at, and they said goodbye to me because they were all just staying. We were all crying and then I got in the car.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.