Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age drama that tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman growing up in Sacramento in 2002. Living with her parents and adopted brother, she has an increasingly strained relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), as she prepares to graduate high school and move on with her life.
In Lady Bird, Smith plays Sister Sarah Joan, a nun in the Catholic school where Lady Bird attends. When asked what attracted her to the role, Smith says she sensed a deep love for others in her character.
“Well, I think she is such a lovely grown up,” she begins. “She’s compassionate, a wonderful teacher and she has humour. The scenes are beautifully written so the clarity of them is present. It was just a pleasure.”
With the film garnering increasing awards consideration, Smith believes that people are responding so positively because of the authenticity of the script.
“It’s the real thing,” she states. “That’s what I think. It’s the writing, the people, the characters and relationships, the story – they’re all genuine and exciting and real and I think people respond to that.”
According to Smith, one of the most appealing aspects of working on Lady Bird was working with director, Greta Gerwig. Although it was Gerwig’s first time in the director’s chair, Smith feels that she brings a clarity and confidence to her storytelling that help bring the film to life.
“I already knew that she was a fascinating and wonderful actress and had some exposure to her writing,” she acknowledges. “I think that what she brings is an amazing wisdom and a great skill. Her skill as an actress, I’m dazzled by. As a director? I felt she make clear, honest moves all the time… What I see in her is a capable and a true mind. It’s really quite a beautiful palette.”
In addition, Smith also had the opportunity to work closely with an incredible cast of young stars such as Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet. When asked what she believes today’s youth need to help them feel loved and supported, Smith confesses that because the world is changing so rapidly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know how to help them.
“When you speak about the character I play, that seems like such a wonderful model of the kind of care and ability to reach… young people,” she reflects. “It was a wonderful cast of young people and it was a pleasure to be with them. It’s hard to say… I guess I feel like young people have a lot to contend with, beyond what I did growing up. So, it’s hard to feel wise about what do they need.”
Given the strained relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, one of Sister Sarah’s more poignant observations within the film draws a line connecting love and simple attention together. Says Smith, the line between the two concepts creates some fascinating dialogue about how we can offer genuine support to one another.
“It’s so provocative. I imagine that it’s a quote from somewhere or at least an allusion…,” she muses. “What I find is that, once that connection is drawn, it’s almost like a knot has been tied between love and attention. What’s love without attention? What’s attention without love? Do they create each other or support each other? It’s so wonderful to think about once it’s been spoken.”
An acting veteran, Smith’s career has provided her with opportunities in a wide variety of artistic mediums, ranging from television to film to live theatre. When asked if she has a personal preference, she recognizes that, although every medium offers unique challenges and experiences, some of her favourite experiences have come through live theatre.
“If I did have to declare a favourite, I’d probably have to say the theatre because that’s where I started and that’s where I continue to work regularly,” she affirms. “I’ve been very fortunate in having wonderful plays and roles to do, even though the common place wisdom is that, as you get older, your parts will become fewer and less good but that has not been my experience in recent years. It’s a different way of putting it together. In the theatre, you come together in rehearsal and build something together. That’s a different use of time and it fits different techniques, though basically the bottom seeds of acting are the same.”
“Time is such an ingredient in everything and I’m so aware of it in theatre. It’s a very different way of putting something together. Both are fascinating and both offer different and interesting challenges. Intimacy with which the audience sees the actors in a movie is something very special. On the other hand, the immediacy of presence together in the theatre, that’s very special too. They’re not the same.”
Lady Bird is in theatres now.