“Oh man,” Laurie Metcalf says over the phone the morning she’s received a Golden Globe nomination for playing Marion McPherson, Saoirse Ronan’s mom in Lady Bird. “What a time I’ve having. Jeez!” In addition to accumulating a series of nominations — and wins — this awards season for her work in Greta Gerwig’s debut feature, Metcalf won her first Tony back in July for starring in A Doll’s House, Part 2. It’s a year of widespread recognition for Metcalf, who’s long been a fixture on stage and TV but hasn’t starred in a film in over a decade. Just before Metcalf went in for a Roseanne table read, Vulture caught up with her over the phone to discuss working with Greta Gerwig, shooting Marion’s big driving scene, and returning to TV.
What was your reaction to your nomination this morning?
I had a text from my best friend in Miami and then I had to get my daughter ready for school and then I had to carpool, so I’ve been in the car, dropping kids off. Weirdly, now I’m sitting in my dressing room at Roseanne because we’re going to do a table read in about ten minutes. When it rains, it pours, I guess.
Your last film role was in Stop-Loss back in 2008. What is it like to return to film and to have this big, enthusiastic reception?
Stop-Loss, yeah, that’s been ten years, but even that was a tiny little one day. Before then, it probably goes back another decade. I really haven’t done this in 20 years. The movie came to me. It was a small, independent movie, and I thought, Oh this will be perfect, I can dip my toe back into this world so I don’t get so burnt out doing theater and TV. I knew I wanted to work with Greta and Saoirse and [producer] Scott Rudin again and Tracy Letts. And then, I thought, That’ll be it. A year later, all this is happening, and it’s just very new to me.
What was it like to work with Greta to find the character of Marion?
Being on Greta’s set was an absolute joy. I’m think I’m spoiled for life now, because she takes care of everybody. She’s so open. It’s nice and loose. There’s no stress. I think it’s because Greta has done the homework. It was all on the page, and there was never any scramble or, “What are we going to do today?” “How are we going to accomplish this?” It was just all there, and everybody, cast and crew, adores her and wanted to help her make her vision, and everybody ended up feeling very attached to the movie.
The arguments between Marion and Lady Bird end up being both very funny and brutal. What was it like to work on them with Saoirse?
It was all on the page. All Saoirse and I had to do was rehearse, rehearse, rehearse it and get it up to the pace that it needed to be, so that there could be overlaps and everybody pushing buttons and flying off the handle. That part was really fun, but Greta did the heavy lifting by constructing them on the page.
Late in the movie, there’s the scene where Marion drives around the airport after dropping off Lady Bird, and in contrast to a lot of the movie, it’s wordless. What was it like to shoot that?
Greta said “I’m going to do it in one take,” and I was worried about it, because I thought, That’s a long drive. But we talked it through beforehand and broke up what the emotional journey was, seeing her daughter in the rearview mirror and still being angry, and then the regret sets in, and then the hope sets in that maybe she can catch her in time. Then, it’s combined with the weird technical side of it, which was a giant camera mounted on the hood of the car and then police cars on either side, so you don’t get cut off in traffic. It was a balancing act.
Did you have to spend the whole day circling around the airport?
We did two takes. That’s what I mean, Greta knew exactly how to do it, and what day we were going to do it on, and that was it.
Since you’re about to go in for the table read on Roseanne, what has it been like to return to the show?
It’s like no time passed at all. It’s weird that way, freaky, because it’s been decades. The writing has been really true to the characters, and we’re having a blast. It’s been awesome.
Also, you’re returning to Broadway this spring in Three Tall Women. What drew you to that?
Joe Mantello, Scott Rudin, and Glenda Jackson. I can’t wait to be in the room with those people. That’s going to be really rewarding.
You’ve talked about feeling most at home in theater, but has doing Lady Bird made you think about dipping further into movies?
Well, anything Greta Gerwig. And I got reminded that it’s a different process and it’s a different way of working, and so, yes, I’m intrigued by it again.