Rebecca Miller’s creative life is inspiring. Living in the shadows of her father, Pulitzer Prize and Oscar winning playwright Arthur Miller and her Oscar-winning actor husband Daniel Day-Lewis, she’s carving out her own life as a writer and filmmaker.
Miller, who is also an actress, painter and sculptor, lives with Day-Lewis and their sons Cashel Blake and Ronan Cal in near seclusion on an estate in Country Wicklow, Ireland. She’s been there 11 years and says it’s where she’s happiest writing.
There’s plenty of positive buzz around her latest project, the domestic drama The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, based on her novel. Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin, and Keanu Reeves star in the story of the much younger wife of an ageing writer. She married him when he was a worldly middle-aged professor and she was a rebellious teenager prone to acting out with sex and drugs.
Twenty years into their marriage she’s caring for him in their retirement home, accepting her narrow life and its obligations. But when he begins an open affair with a younger woman, Pippa comes to life again in the arms of a young man.
Miller says the story was inspired by a chance meeting with an old friend. “She had a husband and children. She was very smoothed out. Her lifestyle had completely changed. I thought, ‘Wow – how does that happen, how do you fit another girl inside this woman? How did she get there? How malleable is identity?’
“You meet a 50-year-old woman who is a certain way, she’s a lovely host at dinner, and you think that’s her. Meanwhile that’s not her at all; she has all these other selves inside. With Pippa you realize very quickly that she has a past that you wouldn’t guess. People have these lives you can hardly even imagine.”
Wright Penn was cast as Pippa when Meryl Streep dropped out. She says she was challenged and inspired by the story and by Miller.
“She thinks like a man, she tells a story like a man and that’s not being biased against women in any way. But she cuts to the chase and I respond to that in a person.”
Arkin was a tougher nut to crack. She had to cede some control when he signed on.
“Alan Arkin knew the guy so well, he knew Herb inside and out. When I first offered the role, he declined. He said he didn’t want to go through that experience. But he did and he is just amazing and brilliant. His background is improv so we used some of his ideas. He didn’t do anything that wasn’t real. Alan is evolved as a person; he is at peace with himself. He’s got his life figured out and he wants to do good work. He’s in a place in his life where he’s not needy.”
Keanu Reeves was Miller’s first choice to play Wright Penn’s lover because she’d seen compelling vulnerability and “otherworldliness” in his work.
“I wanted to see that again. I want to bring that out of him. If he can do it, I want to put him in a situation where he feels free enough to do that.”
Miller looks forward to returning to her Irish haven after Pippa opens. “My next act is writing. I need to do that, I need to retreat.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee opens in theatres next Friday.