Rebecca Miller on Novels and Film
Rebecca Miller is an American author, film director, screenwriter and actress, most known for her films Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (winner of the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award), The Ballad of Jack and Rose and Angela, all of which she wrote and directed. She is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and Austrian photographer Inge Morath. She studied art at Yale University and initially pursued an acting career, landing parts in the TV-movie The Murder of Mary Phagan (starring Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, and William H. Macy; 1988) and the feature films Regarding Henry (starring Harrison Ford and Annette Bening; 1991), and Consenting Adults (opposite Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey; 1992). Miller is married to actor Daniel Day-Lewis and and has two sons, Ronan and Cashel.
Question: Did you intend Pippa Lee to become a film?
Rebecca Miller: Well, honestly, I started definitely with it as a novel. I started right after I finished a book of short stories “Personal Velocity” and I had a publisher and I knew it was going to be published and so immediately I started on this novel. But what happened was, because “Personal Velocity” when it came out, and I had not made a film for quite a long time ‘cause I couldn’t get any money for a long time. And Personal Velocity, in a way, came out of the short stories. I gave up making films, started to write short stories and decided to write fiction. And then, was offered to make “Personal Velocity,” made it. It had some success. And then all of a sudden, I was able to make this film that I had wanted to make for 10 years, which was “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”. And so, I got a chance to make it. And I made that film. Well, first, I made “Personal Velocity” and then I made that film. So, that really took me away from the novel for a long time. And after I was done with the second film, I was so shattered, kind of, that I didn’t have it in me to write a novel. A novel, you have to be very robust in yourself. You have to have really good mental health and really good, you know, just health, I think. And I didn’t have, I just didn’t have the concentration, so I started to try and write it as a screenplay and I got absolutely nowhere, it was a disaster actually. So I thought, no, okay, it’s not a film, it’s definitely a book and I went back, and then we were in Ireland and I just started to write and I… and so it took me about two and a half years and I just wrote the book. And then, about three-quarters of the way through writing the book, I started to see double, like, there’s certain way that I have where I like I start to see it double like I start seeing a film too. And once I, once that happened, it was really… the book was really finished, fundamentally finished. But I was starting to kind of add things on and pad things and take things away and that’s when I already knew. So then I had it more or less finished and I wrote the screenplay. Then I went back and I finished the novel. And sort of, at the very end, they start to kind of talking to each other a little bit. But I find it, for me, the best thing is if I’m going to do it, like I did with “Personal Velocity” too that I, it’s better if I’m not finished… I’m almost finished with the book but it’s still kind of open like the wound is open and then it’s almost becomes like part of the same thing. I don’t know what it would be like to write a book and then 10 years later, make a movie. I don’t know what that would, that hasn’t been how I’ve done it ever so…
Question: What is it like watching actors interpret characters from your book?
Rebecca Miller: It’s really… It’s interesting. I don’t, I mean, I sort of feel that Pippa in the book is always going to be Pippa in the book. Like that Pippa will never be erased or substituted by anything else. Although, I think that what’s… So for me, I’m not really… I don’t think of it almost like it’s not really adapting the book as much as kind of almost reinventing it from the same knob, in the same idea because the film is actually completely different form than the book. But I think that Robin Wright Penn who’s playing Pippa actually kind of, she gets this essence of Pippa. Like what I was saying before about this essence, she really does embody a certain kind of… sort of an acceptance that Pippa has of other people in the world around her and a kind of grace that she has, that’s very, you know, that was really beautiful to see. And I love working with actors. I love, actually in a funny way, losing control because then, to me, you know, what the good ones do is so miraculous. They kind of take it. They… It’s just exciting to see them… I don’t know. You know, make it something else and yet it’s still the thing you made. And yet, it’s more than what you made and different than what you made.
Question: How do you choose actors for your films?
Rebecca Miller: Yeah, it’s very interesting and I think it always remains. I think the thing that keeps me hooked into that process is the all chemical, almost an alchemy that happens inside of the actor. And, you know, in the end, it’s mysterious. I mean, directing is a very mysterious process because you have to kind of, you don’t even really know how you do it. I don’t think. You have to influence almost like the magnetic filings of somebody’s insides, you know, in a way that isn’t, you don’t say it. You don’t, like, come out and say what it is. And sometimes you don’t know exactly, you don’t know exactly the result that you would like, but you have a sense of changing direction. And, so it’s kind of, it’s kind of magic in a way, I guess. I feel like the whole process has an element of magic to it in a different way than writing, which has its completely different satisfaction, just as profound but different.
Recorded on: 10/16/2008
Rebecca Miller talks about watching her novels become film and what it is like to select actors for characters she has created.
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