Rebecca Miller on the Creative Life and Death
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: Why did you choose the creative life?
Rebecca Miller: Well, I, for every person, I think it really depends on people. I’m, unfortunately, you know… Well, not unfortunately, but I’m very lucky to do what I do, but I am one of those people that has to do it, you know. I can not do it. And sometimes I wish I could stop but I can’t. You know, I mean, like, I, of course, I do, I have children, I take care of my children so it’s not like I’m working 24 hours a day. But the sense that, you know, I mean, I just, again, I’m thinking of Trigorin in the, you know, in “The Seagull” because just like he said, “You know, as the girl, as Nina say how glamorous it must be to be a writer and everything?” And he’s saying, “Well, you know, I get up in the morning and I write a story and I finish the story. And just as I’m finishing, another story comes in to my head. And I can’t even like go like take a rest when I have to go this other story. And then there none of them I don’t like any of them when I’m finished with them. And yet, you know, and it’s just [got] like this sort of sense that you have, you must go on. And it’s… I don’t know. And [oddly] there is something true about that.
Question: Was there a time you repressed your creativity?
Rebecca Miller: I’ve never been able to repress it. I always… I mean, I think I was also raised, you know, by artists to be an artist sort of like tennis players raised their children to be tennis players, got to get out and practice. And there are pros and cons to that, you know? I mean, it’s like there’s… But that’s what I was, I was always meant to do, and so, the idea of repressing it will be like dying. I mean, I would really feel like then I could like just not breathe, that will be another alternative, it would be similar. I don’t think… I think there’ve been times where I haven’t had any, like, I’ve been blocked. I have been blocked in periods but I’ve never been repressed. I mean, I suppose that’s the kind of repression but it comes from inside of myself. I think when you’re a mother, it is, it’s a huge, it’s a very, very difficult thing in some ways. But writing, in a way, is one of the easiest things because you spend, you know, three or four hours writing in the morning and at once they go to school, you know, you can be done by the time they get home. And then the rest, you know, you might be thinking at times but they don’t feel that so much. And, you know, you can still be there for them and, you know… So directing is much more difficult and that’s one of the reasons I don’t, I mean, I only do it every [few] years, you know.
Question: How do you overcome creative block?
Rebecca Miller: I mean, the time that happened to me, I just waited it out. I think it was just… It was right after I got married and I’m just, I was very happy and also, but also very kind of disorientated and I didn’t know how to handle it ‘cause it never happened to me before. And I just, I actually ended up volunteering in a women’s shelter with working with kids ‘cause I found that I just had to do something that was, in some way, useful. Because I couldn’t stand the fact that, you know, I didn’t have any and I didn’t have kids at that time so obviously so…
Question: Why the impulse to write about men confronting death?
Rebecca Miller: I think, as a young girl, I had that my father was older. He wasn’t that old, I now realized. But, I mean, I thought he was really old like he was 46 when I was born so he was kind of, you know, on the older side. And I was always very afraid of him dying. And I think the thought of death, in particular, men confronting death, thinking about death has always been really touching to me and compelling. And I think that that’s probably why I write about it, you know, is… And, yeah, the lust for life and the fear of death and, you know, and what those things make you do and how they make you to behave.
Question: Do women confront death differently?
Rebecca Miller: Yes. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about… I haven’t thought about that so much. But I, I think women do probably confront death differently. I don’t know. You know, I haven’t, haven’t really explored that. But I do get to watch both my parents die so I [do that] unfortunately, you know, some experience. But I, yeah, I don’t know.
Question: Do you confront issues dealt with in your art as yourself first, or through your characters?
Rebecca Miller: I think that writing is a kind of possession, you know, it’s an act of possession. So when you become a character in your head which I think you have to do to write it properly and profoundly, you’re doing both, right? You’re confronting it as the person but you’ve become the person. So it’s kind of, you’re going through it but through the filter of that character.
Question: How did becoming a mother change the way you look at the world?
Rebecca Miller: You know… Well, first of all, you know, suddenly, if I die, the problem will be that my kids wouldn’t have a mother. It wasn’t I will be dead, you know, which would’ve been the thing I’ll be worried about before. I think my selfishness, you know, I became not selfless but an instinct for self-sacrifice did pop right up in out of nowhere really ‘cause I would’ve been the most self-sacrificing person. I was pretty much, you know, focused on what I was trying to do, my work and stuff. And, yeah, you know, somebody else is more important, it really does become that. It does… In a funny way though, it didn’t make my work any less. It just sort of left my work there and then something else kind of went slightly up, you know, above it. It didn’t, the work didn’t diminish and I didn’t sort of, you know, put it away or to one side. And I actually became more productive as a mother because I had to use my time. I wasn’t sort of dreaming and walking around in a dream. I was really much more thinking, okay, I have three hours. I have to work. I have to get something done.
Question: What do you fear most today?
Rebecca Miller: Yeah, I fear that, you know, I think that life, planetary life is, you know, I don’t mean in ecological, I mean in a human way is constantly checking, it checks and balances. It’s positive and it’s negative. And things are constantly being righted because the two impulses are constantly happening, you know. And I just worry that there’s… I think that there’s a deep and archaic void inside of us as human beings which might really end up kind of taking over in a certain way. That we just would slip up and that complete chaos will begin to… Yeah, I think we’re always, chaos is always at the edge of everything. We’re always trying to kind of fend it off to control everything. You know, children, if you look at children, I mean, that they have very strong uncontrollable emotions which gradually they learn to master, but really, politics, life, human life is so emotional. Everything that we’re, all the things that we try to rationalize and think of in rational ways are emotional. Nationalism, you know, our whole idea of [countryhood], you know, victory, defeat, all these words are just basic childhood words that, you know, it’s very primitive. And I sometimes I’m amazed, I’m amazed at how far we’ve gotten, that we’ve gotten away with it this long. Civilization is sort of still holding up [more or less]. But I am, I mean, that’s only when I really think about it. I’m always thinking that way.
Recored on: 10/16/2008
Rebecca Miller talks about why she writes about men confronting death, motherhood and how we all handle things differently
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