Rebecca Miller: an Irish home, a New York state of mind

She’s lived with husband Daniel Day-Lewis in Wicklow for the past two decades but filmmaker Rebecca Miller’s heart still belongs to the Big Apple

Writer-director Rebecca Miller sits for a portrait Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Writer-director Rebecca Miller sits for a portrait Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

 

I’d never noticed it before, but Rebecca Miller really does sound like she’s from New York. There’s a twang to the accent that you don’t get anywhere else in the Union. “Yeah. I’m the third generation born in the city,” she says in her energetic way.

Her father, the playwright Arthur Miller, was one of the city’s great laureates. Her mother, the photographer Inge Morath, produced some great images of New York (seek out A Llama in Times Square for an example).

“I grew up partly in the Chelsea Hotel,” she says. “I don’t remember it so well. I was little. I went back and lived there a bit in the 1980s. It was a crazy place. I didn’t think of it as crazy then, I guess. It was a funny place to grow up.”

I dare say. The Chelsea Hotel – sometime home of Leonard Cohen, Tennessee Williams, Patti Smith and so many others – might be just the most Bohemian place on earth. With that parentage and that upbringing, it was surely inevitable that Rebecca – who now divides her time between Wicklow and New York – would become some sort of artist. Sure enough, she is now a decorated novelist and film director. Her second feature, Personal Velocity, adapted from her own book, won the top prize at Sundance. Her latest comedy, Maggie’s Plan, is generating the best reviews of her career.

“Well, it’s odd,” she laughs. “When I was very young I thought I might be a nurse or stewardess. Then I realised I was a very visual person. I’d written short stories and then I gravitated to painting. I sold a few. Then I realised I wanted to make films. At that stage I just thought they would be in galleries.”

I stress Miller’s Gotham heritage because Maggie’s Plan, a suave comedy starring Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore and Ethan Hawke, is not just set in New York, it’s a real New York Movie: leaves, brownstones, intellectuals. You don’t meet people like this anywhere else. Stories like this don’t happen anywhere else.

“It’s a bit of a love letter,” she says. “It’s a story of several love stories. I have a very special relationship with the city. If you want, you can photograph New York very ugly and I really didn’t want to do that here. I like to say the film is built for pleasure. All my films are about getting to truths through different doors, but I recently discovered how good it is to hear people laugh.”

Funny interesting
The film is funny, but it’s funny in interesting ways. Watching the romantic intrigues that the characters – all New York bright sparks – devise, I couldn’t help but think of Restoration Comedy or 18th-century French farce.

“Yes!” she nearly bellows. “Nobody else seems to get that. I’m glad it comes through.”

It must be a complicated business finding time to make films. As you will probably be aware, Miller has been married to Daniel Day-Lewis for the past 20 years. He doesn’t make too many films, but, when he does get before the camera, he prepares rigorously and doesn’t stint on commitment. Endlessly sharp and properly funny, Miller does not strike me as being short of energy, but she still has to manage the hours.

“My children are getting older,” she says. “My youngest child has four more years in high school and then he will go to college. So that will make film-making easier for Daniel and me. Up to now we’ve been taking turns. It’s not official, but we tend to do that.”

So, do their children feel Irish?

“I think they feel both,” she says. “It took me a long time too. But I realise now I started coming here 20 years ago.”

They’re Irish, English, American, Jewish?

“And my mother was Austrian. Mutts are healthy creatures.”

It’s currently a strange time to be even a little bit American. I’m guessing that Miller is as baffled by the rise of Trump as is everybody else.

“I don’t pretend to know what’s going on with the Republican Party,” she sighs. “What Donald Trump is saying seems so illogical to me that I can’t understand why anybody is buying it. I think it’s interesting that so many people went for Bernie Sanders. That’s a hopeful sign. But I’m not saying I’m not for Hillary. I’m a progressive.”

The professional merges with the political. The US may soon have a woman president. Yet female film directors seem almost as rare as when Miller began her career.

“There was systematic resistance,” she says. “It’s maybe a bit better. You change things by trying to set an example. But I don’t expect change to happen super-fast.”

Lead by example.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.