Rebecca Miller: 'Daniel & I get to act like normal human beings!'
Some know her as the daughter of Arthur Miller or the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis. But the Listowel-bound Rebecca Miller is an acclaimed novelist, painter and screenwriter herself. Deirdre Reynolds meets her
Published 30/05/2013 | 05:00
As we meet to chat about her new book, emblazoned with her family name, Rebecca Miller admits she once considered changing it.
After all, when you're the daughter of Arthur Miller, arguably America's greatest-ever playwright, putting pen to paper yourself must seem like literary suicide.
"I considered changing my name to my mother's name briefly very early," says Miller, who also happens to be married to triple-Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, himself the son of the late Poet Laureate Sir Cecil Day-Lewis..
"But then I thought my name is so common. Miller is not a very distinctive name.
"In the end, people are still going to know if they're going to know. I sort of ended up deciding it was like being part of a family circus, and I didn't mind any more."
With a back catalogue of gorgeously low-budget movies such as The Ballad of Jack and Rose (starring Day-Lewis), the writer-director – whose mum was renowned photographer Inge Morath – has certainly done the Miller name proud.
Although it doesn't hit shelves here until June 6, her third novel, Jacob's Folly – a fantastical tale of an 18th-Century French-Jewish peddler who is reincarnated as a fly in modern-day New York – has already been hailed as 'original' and 'beguiling'.
"It takes a certain amount of forgetting about what anybody might expect of you," says Miller, who's speaking atListowel Writers' Week in Co Kerry this Friday.
"In my case, I think I retreat into my family so that I almost cleanse myself of any of the literary part of me, and then [emerge] just ready to go.
"I try to almost hypnotise myself into thinking that I'm free each time I write a book.
"I think if you convince yourself you're free, then you are, because it's a mental state, really. I didn't think particularly about being original, or anything else. I just thought: 'How can I tell this story?'"
From painting to directing via acting, shadowed by two such cultural colossi, Miller recalls the struggle to carve her own creative niche.
"I started by being a painter, partly because it was either going to be painting or writing, and I had an instinct that it would be healthier for me to go that way in the beginning.
"Then I started to do screenplays, which seemed like 'non-writing'. It was like writing without writing.
"I had been screen- writing all these years, but couldn't get money for my film.
"Finally, when I had a baby, I thought: 'Why am I writing all these things that nobody wants, and spending all my time doing it – why not try to write fiction?'
"That's when I wrote Personal Velocity, which, funnily enough, brought me back to film-making when it was adapted into a film [in 2002]."
With Miller harnessing a housefly and method actor Day-Lewis channelling Abraham Lincoln, who wouldn't love to have been a fly on the wall like Jacob at the famously private couple's Wicklow home?
"Luckily we have circles of privacy outside of which we manage to act like normal human beings, more or less," she jokes.
"I wrote a lot of the book in Ireland actually, because we were living in Ireland until two years ago.
"When you're writing, you tend to go into lockdown.
"The whole book took five years to write, so I was in that state for a really long time.
"I would drop the kids off at school, come home and just write for three or four hours until I had to get up to do something else. Or I would have to take six months off and just read [for research].
"That means I let a lot of things go; a lot of relationships just get cooled . . . so you have to then re-start them."
Earlier this year, Day-Lewis paid tribute to his wife after making history at the Academy Awards: "Since we got married 16 years ago, my wife Rebecca has lived with some very strange men.
"Luckily, she's the versatile one in the family and she's been the perfect companion to all of them."
Perhaps sharing the big screen with Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey in 1992's Consenting Adults helped Miller comprehend the method in the madness.
"Acting wasn't my natural state," she tells. "Even then, I was aware that I was leaning [towards] something else.
"What's great is that it gave me so much respect for acting; kind of a window in on it that you can't get unless you've actually gone inside of it and done it in a serious way.
"But I don't have any desire [to do it again]."
Naturally pretty in a floral top and minimal makeup, mum-of-two Rebecca certainly still has the looks for Hollywood.
Nonetheless, at 50, she says she's perfectly happy to remain the less famous half of the talented pairing.
"I think a tiny, tiny bit maybe people recognise me, but very, very minimally. I'm not a famous person, thank God. It's a terrible thing, actually, being famous.
"I mean, some people really enjoy it, I think, and other people don't. I like to observe and watch people, I wouldn't [like] to be the person being watched all the time."
If it was tough for Miller growing up, imagine what it must be like for the couple's sons, Ronan (14) and Cashel (11), following in the footsteps of an iconic granddad, award-winning mum and a record-breaking dad.
Having been there, done that, Miller – who is also stepmum to Gabriel (17), Day-Lewis's son by French actress Isabelle Adjani – says she hopes their sons pave their own way in life too.
"One son, he's 11, wants to be a professor of Asian studies," she laughs. "He's very specific!
"The middle one is definitely an artist and the older one is very into music. It's good. I think it's healthy [for them to have their own interests].
"We moved back [to the States] for the kids, for the stretch of their education," adds Miller.
"One of them is already going to college next year.
"We had always decided to split [our time between the US and Ireland]. I said: 'I can't be an expatriate forever,' and Daniel understood that.
"So we came here for seven years, now we're there. Once they're in college, I imagine a more balanced life between here and there.
"I love Ireland," she says. "I definitely have come to feel like this is a second home to me. [But] New York city is my place."
As a female movie director in Tinseltown, Miller and peers such as Kathryn Bigelow could almost be counted on both hands.
"Somebody said 2pc to me once," says Miller of the minority of women at the helm in Hollywood.
'One of the problems for women, quite frankly, [is that] if you're a director for hire – which most directing jobs are – you could suddenly be in Australia for six months.
"For women who have a family, it's a big decision because of the expectations on women, and the expectations they have on themselves.
"I also don't know that women do a good enough job of championing each other, and that's something I've been thinking about a lot myself.
"I always try to hire the best man for the job, and most of them happen to be women!"
She adds: "I've got a screenplay that I'm trying to cast and finance – one never knows.
"There are so many wonderful actors and actresses; that's where it would be hard to say goodbye to making films, as much as it's a pain in the neck.
"I've had an amazing, miraculous career where not only have I been a female making movies, I've also done something that men would like to do, which is just tell my own stories."
Jacob's Folly by Rebecca Miller, published by Canongate, £18.99 is out on June 6