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TIFF 2009: Keanu Reeves Compares Working on Pippa Lee to Physics

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With The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, author and director Rebecca Miller adapts her own novel for the big screen. The movie stars Robin Wright-Penn as the title character, a woman dealing with the changing years, and changing loves, of her life. Surprisingly funny while still being real, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee gave actors Wright Penn and Keanu Reeves a unique challenge — working with a novelist, screenwriter and director who all happened to be the same person.

I asked Wright Penn if it was intimidating to not have the normal wiggle room in the difference of opinion between the director and the writer — or if it was liberating to work with someone whose understanding of the material was so self-contained? Wright Penn explained that in every case, Miller was in charge: “There were moments when I’d say ‘OK, maybe she wouldn’t be… maybe…’ and Rebecca goes, ‘No, she is actually. OK? She just is.’ So, you have to have that faith and trust…” Miller interjected: “And if you don’t have that [trust], you’re fired.”

Keanu Reeves, shaggy and smiling, explained his take on the material, deferring to Miller: “I came to the process with the novel and the screenplay and I kept saying to you [indicating Miller] ‘So, which one am I doing?'” he recalled. “Then you would go, ‘Well, do whatever you want.’ And you would give me — what you were saying about the idea of confinement and wiggle room — it was a kind of a particle and a wave. It was like you could be very specific and then there were times you would say “Go ahead, do what you feel,” which is great.”

Miller, for her part, explained how her knowledge of the project didn’t mean she was gripping it too tightly. “One of the nice things, for me, about having written something and knowing it well is you also know what to throw out,” she explained. “Because let’s face it, when you’re making a film, it’s a war against time and mediocrity. The day’s starting to end; you realize there’s one scene that’s gonna have to go… Or you can fold the lines of one scene into another scene quickly ’cause in a way, all of the phases are parts of the writing.”

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