Her newest film, The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee, is written and directed by Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and wife to Daniel Day-Lewis) and tells the story of Pippa, a woman who married a much older man and has now settled into a retirement community with him. She begins to reflect on her life and realizes that she may be heading towards a slow nervous breakdown. From her bi-polar mother (Maria Bello) to the choices she made after she ran away from home, Pippa’s story is told with grace and sometimes humor by Ms. Wright and her fellow cast members Alan Arkin, Mike Bender, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves.
In becoming “Pippa” on screen, Ms. Wright had an advantage. She says “Fortunately, I had the manuscript of the book before it was published as my bible, my guide sheet” she laughs, “My PowerPoint. What two for one! Not only did I have that wealth of information of word on paper, but I also had the source and could get her to extrapolate on things that I needed as an actress. Its one thing to be a reader of literature or reader of a story and you create your own imagination but what’s behind that imagination is the first instinct I would have. And I think we speak the same language, or… I understand hers and she understands mine.”
Understanding is a big part of this film. As Pippa examines her life, she recalls the events of that created the woman that she has become…and it all starts with family. Maria Bello gives a tremendous performance as Pippa’s mother, a pill-poppin’ unbalanced wife of a minister who swings between manic bouts of frenzied attention lavished on Pippa to times of inconsolable depression. “Suky (Pippa’s mom) was overbearing and then absent. There was nothing in the middle. And Pippa became a stagnant façade as a child”. Pippa can only last so long before she, as a teen, decides to run away to the big city where she meets the new interesting and strange people that will shape her life.
Speaking of Maria Bello, Robin and her became great friends during the shoot. “The film was shot in Danbury, Connecticut and there was very little to do between shooting. We were all set up in the same hotel on the same floor. Me, Keanu, Winona, and some of the producers. And we would have time to hang out with each other. Maria and I would hang out and I really dig her. She’s really bright. So talented, such a force.” It’s actually a quality that both actresses share. Both are known for taking on less glamorous roles in lieu of dramatically demanding ones. It is not surprising that they would eventually end up on the same project.
The film actually is littered with expert talent. From Julianne Moore, Blake Lively (who plays the teenaged Pippa) to Monica Bellucci, this film is not want of strong female actresses. Ironically, it is also the male actors who each step up to the plate to deliver home runs every time they are on screen.
Academy Award winner Alan Arkin gives a richly nuanced performance as Pippa’s publisher husband whose infidelity becomes a catalyst for change in her life. Working with Arkin was dream. “I would have conversations with him. He’s big on philosophy. I loved talking to him. Or I should say listening to him. He has such a wealth of information. He has got such a cadence to him. We would laugh our asses off. He is such an original. On the last day of shooting I had to tell him “Alan, I really fell in love with you” and he replied (in his classic dry tone) “Robin… you’ll get over it”
While more known for his action films like the Matrix and Day The Earth Stood Still, Keanu Reeves brings a subtle portrayal that many critics and fans will have to take notice of. He plays son of a neighbor who Pippa comes to confide in and eventually strikes up a romance with. “He was great. Very accessible and he played with you. You know, sometimes you get actors who don’t play with you in the scene, it is not actually cause and effect off the other person. Which is the whole point of the game… being affected by the other person and that is what alters, modifies your choice and that is the beautiful surprise in this craft that we’re in. You yearn for it. You yearn to have those moments where you think Wow, I don’t even know what just happened but that was great! or that connection was so far outside my box and it can bring the scene to a whole other level. When you have actors that are totally open and are just reacting to what’s in the air that you both have just created, there’s a safety net there. And when you have that safety net, when you have that trust… you can run the gamut. And Keanu was very much like that. He was very giving and open. I thought he was perfect for the role. He was great.”
The film is filled many of those “real” moments. Moments that could come off as cliché , but instead resonate with real experience. It’s the difference between sincerity and apathy in film making. There is a real heart behind this movie. When asked about what she hoped she conveyed through Pippa on screen Robin replied “Your true self can only hide for so long. You can’t hide from yourself. The truth reigns”
Ultimately that’s what The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is all about. That if we live our lives for other people, and not ourselves, we risk losing not only who we are but the person we have the opportunity to be. Rarely, do we have such extraordinary talent to weave the fabric of storytelling so delicately yet with such strength.