Magazine article The New Yorker

Metamorphosis

Magazine article The New Yorker

Metamorphosis

Article excerpt

Pigeons rustled in the beams of the Staten Island Ferry terminal as Rebecca Miller, the writer and director, ordered a soft pretzel. This was a Tuesday afternoon, hazy, gray, quiet. Miller was in town for a number of reasons, one of which was to talk about "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," a movie, based on her novel of the same name, which opens here this month. Miller wrote "Pippa"--which stars Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Julianne Moore, Blake Lively, and Robin Wright Penn, as a woman in the throes of a metamorphosis--after running into an old friend in Rome. She recalled, "She had been a very wild girl in New York, and I saw her and she was this kind of very calm mother of several children. She had almost completely transformed herself--the way she dressed, her taste, her way of being in the world--yet she was the same person, and I thought, What happened?" Miller made her way to the ferry and sat on an orange bench. She was wearing a tab-collar jean jacket, cigarette pants with black piping from hip to ankle, and pink matte lipstick, a little smeared. Her bangs were mowed short. A foghorn bellowed, and the boat pushed off.

The private lives of Rebecca Miller began on September 15, 1962, in New York, where she was born to the playwright Arthur Miller and the photographer Inge Morath. Rebecca, a lone child in a household of complicated adults--her brother, Daniel, born four years later with Down syndrome, was placed in an institution--inhabited a solitary world of secret fears. Growing up in Roxbury, Connecticut, she had religious questions early. At bath time, she would lie in the tub and stare at the linen closet, which she thought housed a devil. Her grandmother lived with the family for a while. "She wasn't really self-absorbed, and it was great to have someone in the house like that," Miller recalled.

Second life: school. Miller was skinny; her best friend, a boy, was fat. There were three kids in the class. In first grade, her penny loafers fell apart, and she turned them into talking puppets--scuffed-sole mandibles and brown leather gums. Miller made friends with other misfits. "I had no social power," she said. "I ended up being one of the people who always sat in the library--the Brains."

Third life: Choate. "Boarding school taught me how to be devious, and I became a bad girl really quickly," she said. She crawled in and out of a lot of windows. …

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