Maggie’s Plan, a delightfully funny, sweet, yet cutting edge romantic comedy has a split personality. Maggie, played by Greta Gerwig, is a New Yorker in search of a sperm donor. She is a tad naïve but she’s navigating the big city, up against formidable characters on a deeply felt mission. This is Rebecca Miller’s latest film. The former actress – and daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis – wrote and directed the screenplay based on Karen Rinaldi’s original story. She cast Julianne Moore and Ethan Hawke as strong willed academics, just two of the strong characters in Maggie’s that figure in her life. Miller spoke with us about exploring this woman/child and making an entertaining, funny and deeply felt film.
The movie is so intimate, I felt really connected to the outcome – would she find a baby daddy or wouldn’t she? You don’t often come across a screwball insemination comedy but Maggie’s Plan is also a provocative character study.
It was a lot of fun. It was simple and complicated at the same time. I think the movie is really everything. Even as absurd as the premise is, it’s also strangely plausible. Somewhere in the world it’s happening. The academics as much as I’ve embellished are like that and I made a rather funny world out of it. It’s also real. I haven’t made anything up. It’s like the Cary Grant character in Bringing Up Baby.
You seem to see many sides of a given situation and have a good understanding of human nature.
I’m a fair judge of character and I have good instincts. Sometimes I can penetrate into people’s character pretty well. What’s great is that there are many facets in a single character that often don’t match, and there may be pieces of somebody that are contradictory. It makes them interesting.
Did the film vary from the book in any significant ways?
A bit, on the emotional geometry that Karen Rinaldi created. She had the principal characters and Lily but she didn’t have the Pickle Man or the friends. She had the basic twist in the in the story and the characters themselves but I did alter Maggie the most. Some stuff was left out, but not a lot. I used her premise and main characters but I had freedom.
Greta Gerwig’s character is a gentle soul who has a cheery, optimistic outlook that not a lot of actresses could pull off today.
She’s both kind of old fashioned and reminds of Carole Lombard or Irene Dunne, but she’s also a futurist, a woman of the future in her liberated ways of looking at things. Mostly she’s old-fashioned.
Julianne Moore’s Hungarian novelist is outrageous, so formal and clipped and fierce. How did you collaborate with her?
I built the script up once she was cast around her so it hugged her tight, there were no leaking bits. We talked a lot about her hairdo, should it be curly or in a bun. Everything has meaning. Her clothing was by Malgosia Turzanska, a wonderfully creative Polish designer and she made these ideas for Julianne. I wanted her to be a Viking goddess and still have her believable as a person in contemporary life. She tried to bring her character stuff from the outside and inside but finally when you write a part this difficult to pull off you need a great comedic actress, luckily she had the chops.
Ethan Hawke’s character is entitled and selfish and pretends not to be, that’s the worst. Why do the women in his life give him such leeway?
I think he is complicated and he acts differently depending on who he’s with. He can be a caretaker and very selfish. One of the things is that it’s talking about is that we are different with different people, depending who you’re with or who you're having a relationship with. You can be one way with one person and another way with someone else.
The weird thing is that he was able to play the character through the lenses of the women who are looking at him. He’s an appealing and attractive bad boy, this professor of anthropology and then once they’re married, he’s this schlub. But when he’s in the snow with his wife and you see his eyes. He gives a masterful, subtle performance from inside. And again everyone is different depending on who they’re with and there is a nice difference. Just have to know who you’re married to.
You’ve written so much – books, poetry and screenplays. You must be extremely disciplined to have produced so much material in so many mediums.
I am disciplined, I do the work. I am definitely a worker. I have a family and spend a huge amount of time with them but I have a strong work ethic. I just keep going. When you do that you’re less worried about what people think because the work is the most important thing. You just keep doing it.
What’s your writing routine?
Normally when I’m really working, I wake up in the morning, have breakfast and sit down and start writing in my office in the house, really a studio, and then I work until lunch and take a break. I try to work until my kids come from school now they’re getting older and the youngest one is going into high school, so life is a little less kid heavy. It’s a little different now but I used to be dominated by that schedule and I’ve gotten used to getting a lot done in the morning. I work where and when I can. Recently I’ve been promoting this film and caring for it and I have been writing but it’s not concentrated.
Did your father work that way?
My father was more dominated by it in the morning. But sometimes there is a moment when you can’t stop writing; you’re in the flow and closer to the end. That’s when I feel like I have to keep going, these are the patterns you get into.
Are you working on a new book or film now?
I’m working on a screenplay and I’m halfway done. Maggie’s Plan opened and I have so much energy in my system!