Festivals - FCAD 2023: She came to me : let’s talk with Rebecca Miller

By Mulder, Deauville, Hôtel Barrière Le Royal , 02 september 2023

She Came to Me is a delightful 2023 American romantic comedy film written and directed by the talented Rebecca Miller. This heartwarming film features a star-studded cast including Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d'Arcy James, Anne Hathaway, Harlow Jane, and Evan Ellison. The premise of She Came to Me revolves around the character of Steven Lauddem, a talented composer who finds himself in a creative rut, struggling to complete the score for his highly anticipated opera comeback. It's his wife, Patricia, who lovingly encourages him to embark on a journey in search of inspiration.

The film's production journey saw a few changes along the way. Initially, in 2017, stars like Steve Carell, Amy Schumer, and Nicole Kidman were attached to the project. However, by 2021, Anne Hathaway, Tahar Rahim, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, and Matthew Broderick had been confirmed for the cast. Rahim and Broderick later departed from the project. Principal photography, originally planned for late 2021 in New York City, didn't commence until April 2022. She Came to Me is a delightful and heartwarming addition to the world of romantic comedy. After its successful premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, it garnered further attention when Vertical Entertainment secured U.S. distribution rights in May 2023. Mark your calendars for October 6, 2023, when this charming film is set to captivate audiences with its humor, romance, and stellar performances. Please note that the initial release date was September 29, 2023, but it was rescheduled to October 6, 2023, for eager viewers to enjoy.

During the Deauville American film festival we have the opportunity to interview the director Rebecca Miller for her new movie after Angela (1995),  Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (2002), The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), Maggie's Plan (2015) and Arthur Miller: Writer (2012).

Q: What inspired you to venture into the romantic comedy genre with She Came to Me ?

Rebecca Miller : My last film, Maggie's Plan, lay in that genre of romantic comedy, and I was interested in making something a little bit more complicated, more cinematic, bigger, and in a way, more operatic.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the film's unique premise involving an opera composer and a tugboat driver ?

Rebecca Miller : I had written a short story where the protagonist was a blocked artist, but he was a writer. I decided that it would be interesting if he could be a composer because music is such a big part of film, and it's more interesting to watch music happen than watch somebody write, which is very boring. In my short story, there was a female character; she was not a tugboat operator, but I thought it would be interesting to have her be a tugboat operator because I've never seen a female tugboat operator on film except in a movie from the 1930s called Tugboat Annie, which I actually had not seen when I wrote it. But it's even rare in real life; there are some female Tableau captains, but not so many. Your film's ambition is to define the romantic comedy genre.

Q: The review mentions the film's ambition to redefine the romantic comedy genre. What were your goals in reshaping this romantic comedy genre ?

Rebecca Miller : You know, I think that the romantic comedy genre has been debased a little bit, made to seem sometimes trivial. I think that it's really a part of our American culture, actually, and one of the great routes that we have in cinema, our Cinema history. So many wonderful films have been made in that genre, and I was interested in recapturing that original depth.

Q: How did you approach maintaining a consistent tone while juggling humor and social commentary ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, tone is, of course, the most important thing in directing. But I'm very interested in bending tone so that you don't have only funny moments, but you can have very sad moments. Then you can bend the tone so that it becomes funny, and then it can become sad again. In some ways, my great hero in this is Chekhov; Anton Chekhov bends tone all the time. I do think that that is what life is like: life is funny, life is sad, and life is absurd. That's what I wanted to reflect.

Q: Peter Dinklage plays the lead character, Steven Loudden. What drew you to cast him in this role, and how did he contribute to the character ?

Rebecca Miller : Peter is one of the finest actors working today. He has immense comedic timing and talent, but he's also very profound and real as an actor. I think that he's very original in the way that he approaches playing characters. I thought that he also was able to legitimately play a composer; he understands the Music World very well. His family is part of the musical world. I was just so impressed by him, and yeah, it's just one of those things. I'm very drawn to him in this character.

Q: Marisa Tomei's performance as Katrina is praised for its authenticity and charm. Can you share your experience working with her on this character ?

Rebecca Miller : Marisa is astonishing, I think, in the movie. I really don't think there's another actress working right now that would be more authentic. She's so warm, she's so sexy, but she also has so much emotional depth, and she's so funny. She could play a working person very legitimately and very realistically. She spent a lot of time actually working on tugs, living on a tug for a bit. She did a lot of research. She's just one of the great actresses. I really feel she's a National Treasure, so it was a wonderful thing working with her. She's very serious about her work; she's very detail-oriented. She's tremendously generous with herself in the way she...

Q: Anne Hathaway plays Patricia, a therapist. What aspects of Patricia's character did you find most intriguing, and how did Anne Hathaway bring them to life ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, the character of Patricia, which Anne Hathaway plays, is a very difficult character to play because she has to be both funny but also genuinely having a kind of a nervous breakdown. The two things, you know, it's a very delicate dance, and she's really walking on a tightrope. I think it really is an example of the tremendous talent and control that Anne has that she was able to really accomplish the character. She worked so hard, and a lot of the most important work that she does is very interior, you know. It's about just allowing herself to feel what's going on inside of her. But she's hilarious, and I think very moving.

Q: The subplot involving Patricia's son Julian attempts to address complex themes. What was your intention behind including this subplot ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, I had always had a story. In a way, the two stories, the story of Stephen Loden and his block, was one story, and then the story of the two teenagers was another story that I always wanted to tell. The work of creating the film was intertwining those two stories. You know, in a way, the film is a kind of a layer cake, like a piece of cake. Then there are layers of all the strata of society, not all of them, but a few of them. You know, it's talked a little bit about class, about race, about Arizona, about expectations of working women, about religion and mysticism. That's what I liked about it, is that people who you don't necessarily think are going to encounter each other, encounter each other. It's, I guess, a little bit about America.

Q: What do you believe sets She Came to Me apart from other romantic comedies in terms of its approach to storytelling ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, I am very interested in how structure can be used to braid multiple storylines in such a way that it's not distracting, but it's sort of like breathing in and breathing out. You're in one story or another story, and then how people affect each other. In a way, the movie is partly about how we all affect each other. We create each other; all these characters are really creating each other and changing each other's destinies.

Q: The film's cast is quite talented. How did you work with them to bring out the nuances of their characters ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, you have to begin with a great cast, and that's the most important thing. You can certainly work with them and try to adjust their work, but finally, you are dependent on their preparation and their decisions about the character. So, I would say that the casting, in some ways, is a huge part of it. I've been working with the same casting director, Cindy Tolan, for 30 years, and it's a very fruitful collaboration.

Q: Could you discuss the significance of the film's title, She Came to Me, and how it relates to the story ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, She Came to Me is a line in the movie, and it's both about the fact that Marisa Tomei as a character came to Peter Dinklage's character, as if like she came to me, like an idea came to me. But it's also about a person coming to another person. You know, you could also say that it's about that she came to me signifies it works for many of the characters in the film that they are all coming to each other; they're all influencing each other.

Q: The film's music is mentioned in the credits. How did the musical score by Bryce Dessner contribute to the overall atmosphere of the film ?

Rebecca Miller : The film's music is much less in the credits. I already used a musical score by Bryce Dessner to contribute to the overall atmosphere of the film. I worked with Bryce Dessner, who began very early because he had to actually compose the two operas, the two final scenes of the operas before we started shooting. So that put a huge creative burden on him, but it also jump-started our creative partnership. I had written the libretto and the lyrics, so we were starting to collaborate very intensely early on. I think that set the stage for what we did later, which was a very honest and profound kind of intertwining. We worked really well together; he's an extraordinarily talented person. I really wanted the musical elements of the film, the operas, to be realistic, that you believe that they could really be because he's a significant concert composer, and I wanted that kind of music in the film, that you believe that that's real.

Q: I am a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. What can you tell us about your collaboration with him for the song Addicted to Romance ?

Rebecca Miller : Yes, well, what happened was kind of a miracle. Bryce and I were talking about who would be the best person to write the final song for the film, and I said I really wanted something truly American and timeless. He said, Well, there's one human being who is right for that, Bruce Springsteen. But I said, But we're not going to get Bruce to write a new song. I had worked with him a little bit; I knew him a little bit, and he had let me use Dancing in the Dark for Maggie's Plan. So, I had a connection, but it wasn't the kind of thing where I could say, Oh, Bruce, would you...? Yeah, of course. But what I reached out to his manager, and he and actually Patti Scialfa suggested that I just send the movie to them. They watched the movie, and who knows what would happen? They watched it, and they actually called me, and it was one of the great moments of my life. They absolutely loved it, and Bruce said, Let me... what do you want me to do? I said, Well, just if you could write, you know, if it's something that comes to you. And three days later, he had written... well, the song. He wrote it, sent me a demo, it was incredible, it was like... I think it just really came to him, and it was like the most amazing blessing. It's a beautiful song.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced during the production of She Came to Me, and how did you overcome them ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, one of the most profound challenges was that we were shooting during COVID, and so Anne Hathaway, Peter Dinklage, and Joanna Cooling all got COVID at different times. Half of our crew, I think, got COVID. I did not, and my cinematographer did not, thank God. So, it was just enormously inconvenient in terms of having to move the locations and schedules all the time. And anybody knows about independent films, it's like every penny counts. So, when you have to rent a brownstone in Brooklyn for an extra week, that's very expensive. So, it was very tough in that way. And I have to say our financiers were really wonderful and really stood behind us and took care of us in terms of the filming. Because a lot of films shut down in the same period in New York, it was a real spike. That was probably the biggest challenge. The rest of it, everything was a huge challenge; the learning curve for me was like that because as many I've been making films for many years, but this was a huge challenge.

Q: Looking back on the production of this film, what moments or aspects of the project are you most proud of, and what would you do differently if given the chance ?

Rebecca Miller : I think I'm really proud that I was able to adapt to working with filming opera and also, you know, the contrast between working inside tugboats and then making these big opera numbers. You know, and figuring out this aspect ratio change, where you have the square ratio for the interior of the tugboat because it just makes more sense. And then the wider one for the operas and the rest of the film. And then, you know, when you're in a nun cell, you once go back to square. But it's kind of like I had always wanted to do that and to have the freedom to do that. But also, I needed a reason, a real reason, narratively, and I found one. So, I feel proud that I really love the film visually. I feel like it... I feel very good about the film visually, and I... I do love all the performances, but that's probably like I'm most proud of.

Q: After The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, you are returning to the Deauville American Film Festival. Could you tell us about your experience at this festival and what it means to present your new movie in the beautiful French city ?

Rebecca Miller : Well, I have to say I really love this Festival because it feels unique in the location. It's a much gentler vibe than almost every other festival that I've been to. So, it's really nice, I think, especially when you've done it for a long time. There's something about festivals that can be a little bit overwhelming, and I feel like you have a chance to concentrate, talk to the journalists, walk on the beach. So, it's definitely one of my favorites.

Q: What advice do you have for a young adult aspiring to become a writer and director? Additionally, could you share some details about your current projects ?

Rebecca Miller : For me, the best advice I ever got was to stick to my own voice, not to change my work because other people thought that I should. That doesn't mean you don't take advice, but you stick to your instincts. You know, and even if people who really respect tell you that something has to change, if you don't believe it has to change, don't change it, and keep it personal. I think the threat of AI... you know, is really less acute when you're doing really original work, and I think that's something that's really important, is that we are human beings, and we are individuals, and that we should emphasize that in our writing and in our filmmaking.

A composer suffering from writer's block finds new inspiration after an unexpected encounter.  Love always happens where you least expect it...

She came to me
Written and directed by Rebecca Miller
Produced by Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, Rebecca Miller, Damon Cardasis, Anne Hathaway
Starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d'Arcy James, Anne Hathaway, Harlow Jane, Evan Ellison
Cinematography : Sam Levy
Edited by Sabine Hoffman
Music by Bryce Dessner
Production companies : Protagonist Pictures, Killer Films, AI Film, Round Films
Distributed by Vertical Entertainment
Release dates : February 16, 2023 (Berlinale), September 29, 2023 (United States)
Running time : 102 minutes

We would like to thanks Rebecca Miller for answering to our questions

Photos and vidéo : Boris Colletier / Mulderville