Peeling the onion on Pippa Lee
by Barry Hertz
It took approximately four seconds for the Patrick Swayze question to pop up during Tuesday afternoon's press conference for The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. Moderator Joanna Schneller of The Globe and Mail asked Keanu Reeves about his relationship with his late Point Break co-star right off the bat, in an admirable bid to get the issue out of the way.
"He was a beautiful person, and my sympathies and condolences go out to his friends and family," a hirsute Reeves said, keeping it short and simple.
Naturally, the journalists wouldn't let such a threadbare quote stand, and pressed the issue a few minutes later. Fortunately, at least for anyone who dreads such cringe-inducing moments as these that frequently occur during international pressers, Reeves acquiesced.
"On Point Break ... Patrick wanted to experience life and take the opportunities the film gave him, and he did it with an open heart," said Reeves, who attended the event with writer-director Rebecca Miller and co-star Robin Wright Penn. "To me, he just lit up a room. He lived life to the fullest."
With that sound bite secured, the discussion moved on to the actual film at hand, an intimate drama based on Miller's own novel. The picture, which receives its Gala premiere on Tuesday night at Roy Thomson Hall, focuses on middle-aged housewife Pippa (Penn), a former wild child now married to an ageing publisher (Alan Arkin). After the couple move from New York to the wilds of suburbia, Pippa experiences a "quiet mental breakdown," aided in part by her burgeoning relationship with a ne'er-do-well neighbour (Reeves).
"It was a rare opportunity to get a role like this," said Penn, whose sharp performance is steadily garnering Oscar buzz. "Lyrically, Rebecca is like a poet, without all that dead air."
Miller, best known for The Ballad of Jack and Rose and her marriage to Daniel Day-Lewis, fills her film with famous friends (including Maria Bello, Gossip Girl's Blake Lively and TIFF mainstay Julianne Moore), and was quick to praise her cast, especially Reeves.
"I was looking at all his work, studying it really carefully," Miller said in response to whether she cast the actor based on his previous work of wooing such older women as Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give. "We had to beg him."
"No, no," Reeves interrupted, feigning shyness. Later, he admitted the indie-budget project was an opportunity to "work with some great artists, but it's also fun to do movie kung fu, too."
Penn, who flits in and out of the public eye, made a point of emphasizing how grateful she was to land the lead, something that is becoming more and more rare for actresses over 30. Pippa, she said, "is every woman, or maybe varying degrees of. It's all that fabric that you've woven and now it's all tight and it unravels out of your control, and you unwind. That's the beauty of this role."
Added Miller: "It's about the mystery of a character. We delicately unpeel this woman, like an onion."
• The Private Lives of Pippa Lee premieres Tuesday Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall and Thursday, Sept. 17, 11:45 a.m., at Scotiabank 1.