Stars of “Pippa Lee” want private lives to stay that way
Robin Wright Penn and Keanu Reeves remain reticent about their private lives… and pretty much everything else
by Kim Linekin
It was inevitable that at a press conference for "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," Rebecca Miller's drama about a woman unraveling as her much older husband nears death, there'd be questions about the private lives of the movie's stars, Robin Wright Penn and Keanu Reeves, who play Pippa and the new love in her life. The two actors flanked Miller the afternoon of the movie's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
But there weren't any direct questions, so the answers tended to dart around the subject. When asked how he feels about intrusions into his private life, Reeves replied, "I think I feel how anyone would feel. You just generally want to have your privacy and the opportunity to do your work and live your life. And any time where one isn't allowed to do that, it's frustrating."
Penn was more humble. "I don't work enough to not have a private life," she said. "I think what happens is, if you're exposed too much and you're on every magazine cover doing every interview and photo shoot, it sort of defuses the actor's talent. I think being healthily elusive is great, and that tends to happen when you just don't get the jobs," she laughed.
At one point, Reeves claimed he didn't have a life outside of the film business. "If I'm not working, I'm working on working. Developing scripts, trying to produce some films. That's pretty much all I do."
He flat-out refused to answer a silly personal question about why he's sporting long hair and a beard. "I'm afraid I can't answer that question until I speak to my people." Penn and Miller laughed to cover his bad joke.
The closest either actor came to revealing anything personal was when Penn was asked for an example of a hard truth she's learned in her forties. "I think the volume is just higher as you get older. Because you go, 'OK, I've got how many years left?' So you act on it, you know?"
She was likely referring obliquely to her decision to leave Sean Penn after a couple of tumultuous decades together. "I hope that answers your question," she told the reporter, making it clear she didn't want any more questions like that.
But when the questions were about the film and the characters, the answers were even more opaque. Miller said that what she wants audiences to get from the movie is that it's "trying to delicately unpeel a woman, you know, like an onion. And what do you get? How do you unpeel those layers? To me that's fascinating."
Penn said she wanted to work with Miller "because lyrically she's like a poet without all that dead air." Who knows what that means, but Penn gave a rare smile after she said it so all the cameras in the room clicked away madly.
The one question I got to ask seemed perfectly direct to me. "Ms. Penn, could you please define specifically what makes this one of those rare great roles for women?" Her reply was utterly confounding. "Because it's every woman, maybe in varying degrees. You know how we are all crazy? How that emotional data starts to have issue with the choice that you made over here. And all of a sudden, all of that fabric that's woven and it's so tight, it just starts to unravel out of your control. And I mean, that happens post-40, right? I mean, you just start to unwind. Unwind with truth. And I think that's pretty much everybody's story. But how does it manifest? That was the beauty of this role. The sleepwalking, the devouring of sweets more than the savory. Was there savory?"
And with that, she grew wings and flew off to Pluto, and I gave up trying to understand "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee."