Rebecca Miller Wants Audiences to Know Arthur Miller Was Funny

By Ashley Morton


Filmmaker Rebecca Miller debuted what may be her most personal project, a touching and personal look at the life of her father, iconic playwright Arthur Miller, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. After the screening, Miller, who had been working on the documentary in one way or another for nearly 25 years, sat down with family friend and playwright John Guare to discuss the film and her dad.

Miller took her time with the project because she “needed some distance.” The filmmaker also revealed she took it on because she didn’t think anyone else “would be able to get close to him.”

Through archival footage the audience sees a more light-hearted Arthur Miller than the public persona we’ve come to know: he sings, goofs off, and, unsurprisingly, tells remarkable stories. Miller initially thought the footage would be something she’d pass on to her children (with husband Daniel Day-Lewis), but realized if she didn’t release it in a broader capacity, “He’d have died and nobody will know he was funny.”

“He would get angry in abstract ways. He didn’t pick fights,” Miller said when Guare asked her about Arthur’s non-confrontational style. “I wouldn’t call him mild-mannered because he always had a kind of presence around him, but he shied away from conflict, and put it all somewhere else — in his plays.”

Because the playwright often injected metaphysical elements into his stories, Miller spoke about his attitude towards the physical world, declaring it “iffy.” “He had a funny relationship to things,” she said. “He wasn’t materialistic. He liked to make things, but he didn’t hold onto things; he didn’t put value onto them.”

As to Arthur’s second wife Marilyn Monroe, Miller said, “It would come up in the outside world, or at home in the form of a little anecdote. But it was the past. Like anybody’s ex-marriage, it didn’t really come up.”

When asked what she learned about her father through the filming process, Miller shared, “I learned how he was when he was a younger man,” Miller shared. “There was a sureness he had — ‘Here’s the truth and I’m going to get to it.’ And I think he needed that sureness to do what he did.”

Arthur Miller: Writer Premieres March 19 at 8 PM.