Blake Lively Interview, Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down recently with Blake Lively to talk about her role in “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” directed by Rebecca Miller. Adapted from writer-director Rebecca Miller’s novel of the same name, the film follows the adventures of Pippa Lee, a serene, beautiful, devoted wife and mother with a seemingly perfect life -- until her surprisingly volatile past crashes through her persona, forcing her to find her true sense of self. She begins to question the seemingly fulfilling life she’s made for herself by entering into a dialogue with the demons of her past.

With a film spanning a single character’s lifetime, Rebecca Miller planned from the onset for a second performer to portray the teenage Pippa Lee. What remained unclear was who was best suited for the part. Working with casting director Cindy Tolan, they considered nearly one hundred actors for the role before setting their sights on rising star, Blake Lively.

The youngest of five children born to an entertainment-industry family, the 21-year-old California native first attracted attention with a breakout role in the 2005 film, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Two years later, Lively went on to star as Serena van der Woodsen in the hit television drama “Gossip Girls.”

Miller confesses she remained blissfully unaware of the “Gossip Girl” phenomenon, casting Lively instead on the basis of her performance in the independent film “Elvis and Anabelle.” “I thought she was a complete unknown,” laughs Miller. “It’s a very, very difficult part and she was absolutely up to it,” says the director. “She was charming, emotional and sexual, all the things she really needed to be.”

Blake Lively welcomed both the opportunity and the challenge, working around her demanding television schedule to join the Pippa Lee ensemble. She turns in a terrific performance as the young Pippa Lee and we really appreciated her time. Here’s what she had to tell us about her new movie:

MoviesOnline:   So, they auditioned you?

Blake Lively:   Yes.  I had a few audition scenes, but most memorable was the one where I take my mother’s bottle of Dexedrine, and freak out and I’m dancing around, cracked out of my mind on speed and screaming at my mother while she’s screaming at me, and we’re pushing each other. So that was a challenge to do in a 4 foot by 4 foot room in front of Rebecca Miller, and the woman that I had never met before, reading the scene. It was supposed to be my mother. Not knowing what boundaries were there or weren’t, it was difficult. I did the few scenes, I finished with that one, and I was so nervous, so intimidated, but I knew I just had to let go and do it. And Rebecca walked out, she said just stay here for a minute, walked out of the room, came back two minutes later and said, ‘You’re my Pippa.  I’m not making this movie with anyone else.’ She gave me the job on the spot. I would have been freaking out for a few days if she wouldn’t have, so [I felt] very lucky.

MoviesOnline:   We were talking to Rebecca and Robin about how you and Robin were observing each other to get the same facial mannerisms. What did you pick up from Robin in particular?

Blake Lively:   It wasn’t as much about the mannerisms. There were certain things that Maria and Robin and I talked about, just like nervous tics, because it was interesting for us. The last thing Pippa wanted to do was be like her mother. She wanted to run away from her mother. Her mother was such a terrible thing for her, that she had to get away from it. Yet, she starts to repeat that same cycle of abuse, self abuse, and I think that that’s a very interesting thing that people do. And so, just like biting on the side of the nails or a few certain nervous tics, but for me, the most important thing was watching Robin and seeing who she was at her core. It was nothing that could be described, it was just an essence. And so much of Pippa is a mystery. She is an enigma. And so, just watching and seeing the feeling you get from her, and trying to recreate that was the most difficult. It’s hard to articulate because it’s just a feeling I guess. 

MoviesOnline:   How was it working with Alan Arkin? He’s a great actor, but did it feel weird because of the age difference in your characters?

Blake Lively:   Yeah, it seems like it would be weird, and when I read it on the page, I thought, ‘Oh no, this could be very awkward and uncomfortable.’ But once I thought about it more and once I was talking to Rebecca about it, or in the scenes with Alan, you realize that Pippa isn’t looking for a sexual partner. It’s not lust that attracts her to him, it’s that she doesn’t have a parent. It’s him fulfilling that role of a parent. He’s the first person that guides her, that provides her security and comfort, so that’s what their relationship was about. We weren’t busy trying to fabricate sexual chemistry. We were just trying to create an honest relationship between two people and we were sitting between scenes and he would write notes and write down books I should read or movies I should see. I was trying to feed him my sundae while he sounded like, ‘C’mon, whipped cream, it will make you happy before we shoot,’ and I didn’t realize Rebecca was outside shooting this, and that’s the scene where we are sitting in the diner. She ended up just filming our interaction with one another, which was a very innocent interaction. That was the important thing, because I think it would have made it really uncomfortable if you saw them in the heat of passion with one another. You see me lying naked, half naked in his arms, but you see that he’s protecting her and he’s holding her and it’s safety. You don’t ever see us kiss once in this movie because we didn’t, because that wasn’t what was important about their relationship, and what attracted Pippa to him. 

MoviesOnline:   Was the sex scene uncomfortable for you?

Blake Lively:   Well, I think it’s uncomfortable laying in strategically placed clothes that are taped on your body, in front of some strangers. That’s always uncomfortable, but being with Alan and being with Rebecca, and our wonderful DP, it was a very private set, and we’re all actors, we’re all professionals, we all understood what was happening. Everybody is uncomfortable. You’re never going to be comfortable being half naked in front of anyone, I think. (laughs) So, I don’t know, it was fine. It was a short scene. It’s more uncomfortable to watch it, for me. Oh no, all these people are seeing me like this! 

MoviesOnline:   How was the directing process with Rebecca? 

Blake Lively:   It was really amazing because I didn’t get to work with Robin, to sit down and to develop the character together. I didn’t get to read the book beforehand, because the book wasn’t even out, so Rebecca was just my well of knowledge. She was Pippa in so many ways, because she created Pippa. She had been living with Pippa for years, from developing her to writing this beautiful novel, to writing the script to directing the script, developing the character with Robin. She was Pippa in so many ways because she had created this woman, but she also was a strong, powerful woman herself, who could be so vulnerable, but also be so strong, who you could see that there was a certain edge or darkness, yet is also so light and bright. To see a woman around you that is herself so complex, and so interesting, and to be portraying that, was also very helpful. She was in a lot of ways a muse, even though Pippa was her muse or we became hers at the point of making this. She was very much mine or ours, I think. So it was a wonderful process, and we just had to trust her with everything that we had. I got to watch some of Robin’s dailies and she got to watch some of mine, but it was really up to Rebecca to make sure that the same person of the core shone through in my performance and Robin’s. We just had to trust that whatever we were doing was consistent in one another. So it was a lot of trust, and she didn’t tell me too much. She said Robin is copying something that you do, but she didn’t tell me what it was. And I said well what is it, what do I do? It made me feel weird, like is there something that I do? What is it? And she said don’t worry about it, I don’t want you to be aware of it. But she goes if you stop doing it, or if you just did it for that audition and it’s something that you don’t do normally, then I’ll let you know cause we want it to be consistent. But don’t worry about it. And she never told me what it was. And I watched the movie and I figured it out, but anyway, I don’t know, it was just a lot of trust I guess.

MoviesOnline:   You talked about Pippa being such a multi-faceted character. Was there an aspect of her that was more fun to perform as an actor?

Blake Lively:   All of it was fun. It was fun to scream and cry and push my mother, it was fun to crawl around in lederhosen and have Julianne Moore ask me to meow, (laughs) and spank me, as odd as that seems. Here I am thinking, I finally have the most respectable job of my life, and I’m getting spanked and being asked to meow. So it was kind of a little bit of an oxymoron. But, just getting to sit in scenes and just chat with Alan, or have a simple conversation that is so insightful to who these people are, was also just as interesting. I had so many different things to do in this film, and such a nice time frame to build this character. I got to play her over the course of a decade, so there wasn’t one more part that was fun than the other, but kept each part exciting because they were all so different. I was given such great material. It’s so rare to get material like this. But anyway, I’m so thankful for it.

MoviesOnline:   What’s the experience been like to balance shooting Gossip Girl with doing The Town this season and getting to play sort of two characters?

Blake Lively:   It’s been a challenge just because of the hours. I’m working on The Town on my weekends and my holidays and flying to Boston overnight and then shooting the next morning. But it also, you know, when you are on a TV show, a character can get stale, so getting to also portray another character simultaneously, and come back to this character, it makes the character of Gossip Girl fresher, and it also is very exciting to get away from it and to play another role. And just anytime that I get to do a film, I’m so thrilled because I love watching movies, I love making movies, and the movies that I made, I’ve been very proud to be a part of.

MoviesOnline:   Can you talk a little bit about your character and how Ben Affleck has been as a director to work with?

Blake Lively:   My character, she was originally 37, but when they cast me, we had to write it down to 29, because I fought for this role, but she’s a 29-year-old drug dealing townie from Boston, who’s on welfare and has a two-year-old child. So it’s very different and this is Ben’s baby project, and he’s done a lot of the rewrites and he’s directed it and starred in it, and it’s been just a wonderful experience. 

MoviesOnline:   What did you like exploring about the 70s and 80s, because you get to play Pippa in all these different decades?

Blake Lively:   I loved the look. For me, I really feel like a character when I look like them. So, it was just being a young Pippa and having the long straight hair, and no make-up and feeling pure and innocent to older Pippa with the crimped hair and all the makeup and hiding behind this mask of this character. I love fashion, so to wear different clothes and different looks, that was fun.

“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” opens in theaters on Friday, November 27th. 

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