Peter Dinklage & Rebecca Miller on ‘She Came to Me’ & Tapping Into Madness
Feb 26, 2023
One of the highest honors any director can receive is having one of the films selected to open a film festival. For the 73rd Berlin Film Festival, one of the “big five” in the festival universe, Rebecca Miller’s She Came to Me was chosen to start the festivities, welcoming movie lovers from all around the world with a touching tale of love, destiny, and embracing change. Miller crafted an exceptional film, and with a star-studded cast that includes Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Anne Hathaway, and Joanna Kulig, there was no better way to kickstart 2023’s Berlinale.
She Came to Me stars Dinklage as Peter, an opera composer suffering from a creative blockage until he crosses paths with Katrina (Tomei), a tugboat captain searching for romance. Their fateful encounter brings chaos into Steven’s life, ultimately uniting different people under the same quest for acceptance. First, there’s Steven’s wife, Patricia (Hathaway), a successful psychologist who flirts with a religious life. We also have Magdalena (Kulig), a Polish immigrant forced to rethink her relationship with her daughter and husband. Finally, Harlow Jane and Evan Ellison play a starstruck teenage couple whose love is put to the test due to legal troubles. All these intertwined storylines fit in a complex and emotional portrait of human nature, so we have much to talk about Miller’s latest film.
While covering the festival on-site, I had the opportunity of sitting down with Miller and Dinklage to talk about She Came to Me, how the project came to be, and what’s next for both of them. You can read our full interview below. And don’t worry; we’ve kept spoilers out of the interview.
RELATED: ‘She Came to Me’ Review: Anne Hathaway & Peter Dinklage Excel in Film of Doubts and Regrets | Berlinale 2023
COLLIDER: Thank you for talking with us. I would just want to say that She Came to Me is your best movie yet. I love it!
REBECCA MILLER: Wow, thank you so much!
PETER DINKLAGE: That’s to say a lot. She’s made some great ones.
Yes, she makes great ones. But I was deeply touched by this movie. It’s amazing. I would like to start by asking how Peter got involved with the movie. Did you [Rebecca] write the part already thinking a little bit about Peter? Or did he come after? How did you decide that he would be part of She Came to Me?
DINKLAGE: I want to hear this, I never got to know this.
MILLER: I’ve been writing the part… I mean, I started writing… I started going on tugboats in 2015. I’m trying to figure this world. So I had been trying to figure out the character and the world for a long time. And you know, I admired Peter’s work, and just, there’s some rare combination of comedy and realism, and just the capacity to be so authentic. And also that I felt that he would really be believable as a composer. Honestly, I have a real problem with actors playing other arts, a lot of the time, like people who pretend to be painters, or sculptors or musicians. Very often I don’t believe it. And so I was like, I gotta find somebody. And I don’t know if it’s because I just had this feeling, you know, and also, I found him extremely attractive on film, like, just like, has a kind of magnetism. So I thought, well, this combination of things. And I think that it turned out that your brother was a violinist. So it was a sort of instinctive understanding of being a musician, which is, after all, very different than being an actor. And so the combination, and then we met, and he decided to say yes.
DINKLAGE: Very close to where we shot.
MILLER: Yeah, and we met in Brooklyn Heights and just talked, it was one of those things where you meet somebody that you feel is like from your own tribe without ever having met them. It’s like, just from the same people.
DINKLAGE: Why have we never met? That’s weird. Because New York and what we do, it’s kind of a real crossroad. I’ve known Marisa for 30 years now, I haven’t really worked with her.
MILLER: Yeah, me too.
DINKLAGE: I’ve known for her a while now just because we overlap, whatever.
So about Steven… It’s not been quite so long since you played Cyrano, who was also a composer of sorts, an artist. I was impressed by how you managed to make Steven a completely different character. At first glance, Cyrano and Steven – one works in theater, the other composes opera – so they are similar. But actually, Cyrano is confident and always greets everyone with confidence…
DINKLAGE: Confident, except for one thing.
Image via Berlinale
Yes. But Steven is more self-centered…
DINKLAGE: When an actor brings anything to different roles, there’s a commonality because it’s the same actor, the same sort of DNA. The joy of it is transforming every time. But it doesn’t have to be from Dr. Frankenstein to Frankenstein’s monster, you know, it can be a little bit more subtle shifts. Music is such a big part of my life. I mean, it’s a big part of everybody’s life, you know, and I have a lot of friends who are musicians. My brother is an incredible violinist and my mom was a music school teacher for so long. And I just love how they live and breathe music because music is everywhere.
Like my brother, for example. He has a very different approach to music. It’s not background to him. It’s obsessive. Like whenever I’m in the car with him — and I’ve shared a lot of car rides with him. We drove all around Ireland together. Just him and I and we were talking a lot. We couldn’t play music in the car. We were either talking or listening to music, it’s not background. And that’s not OCD. That’s like, it’s just too important. Doesn’t matter what music it is, and that’s what Rebecca got to embrace. And Bryce and Aaron [Dessner], who did Cyrano, they’re the same way. It’s just, you can see it in them, like their DNA. It’s just different. It’s incredible.
And Rebecca really tapped in visually, I think it’s my favorite stuff in the movie. It’s how she just put the opera in what I’m processing in life and, also I fall in the water and I’m composing underwater, but it’s a movie. So it’s just so like, ‘yes!,’ because that’s what it is, whether it’s happening or not, which I love in a movie as well, like, ‘What am I watching? I’m in!,’ you know. I saw it for the first time last night. When I’m off stage, I’m in red light, because I’m in agony. So Rebecca and Sam Levy [cinematographer] they really bathe me in this red blood, red light. And I’m in the corner, like, just in agony, because I’m thinking they’re gonna mess up what I’ve created. And just, it’s like this inferno. I mean, it’s fantastic. But that’s how musicians, I think – the ones I know are crazy, but lovely, great crazy, funny crazy – that’s how they hear music. It’s just like, it’s not a drumbeat, it’s a heartbeat.
It’s interesting that you mentioned OCD, because She Came to Me is concerned about mental health. All the characters are somehow struggling with their own mental health and finding out who they are and how to deal with these issues. Why did you, [Miller], decide to bring this so strongly in this movie?
MILLER: Well, I think it came naturally. Because pretty much everyone I know has something and I mean, like, and it’s not only because I’m particularly in an extreme group of people, it is that I think human beings in general, finding a so-called normal person is actually quite difficult. The truth is that we’re all dealing with the fact that we’ve been socialized, that there are various ills, societal ills we all have. And then we’re all kind of trying to make the best of it. And so it seemed like it came quite naturally for me to write those characters.
Image via Berlinale
About the script. I understand that you had different micro-stories that you wanted to put together. You had the original She Came to Me short story. And then you had the idea for the therapist who wants to be a nun. And then there’s the young couple. What was the biggest challenge to putting everything together in a cohesive story?
MILLER: Well, it was a huge challenge to figure out. The moment I was like, it was really like, ‘Oh, my God, Katrina has to get on the boat.’ Because there was a boat originally, early, early on, it was Julian [played by Ellison], who was fixing up a boat to be ecologically good, like, with solar panels and stuff. And he had the boat. And then I thought, ‘Well, we have to get Katrina on the boat.’ And then I was like, ‘Well, what if her father’s a tugboat captain? What if she’s a tuck today?’ And it was like a disease, you know, then it was like, ‘Are there any women tugboat captains?’
DINKLAGE: There are now!
MILLER: And it was me and [producer] Damon [Cardasis] sitting in a hotel room when we were publicizing Maggie’s Plan in Chicago, looking up female tugboat captain. But then… I forgot what your question was… [LAUGHS]
What was the biggest challenge of putting the script together?
MILLER: Oh, well, in a way, the biggest challenge was the connectivity, like the connective tissue between these people and how to bring them all together, because what’s fun about the film is that you realize everyone’s connection slowly, like ‘Oh, okay, so you’ve got this man hiding behind a plant, and his wife is trying to get him out,’ so that’s his situation. Then you’ve got these two kids kissing, and the next morning, they’re having breakfast and one of the kids comes downstairs. So you realize, ‘Oh, wait a minute, he’s related to that!’ Then you realize, and it’s slowly you put it together. It was that. That was hard, figuring out the drip feed of information, how to inform the audience and how quickly to inform the audience of the connections so that you then have a sense of ‘Okay, now I know who everybody is.’ And then, of course, the dénouement and how to get there. The other big challenge was the end of the film, the last movement of the film and figuring out how that would work. I don’t want to give everything away but like figuring out the dénouement of the film was hard.
I would just like to ask a little bit about the future. Rebecca, are you already thinking about the next picture? Could you spoil us a little bit about what it’s going to be?
MILLER: Well, I am thinking about the next picture, but I don’t want to jinx it because I’m still working on it. But, I hope, we hope, we [looks at Peter] get to work together again.
Image via Berlinale
That would be amazing!
DINKLAGE: Once you find the right dance partner, get back on the floor. You keep dancing.
And Peter, I’m a big fan of horror, so I have to ask. Could you share some news about Toxic Avenger?
DINKLAGE: Oh, yeah. Hopefully it’s coming out soon. My friend Macon Blair wrote it. I love him now that I know him as a friend. But as a huge fan of his before then it’s not really a horror. It’s just sort of crazy over the top… It’s a violent, road picture kind of thing we did in Bulgaria a couple of years ago. So looking at making another one. Like Rebecca, who I just want to keep working with. Part of the tribe. He’s part of the tribe.
She Came to Me had its world premiere at 2023’s Berlin Film Festival.
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