Penelope Ann Miller is co-starring in what has to be one of the most intriguing films of the year: "The Artist," a black-and-white silent film. That's right -- a silent film, just like those from the 1920s.
Miller stars alongside Jean Dujardin, who plays a movie star who is afraid that the arrival of "talkies" will cause his career to fade into obscurity. Berenice Bejo also stars as a dancer looking for her big break.
"It's a love letter to cinema," Miller says of the buzzed-about film. "It takes it back to its purest, most beautiful form."
Did you think this was a goof when you were offered the role?
Yeah, I was pretty shocked that someone was so daring to make this kind of film. But I was excited about the project. I did the movie "Chaplin" years ago and I did a little bit of silent acting because I played Edna Purviance, one of his leading ladies. So I had a little bit of experience but I love that era, the 20s -- the glamour, the architecture, the wardrobe. So for me it was a great opportunity and I'm an old movie buff.
Did you bone up on Marcel Marceau movies to prepare?
(Laughs) No, it's not like pantomime. We are talking to each other. It's slightly more exaggerated, although I think women of that time held themselves differently, had different mannerisms. I just wanted to be authentic to the period and be accurate. It's a fine line, of course; it's more expressive, and you're really looking at the faces because obviously you can't hear the words, so I didn't want to go over the top or be too subtle.
That period was very glamorous but also very decadent.
The studios protected the artists because their image was so important, but there was a lot of debauchery and decadence, absolutely. People were doing drugs and partying like crazy. But when you look at the cinema in that period, it was so beautiful, so glamorous. You wanted to be those people. Now with tabloids and seeing people walking around in sweats pumping gas you're like, "OK, they're just like us." Movie stars then were real movie stars; they were intangible.
You were the "It girl" for a while in the late 80s, early 90s.
I'm sort of like George Valentin in this movie. I had my heyday, my rise and fall. (Laughs)
Do you ever feel like that?
Sometimes. Now I'm the go-to-girl for silent films.
Was it weird when the phone stopped ringing?
I had a family, I had children, I got married. My ambition changed. Careers don't always go up and stay there. There are very few actors who can sustain that. It's just part of the business. You can't predict when you're not going to get the same opportunities. As you get older, it gets harder to find those same kinds of roles and people also get perceptions and they typecast you. It's humbling. It's sort of part of the deal. Luckily because I had a family and children, my priorities changed. I mean, I'm very passionate about my work but I have other interests and other things that balance my life. It's not the "be-all and end-all" for me. Yeah, sometimes you look at parts and you think, oh that would have been cool to do or that would be nice to make that much money. But I have a husband and children and I like being a wife and mom. It can definitely do a number on you.