Rebecca Pidgeon is sitting barefoot on a leather couch in her Santa Monica home, a guitar in one hand and a dog biscuit in the other. The sunny room is filled with things she loves: Books. Photographs of her husband, Pulitzer-prize winning writer-director David Mamet and their two children Noah, 14 and Clara, 18. A quirky collection of porcelain dogs. A sign that says “Cash Bar.” And the family poodle Queenie — named after a math-loving character in Patrick O’Brian’s nautical historical novels — next to her feet waiting for a treat. “My husband said to me the other day, ‘You know Rebecca, I’ve been with you for 22 years and you’re still fascinating to me. I have no idea what is going on in your head!’,” she says. “I replied, ‘Well, my darling, I’m so glad you have no idea because it’s probably much more simple than you think.'”
She might be right, but simple is hardly the way to describe Rebecca. An acclaimed actress — she’s had roles in many of Mamet’s films including The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main and most recently HBO’s Emmy-nominated Phil Spector — she’s also a recording artist with a career that spans more than 20 years. Her 2012 album Slingshot, produced by the legendary Larry Klein, garnered rave reviews and a Grammy nomination. Now, with her seventh solo album Blue Dress On, she’s delivered yet another stunning set of tunes. “I’ve always had the impulse to want to explore different worlds,” says Rebecca. “It’s that impulse that propels me into both acting and songwriting. You have to let yourself go completely and it’s really fun.”
What keeps her grounded is her family. Her marriage to Mamet is one of those happy collaborations where two creative minds meet and allow each other to flourish. The couple first met in 1990 when Rebecca was acting in his play Speed-the-Plow in London and they’ve worked together frequently since. Mamet has even helped his wife write a few lyrics. But it’s Rebecca’s imagination and quirky wit that shines through in her songs. The result is music that’s delightful, elusive, often bittersweet and more than a little bit magical.
Ulrica: Your new album has a real live feel to it, as if you’re listening to a live band.
Rebecca: It sounds alive instead of dead! It’s like drinking raw milk instead of dead, pasteurized milk. It turns it into a living thing and I think it’s beautiful. I find it very liberating.
Ulrica: You experienced some pretty funny challenges when recording this album.
Rebecca: I produced it with Tim Young at a studio that was located above a very loud gym. We had to do recording over the sound of literal shrieks from weight lifters as they were lifting weights and then banging them down on the floor so hard the building would shake. And they had very loud music! I guess in some way it helped with the alternative, British sound that I was looking for. We also did things like dropping silverware into a colander for percussion.
Rebecca and her family’s home was designed by friend and interior designer Kathryn M. Ireland. The couch pillow to the right is from Kathryn’s Morocco Meets Mexico collection.
Ulrica: Your lyrics about love are often pretty bleak. Since you don’t write about your own marriage, where do you find inspiration?
Rebecca: I’m not very good about writing songs about how much I love my husband. Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys wrote that successful love song, Wouldn’t It Be Nice. It’s much easier for me to write an unhappy love song. I have a force field around my family, so I don’t write about them. It would feel silly to write something along the lines of, ‘I just love you so much!’ You know? Maybe it’s a British thing. There’s a built-in restraint [laugh]. So I find inspiration elsewhere, like in books, music, art…I like to step into different characters or embellish periods of my life and make them more intense. It’s a way for me to spark my imagination.
Ulrica: Your husband is a brilliant writer. Is it intimidating to write a song with him or is it fun?
Rebecca: It’s fun! For the song he wrote on Slingshot, I came to him because I’d been trying to write a Hank Williams-type story and I didn’t feel up to it. I knew it had to be a little love story with a twist. He did it in, like, five seconds. He’s a very fast writer, so if you only get his attention for a tiny bit before he says, ‘Look, I got stuff to do,” then you’ll have something wonderful. So now I try to grab him whenever he’s grabbable and I just know something amazing will come out if it.
Ulrica: You’ve been married for 22 years. What’s your secret?
Rebecca: We both creative and we love to learn new things, so even though we’ve gone through different phases in our journey together, we’ve always been learning together. We both love studying and we’re Jewish, so we go to our synagogue and study with our rabbi. My husband is about to get his pilot’s license and that’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He’s very supportive of me and I hope I’m very supportive of him. I think it’s important to be your spouse’s best friend and supporter. When we got married, our rabbi Larry Kuschner said you always have to laugh at each others’ joke and always fight fair. With that, he meant don’t slam out of the house and not tell your spouse where you’re going. If you’re angry, tell them you ‘re angry, that you have to leave because you don’t trust what you’ll say, and that you’ll be back at such and such a time. That’s fair! And it’s kind. I also admire him so much and I really like him, so that helps. And he always makes me laugh.
Ulrica: You’re a mom to two kids, Noah, 14 and Clara, 18.
Rebecca: I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I love my own mother [Elaine Pidgeon, the director of the Edinburgh Iyengar Yoga Centre] and I’m very close with my family. My mom was always the center of everybody’s life and I never thought I could grow into being a person like that. When I was a child, she felt almost mythical. But then, all of a sudden, you get married and you have children and suddenly you’re running everything and people depend on you. And you love them more than yourself. I know not everybody’s built for having a family, but I was and it’s the most important thing in my life. Sometimes I wonder why, with all the trouble they give you! At the same time, I’m a working person and if I couldn’t work I would be miserable.
Ulrica: What rules do you live by when it comes to your health?
Rebecca: I try to eat organic and properly raised food. I’m a bit of a health nut, I guess. A perfect day would be for me would be to drive my son to school, bike to my yoga class, do vocal exercises and write and get him back from school. That would make me feel pretty fantastic.
Rebecca does her thing: playing guitar and acting a little silly.
The family’s 10-year-old poodle Queenie is “hysterically funny,” says Rebecca, who loves that her dog is named after a character who was a math whiz. “My son and husband are both allergic, so the poodle was the only dog we could get. She’s such a vital part of our family.”
Rebecca keeps fit by biking and doing yoga. “My mom has been doing yoga for 40 years, so that’s always been an important part of my life,” she says. “It’s how I keep my sanity!”
Rebecca was photographed exclusively at home by award-winning film photographer Elizabeth Messina. All photographs ©2013.