CECILIA PECK AND ONDINE PECK-VOLL
THE LIGHT OF A FAMILY LEGACY.
STORY BY DIANA ADDISON LYLE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CURTIS DAHL
HAIR & MAKE-UP/KATHLEEN HAGAN
STYLING BY JANA RAJLICH
We’re so proud to have Cecilia Peck and her daughter, Ondine Peck-Voll on our May cover for so many vital reasons. The legacy of the Peck family is not only about brilliance in their craft – but about social justice. This is a family courageous enough to challenge racism, sexism, violence and inequities because it’s the right thing to do. Gregory Peck watched his own pharmacist father take care of fellow citizens in La Jolla, California, when they couldn’t afford medications. In his vast acting career, Gregory shone a spotlight on anti-Semitism in the United States in 1947 in Gentleman’s Agreement. It was uncomfortable but necessary. In 1962 he portrayed the compassionate and socially conscious Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird where he garnered an Oscar award for best actor. The character epitomized the person whom Gregory was in real life: a principled man of integrity and a great father to his children. The famous line in the film, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” became a household quote in the US.
Cecilia Peck – who has always viewed her father as her North Star – has carried the family torch together with her accomplished husband, Daniel Voll. The couple is passionate about seeking the truth and telling stories that champion greater social justice.
Cecilia’s accomplishments include being an Emmy-nominated filmmaker for directing and producing the Netflix Original feature documentary “Brave Miss World”, and the Academy Award shortlisted documentary “Shut Up & Sing”, which tracked freedom of speech under the Bush administration through the eyes of country music superstars The Dixie Chicks. She produced “A Conversation With Gregory Peck”, a portrait of her father. As an actress, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance in “The Portrait”, and played the leading role in “Torn Apart”, among others. She performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company in “American Document”, the last ballet choreographed by Graham. A graduate of Princeton University, Cecilia has been a contributing editor at Premiere Magazine (French edition) and Moving Pictures Magazine.
Ondine Peck-Voll displays remarkable maturity for someone who is only on the cusp of turning 16 years old. She views the world with a wide lens and has altruistic conversations that reflect her determination to be a leader in shaping a better tomorrow. In 2017, she started 10th grade at the same boarding school in Switzerland that her mom and uncle attended. It’s now part of an enduring family legacy – spawning citizens of the globe. Impeccably respectfully-mannered, Ondine has taken on leadership roles at her Swiss school – almost immediately. A keen sportswoman, she enjoys the proximity of the Swiss Alps for mountaineering and snow sports. Her brother, Harper, is at the same school and the siblings fly home to Los Angeles regularly to fill up the family home with the same love, laughter and respect that their grandparents engendered.
Q: Your parents, Gregory and Veronique Peck were deeply in love with each other, and you were raised in a home where your parents’ profound mutual respect for each other was always evident. You also witnessed how much they complemented each other. Paint a picture of that atmosphere for us.
Cecilia: My parents were in love from the moment they met until the end of their days. They were on a lifelong journey together. They shared everything; they consulted each other – day and night; they were partners in every way. When they met, my dad was at the peak of his career and my mom was a young but accomplished journalist in Paris. They were both so extraordinary, but I think a part of them was missing until they found each other and when they did, they became whole.
Q: How did you navigate the pressure of having highly-accomplished parents and a very famous dad?
Cecilia: I didn’t feel pressured by their accomplishments; I felt inspired by them. My dad is my North Star; his integrity and kindness and humor still guide me. My mom was fascinating, brilliant and the most fun. She was whom everyone wanted to sit with at dinner. They accomplished so much together. They championed and supported artists, racial and gender equality, social justice. My mom created incredible dinner parties with their film, theater, music, arts and activist friends. I got to grow up around Harper Lee, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Norman Lear, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Zubin Mehta, and so many more. My parents were both highly literary and loved discussing books, films, history, art, and politics. And they were romantic. You could see their faces light up for each other across a room. Because of them I believe in true love – I watched it up close and saw it endure. My mom would rehearse all of my dad’s lines with him and make it feel like home wherever they were on location. I spent my childhood on film sets, where I was able to witness the collaborative world of filmmaking. With all of that, my parents still made every effort to give us a normal upbringing. My dad drove us to school every day, took us to Dodger games, and on the weekends he would pile us into the station wagon with the dogs, pick up buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and take us to Zuma Beach.
Q: The moral character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was so movingly and compellingly conveyed by your dad. Describe the aspect of social consciousness that permeated your home as you grew up.
Cecilia: My dad had always been a champion of stories that needed to be told. He grew up during hard times in the Depression. His Irish father was a pharmacist in La Jolla, California, who would treat patients in the drugstore even when they didn’t have the means to pay their bills. My dad developed a social conscience early on, and he was often drawn to films that dealt with social issues. In 1947 he championed the film Gentleman’s Agreement, which took a hard look at anti-Semitism in the US after the war. He went on to make so many impactful films. He wanted to take on racial injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird. He put everything he had into the role of Atticus, but I think Atticus also gave a lot to him. I believe he was a good father before he played that role, but maybe Atticus gave him even more permission to be everything he wanted to be as a father and as a man. When Alan Pakula and Bob Mulligan sent him Harper Lee’s novel, he and my mom stayed up all night reading it and he couldn’t wait for morning to call and accept the role. His original shooting script is in the Academy Museum on La Cienega. Every page is covered with his notes and thoughts. On the last page of the script, my dad scrawled four words right under where it says – The End. I suppose he was summing it up for himself. He wrote: FAIRNESS. COURAGE. STUBBORNESS. LOVE.
Q: You attended boarding school in Switzerland in your high school years. Your daughter, Ondine, and son, Harper, are attending the same boarding school right now. After that, you graduated from Princeton University. What are your family’s views on education?
Cecilia: My father always stressed the value of education. I went to boarding school at Aiglon College in Switzerland because my dad was working in Europe during those years. Aiglon had a strong mountaineering program and as part of the curriculum we scaled all of the high Alps in Switzerland, sleeping in tents or mountain huts. After the 9th grade in Santa Monica, both of our children asked if they could go to the same school. They wanted to see more of the world, and they wanted to experience nature the way I had. We miss them so much, but they’re growing up to be global citizens. The village where they go to school harbors refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, and our kids interact with them through some very meaningful programs with their school. They are also climbing the same mountains I climbed, and those challenging expeditions were very important to me, pushing past the physical pain and gaining confidence from reaching a summit.
Q: Having had the exemplary example of your parents’ marriage, you met your husband, Daniel Voll, an accomplished writer. What clicked there and how would you describe the ingredients that have solidified your relationship?
Cecilia: Daniel is Midwestern, which says so much. The Midwest is the salt of the earth. He was born in Chicago and grew up throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. My in-laws live in Minneapolis now, and we visit them as much as we can. Daniel is whipsmart and has a very madcap sense of humor, with incredibly solid and decent values. When I met him, he had just come back from chasing down a war criminal in Bosnia for Esquire magazine. And I was also working on a film set in Bosnia about women survivors of rape as a weapon of war. We’ve also worked together producing and writing documentaries and scripts, and we always share our work with each other. Daniel’s parents were marriage counselors together, so he comes from a background of talking things through. No matter what hits us, I trust that Daniel and I will be able to deal with it together and solve it. We met in New York where we were both living, but we’ve made our home in Santa Monica. Daniel and I’ve been together for 20 years and we just wish we’d met sooner. There’s so much we still want to do together.
Q: As an actress, you were nominated for a Golden Globe Award for “The Portrait” in which you played the daughter of your father’s character. Thereafter you were drawn to filmmaking and you apprenticed with Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple.
Cecilia: I went to acting school in New York when I graduated from Princeton, and started working in plays off and on Broadway. Then I got work acting in films and TV – and did films I’m proud of – including one called “Torn Apart” – shot in Israel. I also had the amazing experience of playing my dad’s daughter in The Portrait, directed by Arthur Penn with Lauren Bacall playing my mother. But I always had a video camera in my hand and would film little verité pieces and ask friends to cut them together. Then in 1997 Barbara Kopple was looking for a PA who spoke French for a project she was doing, and I jumped at the chance. After that I went to work for her at Cabin Creek Films in New York, which was the greatest documentary apprenticeship one could ever have.
Q: That led to your first feature length film, “A Conversation with Gregory Peck”. Describe how that evolved.
Cecilia: Barbara and I had gone to Buffalo to see my dad’s one-man show – an evening of stories about his life and career – showing film clips, and a Q and A with the audience. He was traveling the country and performing this show with gusto in his 80’s! We were going to film one of the shows as a favor to him so that he would have a record of it. When we got there, we watched him being so intimate with the audience and so funny with his Irish wit and great storytelling. Barbara and I said to each other, “This should be a movie”. We got on the phone and found funding and stayed with him on the road – shooting for the next year. My dad called us his “little torturers,” but he was very candid and revealing, in a way that he never could have been with anyone else. It’s such a personal portrait and for anyone who wants to know what my dad was really like, I think it captures the essence of him, his great sense of humor, his love for my mom, the things he really cared about. The film premiered at Cannes and was on TCM, American Masters, and is now streaming on Netflix.
Q: “Shut Up and Sing” about the Dixie Chicks was your next project. Describe how that came about and what did you learn as you made the documentary?
Cecilia: When we began making the film, the Dixie Chicks were the number one selling female band in the world. An unplanned comment made onstage in London, critical of President Bush for the invasion of Iraq, led to the Dixie Chicks being banned from country radio. As filmmakers we had remarkable access as we watched what happened to the band for opposing the Bush administration and the invasion of Iraq. We saw the band triumph over adversity by turning to their art, to motherhood, and to their strong bond of friendship. The film followed the writing and recording of their album, Taking the Long Way, which won six Grammys. It’s a look at freedom of speech in America through the eyes of three supremely talented young women who dared to speak out against an impending war that would send so many young US soldiers and innocent Iraqis to their deaths.
Q: “Brave Miss World” was a long-time documentary journey in which your passion for the subject and the responsibility of conveying the truth resonated deeply with audiences. Describe that journey.
Cecilia: Linor Abargil was an 18-year-old Israeli fashion model when she was abducted and brutally raped in Milan, Italy. Seven weeks later, she was crowned Miss World. That night, she vowed to herself that one day she would do something to help other girls who had been raped. In the film, tears run down Linor’s face as the crown is placed on her head. No one knew that she had just been through a horrific ordeal and nearly lost her life. But she believed that the rape and winning the crown must have happened so close together for a reason, and she was determined to give real meaning to her Miss World crown. It took Linor ten years to heal, before she and her friend Motty Reif, who is in the film and also a producer, came to Los Angeles looking for a female filmmaker. They saw “Shut Up & Sing” – which was in the theaters at the time – and then tracked me down. The documentary took five years, and we filmed across the world, from Israel to South Africa, across the United States, and ultimately back to Italy, where Linor had been raped. Making the film, telling her story, and hearing stories from so many other women became very hard on Linor, and at one time she had to take a break for six months. It was also very hard to fund the film and many times we had to stop and raise money for the next shoot. But in a way it was in our favor because Linor transformed entirely during the course of the film. She not only became an activist, but she graduated from law school and began practicing criminal law, defending other women who were victims.
Q: “Brave Miss World” was nominated for an Emmy, and is now streaming on Netflix with four new episodes recently added. The film’s website www.bravemissworld.com, with over seven million visitors, is now the #1 site in the world on google search for survivors seeking to share their stories. What were the profound lessons you came away with upon completing the project?
Cecilia: We made the film before the #metoo and the #timesup movements. In many ways, we felt alone, without a compass as we set out to document Linor’s story. Along with my producing partner and editor Inbal Lessner, we learned so much from Linor and the other survivors who broke their silence. Many of them spoke for the very first time to our camera. Their bravery was inspiring and came from a desire to reach out and help others to heal. In part, Brave Miss World is a guide to anyone who is close to a victim of rape or sexual assault. Linor’s mother, her best friend Motty, and her husband Oron are all role models for how to support someone who has been raped. The first words a survivor hears are so important – whether they come from a family member, a school authority, a police officer, or an HR department. The right words are: “I believe you, I trust you, and I’m here to support you.” The reason Linor wanted to make Brave Miss World, and the main message we hope it communicates, is the importance of not staying silent.
Linor strongly believes that unless you talk about sexual assault, whether to a family member, a close friend, or a help line, your self-esteem and ability to heal will be impaired. Linor inspires others by her example – that you can heal and go on to feel whole and trust others and have a healthy life. But it takes work. The film’s ultimate message is very empowering – that you can take it into your own hands and fight to heal, and come out stronger on the other side. Linor used the laws in her country to fight back, and she fought to change laws to benefit rape survivors. Women across this country and the world are doing that right now.
Q: Your 18-year-old son, Harper, and daughter, Ondine, who is 15, are your much-loved children. However, having children while still pursuing a fulfilling career in the US is complex. What are the changes you’d like to see in this country to insure that women are able to accomplish both without feeling conflicted?
Cecilia: When I was pregnant with Harper, I was shooting a documentary on death row in Huntsville, Texas. So he was there with me, and in a sense I’ve always carried my children to work. They both interned on my films and have seen what it takes from a concept to a finished film. They both have technical expertise as well as good story sense. They’ve been with me on locations, in the edit room, at film festivals and college screenings. My husband and I have been able to trade off a lot over the years as we each worked on intense projects, but in the end, I want my kids to respect the place of both love and meaningful work at the center of our lives. Good work is always hard, and everything takes longer than you think, and most of life is collaborative. If they can learn that by watching me balance work, marriage and mothering, that’s all I can hope for. It has helped that the great resurgence of documentary filmmaking over the past decade owes so much to women filmmakers, producers and editors. And I’m doing all I can to pay forward what remarkable female mentors like Barbara Kopple gave me, and I know that my children, whatever careers they choose, will have that example.
Q: What are your family’s priorities and what are the characteristics and principles that you most value? In that sense, do you feel you are carrying the torch of your parents’ legacy?
Cecilia: My father’s films definitely had an impact on me. Above all he wanted to be a good storyteller and entertain audiences, and he didn’t choose films just because he thought they would make a social impact, but he was definitely interested in those themes. He made so many beautiful films that weren’t about social justice, great stories that created loved characters like in “Roman Holiday”, “The Guns of Navarone”, and so many more. But maybe he was one of the only movie stars of his stature who was willing to be in controversial films like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Gentleman’s Agreement”. My father’s values and character were very similar to Atticus Finch, and along with being influenced by those characters, maybe I inherited a bit of that compulsion to uphold justice. I’d say he left me a desire to make beautiful and meaningful films, and a strong work ethic. But both my parents also had a huge sense of fun, and in the midst of the hardest work, there was always joy and celebration. They looked for beauty, laughter, and community, and they found that here in Los Angeles, a city they both adored.
Q: What are your hopes and dreams for Harper and Ondine?
Cecilia: I hope for them to make the most of their education, to be passionate about their work, and to be kind and loving people. I also hope they will always call home!
Q: Tell us about your next feature film.
Cecilia: I’ve written a feature script with my writing partner, Kelly Wolf. It’s set in Memphis, amidst a family trying to maintain their veneer of civility when a daughter’s downward spiral threatens to disgrace them. It’s a women-driven story with strong female roles, and we have wonderful producers attached.
Q: Favorite food recipe of all time?
Cecilia: Tarte tatin. But there’s a secret in the recipe that I’m sworn never to reveal!
Q: Favorite indulgence on a rainy weekend
Cecilia: Watching documentaries curled up on a couch with my husband and the dogs, with a fire crackling in the fireplace.
Q: Your all-time favorite film in which your dad starred?
Cecilia: I have to say both To Kill a Mockingbird and Roman Holiday.
Q: Place in the world that you love visiting?
Cecilia: La Jolla, California, where dad was born. He founded the La Jolla Playhouse and always went back. We spent a lot of time as kids at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, and we take our own kids there now. It’s old California style and I love walking the cove and swimming in the sea like I used to do with my dad.
Q: Special pets?
Cecilia: My husband had a pet skunk and a monkey in his Midwestern childhood, but I’ve always been a dog lover! My mom passed away five years ago and we have her Brussels Griffon, Piu Piu, and our beloved wire-haired fox terrier. Mojo. They’re so intelligent and understand everything. Dogs also speak, if we know how to listen.
Q: Humor-filled moments you remember that always make you laugh?
Cecilia: We were lucky to spend a lot of time with Harper Lee, who was like family to us and who always made us laugh. Daniel and I had many dinners with her in our New York apartment, and visits with her in Monroeville, Alabama. She was so witty and uncensored, and there was always a twinkle in her eye. She once described her childhood friend Truman Capote as a “fabulist” who believed you should “never tell the truth when a lie would do!”
Q: Greatest hope for the world?
Cecilia: Progressive women finding their voices and their power.
Brave Miss World recently launched on Netflix and is an important resource for women all over the world. It can be viewed at: https://www.netflix.com/watch/80222140?trackId=200257858
Q: You’ve grown up in L.A. with a very famous grandfather, Gregory Peck, and your mom and dad, Cecilia and Daniel, are both highly-accomplished professionals. What has it been like to grow up in this family of achievers?
Ondine: Growing up with so many amazing influences in my life has been so inspiring. Even though I only had my grandfather until I was one, he has continued to be with me every day. I was very close to my grandmother, Veronique, who only passed away a few years ago. I called her Babu, and she influenced me a lot. She was beautiful and also very fun and mischievous. When she was eighty I was ten, and we were best friends. She talked to me a lot about my grandfather. To me they were the ultimate style icons, and I love looking at photos of the two of them. She grew up in Paris, and when she moved to Los Angeles with my grandfather, she had a big influence on fashion with her French couture. I have many of her dresses, and I love wearing them. I’m her size. Her Courrèges dresses especially – they were so ahead of their time and are amazing. I was recently in Paris with my mom to help her with a documentary project that she’s doing on my grandmother and we visited the couture houses that originally dressed her, and went to the Dior Exhibition at the Louvre.
Q: Of all the movies your grandfather made, what are your favorites?
Ondine: My favorite is To Kill a Mockingbird. That is really the movie I grew up on and that helped shape my values. I’m so proud of my grandfather for making that film. I don’t understand how racism can still exist in the United States. The Omen is definitely a favorite as well. When I was very little, I wasn’t allowed to see it, because it was too scary. But when I finally got to see it, I fell in love with horror movies. I think my grandfather would have loved Get Out!
Q: Of all the films your mom has done, what are you most proud of?
Ondine: When I was growing up, my mom was making the documentaries Shut Up & Sing and Brave Miss World. I love them both. They’re like my sisters! I mean I really grew up with them, and I was there when they were born. I got to cheer them on and help, and even travel with my mom. Maybe because I really saw how hard it is to make a documentary, I admire all documentary filmmakers. With Brave Miss World I think my mom was one of the first filmmakers to make a film that helped survivors of rape feel that it was ok to talk about it and it wasn’t their fault and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Q: Your dad has written journalism, fiction, plays, doc-umentaries and now a new series for Showtime. Of all the projects your dad has written, what are you most proud of?
Ondine: One of my best friends in the world, Jelani, I met because my dad was writing an article for Esquire about growing up in South Central Los Angeles. I love reading all the drafts of my dad’s work to see how much it changes, and so I can figure out what’s in his head!
Q: When you turned 15, you followed in the footsteps of your family members by attending an international boarding school in Switzerland. Describe that whole experience
Ondine: It was really hard to leave my LA school, Crossroads. I’d been with my friends there since kindergarten. But my brother Harper was at Aiglon and he was making friends from all over the world and getting to travel around Europe with the school and having so many incredible experiences. So I asked if I could go for 10th grade. I love it. Right now in the winter term we ski or board at least three times a week. We also do a lot of mountain expeditions, climbing all of the High Alps and sleeping in tents and huts on glaciers, and ice-climbing. I’m doing the GCSE right now. It’s an IB school, so the academics are hard but the teachers are great and the music and theater programs are getting me even more interested in the arts and my own creative side.
Q: Your mom is a strong advocate for women. How has her work and her knowledge on the topic impacted you? As a young woman in a changing world, what is your stance, and what are the types of conversations you enjoy having with other teenagers?
Ondine: My mom started making Brave Miss World when I was 7, so there were always conversations about women surviving sexual assault and not staying silent. I grew up with a very first-hand awareness of these issues and in general the importance of women having a voice. At my school in Los Angeles, Crossroads, all of those issues were part of the curriculum. My European school doesn’t have as much of a focus on things like body awareness, gender equality, and in general on women’s issues. But I got a really good foundation at Crossroads. And as a young woman facing college and a career, the fact that women should have equal opportunity from equal pay to equal hiring, shouldn’t still be something women have to flight for but we do. And I’m ready to do my part.
Q: You come home to LA on your school holidays. What is life like back in LA when you get together with all your friends?
Ondine: It’s the best! As soon as I get home, the first thing I want to do is have a really good meal at home with my family, and then I go to see my friends. I’m still so close to them, my bonds with my Crossroads friends are for life. I miss the beach and surfing, so I always go to the beach. We love going to the movies. It’s so fun to be home because lots of my friends in LA are getting their drivers licenses.
Q: What are your aspirations once you leave school in Switzerland?
Ondine: I’ve had a summer internship where I was hired by a firm to create a digital guide to help clients use Snapchat for marketing. This summer I have an internship at Charlotte Tilbury in London. I’m really excited about working at a company founded by and run by a woman. I think I have a lot to contribute with my social media skills and marketing ideas. I want to be part of creating work opportunities for women and start a women-run company with equal pay and positions regardless of gender.
Once I graduate high school, I hope to go to Princeton University, like my mom. I’m currently taking a business course at Aiglon and will continue to pursue business in University. I’m also head of the film club at my school, which is another interest of mine. My dream is to go into media/business.
Q: Favorite food?
Ondine: Mushroom risotto, and my favorite dessert is coconut cake. I also can’t live without salad.
Q: Favorite fun activity with your friends?
Ondine: I love going to karaoke with my friends.
Q: Favorite place in the world?
Ondine: Dingle, Ireland. It’s the most beautiful place on the planet. My great grandfather grew up there and I love visiting my Irish cousins. Some of our cousins run Ashe’s Pub, where you can get the best butterscotch pudding in the world. Whenever we visit, we take a boat out in Dingle Bay to see the famous local dolphin Fungi, who jumps out of the water and greets you.
Q: Favorite sports/hobbies?
Ondine: I play a lot of sports, including volleyball and basketball at Aiglon. I captain both of those teams. I’m also a surfer and snowboarder. I grew up on a board and refused to ski. But now I’m skiing for the first time at Aiglon because it’s mandatory and I actually really enjoy it! I also play badminton and golf.
Q: What is the most important aspect of your family’s legacy that you want to insure never dies?
Ondine: Working hard and standing up for what’s right.