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INT: Johansson / Rhys-Meyers

12.29.2005

Woody Allen’s the type of director that actors fall all over themselves to work with. Doesn’t matter what the script looks like (the actors rarely get to see his scripts in their entirety); when Woody calls, they come running. And they’re willing work for next to nothing.

Allen’s latest film, MATCH POINT, features two of today’s brightest young talents, Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. I got a chance to talk with them last week about the Woody Allen mystique. Check it out.

Scarlett Johansson Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

Scarlett, did you and Woody bond with each other early on, seeing as you were the only Americans working on the film?

Johansson: Well, as Matthew Goode said yesterday, I speak English pretty well. (Laughs) And I got along ok with everybody. I have some family there and I’ve spent a lot of time there on holidays and vacationing. So, I was happy to be there and to get a chance to hang out with friends. And we had such a great cast. Everybody is so fun and personable and interesting. I think I was just excited to be on such a nice production. I kind of was interested in everybody on the show.

Were you intimidated at all going in?

Johansson: Yeah, I have been a big fan of Woody’s before I was supposed to be watching his movies. And I was nervous. I was definitely nervous. I don’t know if I was intimidated…I was really cast the week before we started shooting. We did these camera tests which were horrible…and Woody was just kind of there and he said, “Hi, I’m Woody Allen.” And he stepped behind the camera and you start coming out in all these outfits. It’s like my worst nightmare.

The next day we started shooting. We shot a scene where my character, to my misfortune, has to explain her entire history to Johnny’s character and you don’t expect on your first day of working with Woody Allen that you’re going to have five pages of dialogue. So, yeah, I was nervous. My first take was horrible. But, then I realized that I better suck it up, because I was going to have seven weeks of this.

Woody has a reputation for not giving his actors a lot of guidance. How challenging was that for you?

Rhys-Meyers: It’s strange; this film was not difficult to make in any way. It was the easiest and most relaxing film I’ve ever done. I never really thought of it as a comedy in a way. There wasn’t really anything comical in it. There were some comical moments of course, but that’s not really what this film is about. I think Woody wanted to make a dramatic film. He didn’t try to over intellectualize it. He didn’t try to make the characters more complex then they already were. It’s a very straightforward story that is logically directed and simply told. Which makes it even more fascinating. Simple is more fascinating than trying to over complex something or over intellectualize something, because you become over analytical about story that’s very simple. As far as shooting it, Woody is a very, very, hands-off director…if he was a young, unproven director it would be awkward, but he’s a proven genius. You can feel you can trust him.

So when he casts you in a movie, he doesn’t cast you so he has to sit there for three hours a day and explain a scene to you, because that would bore Woody. He casts you because you are 80% the character when you wake up in the morning. You only have to bring 20% to work and fill in the dots. And that’s pretty much what it is. He knew what he wanted from all the people before he cast them in the film. And what was kind of nice, even though my first scene in the film is when I’m sitting on the bench explaining to my friend why I am having an affair with a woman, that’s an awkward scene to do first. And I said to Woody, “I am nervous.”

And he gave me that answer that I was 80% of the character when I woke up in the morning and just shoot the film and it’s all very relaxed and don’t bother me while I eat my muffin sort of thing. (Laughs.) But, I didn’t idolize Woody Allen. I think he’s a genius, but I made that mistake with one director before, of kind of idolizing him too much and feeling spurned if I didn’t get the attention I wanted. I had to equalize myself working with Woody, which is kind of difficult, because I can’t work for somebody. I can work with somebody, but my mental capacity won’t let me work for somebody. Because, I don’t think it brings good things to the film. He’s a very, very democratic director.

How he eliminates ego is doesn’t pay anyone. Because for me – and I’ve scene it in so many films – the two detrimental things in making a film are sex and ego. So, don’t sleep with your co-stars and get paid as much as them. That eliminates all those things. And then it becomes just about the work. And it was very, very much about the work this film.

Jonathan, can you tell us a little about your character, Chris?

Rhys-Meyers: He’s a flawed man. He’s much like any other man. Regardless of how healthy the relationship is, all men look at other women. All men have desires for other women; it’s just whether they act on them or not.

Johansson: All women look at other men too. I think it’s a huge misconception and it’s interesting that Woody touched on it, because it’s true. The character is very confident and we agree to have this affair…but it’s particularly – maybe it’s not even in this country, but it’s a world wide thing that women don’t desire other men outside of their marriage or look at other men. And they do.

Rhys-Meyers: I agree. I couldn’t imagine why they wouldn’t. And in this day in age, there is this misconception that men look at other women more than women look at other men or desire them more. Bullshit. It’s easier for a woman to get laid then a man to get laid, quite seriously. (Laughs.) A woman can get laid if she goes to a nightclub. So, it seems like it’s more on a plate for a woman than it ever is for a man. So, I completely agree with that point of view. It is desirable. But, in context of what I liked about the character, I liked some things.

He’s a good person in a bad situation. He makes some choices that are moralistically defunct, but he’s a human being and that’s what makes Woody so brilliant, because Woody takes one relationship or two relationships or three relationships and encompasses all the world’s problems. You can deal with most of the problems in the world in the relationship between two human beings. He’s a humanist at his core. Even though he says, “Oh, I don’t like human beings. They bother me.” But, you are the ultimate fucking human! So, all these characters are flawed in many, many ways. And very much so (with) Chris. But there is a lot of things that exist in Chris that exist in me. I can’t take anything that external and bring it inside. I have to take things I recognize and find similarities with the character. I think we can all find similarities with Chris. We’re all ambitious. We all have desires and we all make mistakes.

Scarlett, what about your character?

Johansson: I was attracted to the desperation of the character. A lot of people have said, “Oh, she’s all of a sudden this confident girl and then she turns into this neurotic person.” It’s not really true. She’s very strong-willed; she knows what she wants. She’s making a decision to keep her child. It’s Chris’s empty promises that drive her to desperate measures like going to his house and wanting to confront his wife, because she’s going crazy over it. She’s really desperate in the fact that she wants this. She would have been very happy marrying Tom and having a very nice life and when he finds her in the museum she’s very vulnerable and upset and in continuing this affair with him what may have just been a rebound fling or relationship, because she’s so desperate not to go home …she can’t be a failure. She’s desperate to be in some sort of solid relationship and is ready to build a family. (She) wants to build on something, because she doesn’t have anything. I was attracted to that and I thought it was interesting. It felt real to me. All of her actions were reasonable.

Jonathan, your character is a tennis pro. Did you have to play a lot of tennis to prepare for the role?

Rhys-Meyers: I did. I had to learn how to play tennis. I’m a woeful tennis player. I’d lose versus a one armed man. I’m really that bad. It’s extraordinary, because my youngest, youngest brother is one of Europe’s top ping-pong players. And I can’t play ping-pong either. But, tennis was a great game to use for the film because the sense of the ball going over the net or not going over the net determines your lot in life. But, also, just in terms of the social aspect of the film. Tennis is not a game for the poor. It’s very much an upper middle class game. You don’t find a lot of people with a middle class life spending their afternoons at the tennis club and then having pims afterward. It’s very much a social game and a social status.

Scarlett, you’re working with Woody now on a comedy. Is he different working on a comedy than he is on a film like Match Point?

Johansson: Yeah. I mean, it’s different working with Woody as an actor, because I get to spend more time with him. Which is great. It’s a little bit different doing a comedy with him, because he’s a comic master and that’s his gift. He knows…he’s very definite about timing: “We have to make this scene move faster, because it’s fitting right in after this one. Don’t give me the punchline before I get in the phrase.” It’s just a little more mechanical, but it wasn’t a totally different experience. I was working more, so I had more direction from Woody, but most of that was just “pass the jam” sort of thing. (Laughs.)

So where are you in making Scoops? Will you go back to do anything else on it?

Johansson: We finished it. No, it’s finished. We don’t do pick ups on a Woody Allen film. There is no such thing. (Laughs.) No, when you are done, you’re done. You finish on time. You shoot a 12-hour day, five days a week. It’s very humane. And if he doesn’t like something in dailies then we just go back and reshoot it, he makes time for it. And he has so much time for it, because he has no set up for anything. You have the whole day to reshoot whatever you might need to. We’re done. You don’t even do looping actually. It’s wonderful.

Luck is a major theme in the Match Point. What role do you think luck plays in your lives?

Rhys-Meyers: I believe certain things about luck. I believe certain things different than Woody about it, but I believe luck is opportunity meeting preparation. I think lucky people recognize opportunities when they come and then they push that suggestion as far as it will go. Woody said something last night that was interesting. There is the medical luck. You get a spot on your lung or your liver and some people may say that’s unlucky. But, also you can put it down to scientific genetics or how you life you life. But, there are certain amounts of luck. Luck doesn’t make you successful. It doesn’t make you like a successful movie actor. Luck puts you in the room. It’s what puts you in the room that makes you a successful movie actor. A little but of luck, a lot of hard work and preparation. From my point of view anyway.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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