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INT: Woody Allen

03.25.2005

Meeting and interviewing Woody Allen in person is such a surreal experience. Seeing him on-screen for so many years his personality - the accent, the glasses, the tics, etc. - all become almost cliched. Almost like Arnold Schwarzenegger who's image has become so iconic it has almost transcended itself. I was as fascinated by the man almost as much as I was his answers - and I'm not even that big a fan of his movies. But when you ask a director why he cast his lead actress and he answers, "Why not?," well then you have to appreciate the guy.

Can you talk about how the idea for MELINDA evolved? In the past, I had ideas that I felt would work as a comic idea, and then five minutes later I would think, Gee, this would be a very good drama. It’s a story that would work just as well as a serious story. And I always made a choice. Here, I thought, She comes to the dinner party. It could make a good romance. She lives downstairs. He gets involved with her. She lives in the same building. And then I thought, This would be very good dramatically, as well. I thought I could combine the two and it could be an interesting experiment. I would learn something and perhaps make some insight about the nature of comedy and drama. And I did the film and learned nothing whatsoever. What convinced you that Radha Mitchell was right for the complex role of MELINDA? That was sheer accident. I’d never heard of her. I was looking at film clips that were sent to me and I saw a clip of PHONE BOOTH, the Joel Schumacher movie. She had a little moment there and she was wonderful. I asked who she was and they said she was Australian. Then they sent me some footage, some independent film … TEN LITTLE LOVE STORIES? I can’t remember what it was. It was black and white footage and she was great. She was absolutely great, and I thought, Why not? Nobody knows her. She’s beautiful. She’s talented. It was hard to find someone who had a light touch, that could play light romantically and also could suddenly get very, very heavy. This was not an easy role to cast. Again, I was very lucky that she was available and wanted to do it. Do you see movies more comedically or tragically? I see them funny. This is my curse. When I was younger, I wanted to be a dramatic writer, a writer of tragedy. Nothing would’ve pleased me more than if I could have written like Eugene O’Neil or Tennessee Williams. That, to me, is just great. My gift was in comedy. I found out I could make jokes. I could tell jokes. I could write them. So over the years, that’s what I’ve done. But to get an opportunity to write something dramatic is great fun for me. It’s just a pleasure for me. All your films have a certain signature... This is either good or bad. You know, people are forever criticizing me, saying, "Well, they’re all the same." Now, I don’t see them as the same. But I’m not right. I don’t see any similarities between EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU and ZELIG and this picture and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and ANNIE HALL. I don’t see great similarities. But I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that it’s like Chinese food, There’s a hundred different dishes, but in the end it’s all Chinese food. So there’s something about my films. They’re informed by my sensibility. I have the same preoccupations, the same, the same interests. There’s just something in the nuance, and so you so you always know it’s a film of mine whether I sign my name to it or not. You ‘re just used to seeing that point of view come through, whether it’s in a musical like EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU or a murder mystery like MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY. To me, some of these films are so diverse, but people don’t see them that way and I can understand why they don’t. Do you find it bizarre how in depth some people dissect your works? I do find it strange because the naiveté with which we [film movies] is so far removed from the complexity of the papers that I read. We’re sitting there and we’re thinking, God, how are we going to make this scene work? It’s dying. Let’s grab something from the end of the picture and stick it over here, otherwise it’s not going to work. And, quick, let’s change this piece of music. It’s so patchwork and fighting for survival when you put the film together. And then someone will send me a thesis and it’s as though I was trying, with a forehand knowledge, to do this, as if it was all done by design. But it isn’t. And I’m only shocked that I see a huge amount of papers and books and masters degrees written by social psychologists and analysts. It’s the strangest thing to me. And sometimes when I leaf through them, some of the insights are good and some of them are, to me, preposterous.

How do you know when to put yourself in a film? Only if when I’m writing there’s a part for me I’ll do it. When I was writing MELINDA – and this December I’ll be 70 – I knew that I was not going to be able to play this part. You needed someone decades younger than me. So I never thought I’d be in it at any point. But when I’m writing something, if there’s a part that’s good for me, then I’ll play it. Otherwise, I don’t. And I notice that there are less and less parts for me in my own writing. When I naturally write a story and I feel that the guy sitting across the table from the girl and flirting with her… I think, God, that can’t be me because I’m just too old for that part. You need a 30-year-old or a 35-year-old for that part. And so I’ve given myself less and less roles. I’m hoping that I’d come up with an idea that’d be great for someone like myself. I know when you get older… a guy like Walter Matthau did some very funny things. But you have to get a part. Would the Will Ferrell role have been yours ? Oh yes, I would have loved to have played that role, but I couldn’t. That would’ve been the role that I played years ago. Now, as I say, there are things that I couldn’t have gotten in there, that he did execute. I think I wouldn’t have been as sweet and vulnerable as him. He’s just like a big teddy bear that breaks your heart. I would have been with the glasses, looking more intellectual, and you’d be waiting for the snappy line. You don’t with Will. It’s a different thing. But years ago I would have definitely played that. I would have loved to. Did you always see Ellis Moonshine (played by Chiwetel Ejoifor) as a black character? I always saw him as a black character, yes. I thought that they want to fix this woman up, and they fix her up with this stiff. She goes to this party and the guy at the piano is a fan of the opera and kind of gorgeous and full of feeling, and I’d always seen him as a black character. So in the comedy story, I thought, I could also use a black actor to match with that. And I’d always felt it would be Chewy. As soon as I saw DIRTY PRETTY THINGS I thought, This guy’s great. He’s gorgeous and he can act great. And he was available. I was very lucky because I caught him during two months when he wasn’t doing anything. How differently do you go about writing a comedy versus a drama? And how different is the set on a comedy versus a drama? On the set, there’s no difference. You’d think they’re both boring if you were watching both cases. The comedies are not a million laughs on the set. It’s business and the dramas are business as well, really. When I’m writing it I struggle more with drama because I started out in comedy. I’d always wanted to be a dramatic. Comedy comes more naturally to me. I can do it with more facility. So I feel more comfortable with it. Drama, it would be as if you wrote some poetry. You’d run the risk of being embarrassed if people read it, because you’re pouring your heart out and you’re not mitigating it with any humor or anything. It’s just out there.

That’s what happens when you’re writing drama. It’s serious and you think you don’t want people to hear it and say, Oh God, what is this poor jerk thinking when he writes that. It’s so awful and so embarrassing and so heartfelt. It’s meant to be drama and it’s so awful. In comedy, you never think that. It’s jokes and there’s always one foot in, "I’m just kidding." It always saves you. So I always get trepidatious when I write drama and I don’t move in it as comfortably as I could, whereas – not to make any comparison here – a writer like Eugene O’Neill or Ingmar Bergman, they feel totally at home in the most dramatic, serious things, and not as comfortable in comedy. When they tried comedy they’re not great at it, as great as they are. I wish I had their problem, but I don’t. I have mine. How has filming in New York changed over the years? It has not changed much. It’s fine, filming in New York. The unions are difficult in New York, because it’s expensive. Various mayors have tried to make it more livable for us, and the film board and the film commission in New York have tried to be helpful. And it is a fairly film-friendly city. It’s just very expensive. But it’s fine. I’m always shocked that any movie I come up with, whether it’s a contemporary movie or a movie in the 20s or the 30s, Santo Loquasto can always find new locations, new 1920s places, new 1940s places. It’s just astonishing to me. I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of the city, and I’ve worked a LOT in the city. I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface. If we wanted to make a film tomorrow about New York in 1915 he’d go out and show me 10 places that have scarcely changed inside and would find streets that, if you look at them right and remove the parking meters for that hour that you shoot, they look just like they looked. So it’s a great place to shoot. It really is. You said you’re about to turn 70 in December. How scary is that for you? This is VERY scary. I can’t minimize the terror factor. As you get older you get more and more frightened because the terrible indignities of old age become closer to you. And even if you don’t experience them yet, which I haven’t – I’ve been in good health, thank God – you know they’re not 60 years down the line. What’s scarier, that or knowing you only have 10 or 20 films left in you? It’s not the films so much. It’s the actual breathing that’s bothersome! What's your next project? I shot a film called MATCH POINT with Scarlett Johansson. It’s going to be at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It’s a drama. And I’m very bullish about it. I’m usually not. I usually want to crawl into the ground after I make a film, almost invariably, but I’m very bullish about it because she’s such a strong actress.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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