by Rainy-Day Kate, published on Thursday, July 5, 2012 - 6:42 PM|
Woody Allen's notoriety is equally literary and visual, his name invoking nebbishly thick-framed glasses just as readily as it does his famed Jew-Yorker patois. His image is so indelibly linked to his artistic output that it is jarring to realize he has not appeared onscreen since his criminally underrated 2006 comedy Scoop. This summer has seen Allen-as-actor make a triumphant return in his new comedy, To Rome With Love, a film stuffed to the brim with notable performers both Italian and American. Yet the participation of such stars as Jesse Eisenberg and Roberto Benigni has done little to tittilate the public: as with his previous films, all eyes are on his female costarsand To Rome With Love offers moviegoers a bevy of them. Recently in Los Angeles to promote the film, Allen spoke at a press conference alongside With Love actresses Alessandra Mastroianni, Alison Pill, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, and Greta Gerwig.
Mr. Allen, when you cast another distinct comedian in your movielike Roberto Benigni in this and Andrew Dice Clay in your next moviehow compatible are they with your style of humor?
WOODY ALLEN: They dont have to be. I cast them because theyre perfect for what Ive written and they, they dont have to in any way be compatible with me. I didnt think Roberto Benigni would be compatible with me, I thought that I would have a difficult time with him, that hed be irrepressible and Id never be able to get his attention. Hed be running around and acting crazy and Id have tobut in the end it turned out that he was quite intellectual and quite poised and quiet, and a pleasure to work with, and it really had nothing to do with my type of comedy, just his role. It was quite easy, actually.
Its been a long time since weve seen you in front of the camera. Why at this particular point and for this particular movie did you decide that you wanted to be in the film?
ALLEN: Um, because there was a part for me. [LAUGHTER] You know, when I write a script, if theres a part for me then I play it. If theres no partand as Ive gotten older the parts have diminished. When I was younger I could always play the lead in the movie, and I could do all the romantic scenes with the, with the women, and it was fun and I liked to play that. Now Im older and Im reduced to playing, you know, the upstaged doorman or, you know, the uncle or something, and I dont really love that. So, essentially, when a part comes up Ill play it.
Alison, Penelope, you two were reteaming with Woody Allen again. What is it about him that makes you want to work with him over and over again?
ALLEN: Do I have to hear this? [LAUGHTER]
PENELOPE CRUZ: You want to start?
ALISON PILL: Um, I will work with this man anytime he asks. Its a joy and a privilege and such a civilized filmmaking environment. And I also appreciate the idea that films can be just because you want to do them and that people will want to see them and youll make them even if they dont want to see them. Thats how I feel as an actor, is just, I just like doing it. Ill act for anybody and Im very lucky that Ive gotten the chance to work with this amazing man more than once.
CRUZ: Me too, I feel extremely lucky. Ive been a fan of his work since I was a little girl and I was very happy first of all to meet him, to be able to spend time with him; he makes me laugh all day long so I feel like the luckiest girl, you know, I can spend time with him and I get, also, to be directed by him and he trusts me enough to give me these beautiful characters. And the only thing is that its always too short! Both times Ive worked with him I did it in three weeks, so I always want more.
ALLEN: I buy that. [LAUGHTER]
Mr. Allen, youve said in the past that you have a drawer and youd pull out the drawer and look at all the different ideas you had and youd say, This one. Is this one of the ideas you had in your drawer?
ALLEN: Noyes, I had a lot of notes that I, you know, ideas come to me in the course of the year and I write them down and throw them in a drawer in my house, and then I go and look at them and many of them seem very unfunny and foolish to me and I cant imagine what I was thinking when I originally did it. But sometimes Ill pull out an idea like, uh, therell be a little note written on a matchbook or on a piece of paper that says, for example, A man who can only sing in the shower. And itll occur to me at the time, this could make a funny story. And thats what happened with this: there were some ideas in this movie that did come out of, um, the notes that I had given myself over the year.
Did you have a hard time convincing Fabio Armiliato to do this? Did he understand it and everything and want to do it?
ALLEN: Did he understand? Yeah. Yeah, we searched for a long time to find somebody who could actually sing opera and could speak a little English and could act a little bit, and then all of a sudden we met this guy and he was great. He had all those qualitieshed lived in New York for a year of his life, he spoke English pretty well, he was a pretty good actor and had a lovely singing voice, so we were very lucky.
Mr. Allen, youve made some beautiful films both here and in Europe. What was the inspiration for Rome? When did you decide the setting was going to be there and what is it about Rome that appealed to you for the setting?
ALLEN: Two thingsone is Id been talking about making a film in Rome for years with the people in Rome who distribute my films. They always said, Come and make a film, come, and finally they said Look, come and do it, weve been talking about it for a long time, well put up all the money necessary to make the film, and I jumped at the chance cause I wanted to work in Rome and it was an opportunity to get the money to work quickly and from a single source, and so it came together like that.
Is it an inevitability that if you shoot in Rome youre going to shoot in a location from 8 ½ or a Fellini movie, or did you deliberately choose locations that sort of, uh, referred or were similar?
ALLEN: Probably inevitable, because we never, I didnt know Rome very well and the art director went around finding pretty locations and interesting locations and, you know, I had no idea if any of them had appeared in other movies. I mean, I was sure, obviously, if I was shooting at the Coliseum or something like that, it had probably appeared in fifty movies, and that would be true of a number of the locations. But I didnt really know where I was shooting and many places I, I was seeing for the first time, many of the streets, and its really the art director who found all the beautiful locations we had.
So much of the film is a meditation on fame and accomplishment, and I was wondering what might have sparked the idea to focus the film around that.
ALLEN: The fact that this film deals with that theme is, um, post facto. I didnt think about that when we made the film. I thought, gee, its a funny idea, the guy sings in the shower, its a funny idea that some guy wakes up someday and is suddenly famous and doesnt know why, two people come to Rome and theyre just married and they get involved in this situationI never thought of any thematic connection in anyway. That was all just an accident. Now, it may have been something that was in my unconscious at the time and it came out in some strange way. I myself feel about fame the way the character of the chauffeur talks about it in the movie: you know, life is tough whether youre famous or not famous, and in the end its probably, of those two choices, better to be famous. [LAUGHTER] Because, you know, the perks are better. You know, you get better seats at the basketball game and you get better tables and reservations places, and if I call a doctor on Saturday morning I can get him. You know, theres a lot of indulgences that you dont get if youre not famous. Now, Im not saying its fair. Its kind of disgusting. [LAUGHTER] But I cant say that I dont enjoy it. [LAUGHTER] There are drawbacks to being famous, too, but you can live with those. Theyre not life-threatening. You know, if the paparazzi are outside your restaurant or your house and, and actors make such a big thing of it and scurry into cars draped in their thingsyou know, you think theyre gonna be crucified or something! Its not a big deal, you can get used to that. Its not so terrible. So the bad stuff is greatly outweighed by the dinner reservations. [LAUGHTER]
Do the other actors want to comment on the topic of fame? Not that youd want to follow that
PILL: Yeah, how can you follow Woody Allen?!
Mr. Allen, youre also an accomplished musician in your own right, and music always plays an important part in your films, including this one. Could you talk about the importance of music in your movies, particularly this picture?
ALLEN: Well, Im a big believer of music in movies. It covers a multitude of sins. Now, a great director, a really great directorlets say Ingmar Bergman: he did not believe in the use of music in films. He thought music in films was barbaric, that was his word, and his films are great enough so that he doesnt need any outside help. I need help. [LAUGHTER] And I knew this right from the first movie I ever made in my life, Take the Money and Run, there were scenes that were just dying when I looked at them in the cutting room, and the editor Ralph Rosenblum said Put a piece of music behind it! And I was so inexperienced that I didnt, he said, Here, let me just put this record on. And he put a record on and all of a sudden, when I was doing something and it was so boring originally, it came to life. It just, doing it to music just made the whole thing work, and ever since Ive been a big believer in supporting the action on film with appropriate music. And its gotten me out of a lot of jams of the years so music for me is a very big thing in films and I use it unashamedly. Ive used all the classics, all the great composers, both classical and Tin Pan Alley, and its the most pleasurable part of the movie too, when you have a movie and you look at it and its ice cold with no music. Then you start dropping in a little George Gershwin and a little Mozart and a little something else, and things suddenly become lively and magical in front of you. Its a great feeling.
In the film, Alec Baldwins character takes a trip down memory lane. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
ALLEN: What would I what? [LAUGHTER]
What would you tell yourself?
ALLEN: What would I tell myself? Well, it would be Dont do that! [LAUGHTER] Im not, I would like to go back in time but just for lunch. [LAUGHTER] I would not like to live in the past because there are all those drawbacks, like I mentioned in the movie, you would not get antiseptic when you go to the dentist, you dont get antibiotics, you dont get, you know, the things that youre used to now: cell phones and televisions. These things are very convenient. It takes all year for the ambulance to come, you dont want that. But it would be fun if you could every now and then just meet a friend for lunch at Maximes in Paris in 1900 or go back to 1870 just for a couple hours: take a walk in the park and then come right back to Broadway. [LAUGHTER]
For the actors, its been said that Woody Allen is not precious about every word of the script being repeated as it was written. What is freeing about that, or is it particularly frightening because of whos saying Do it your way?
ALESSANDRA MASTROIANI: Well, in my case it was different, I guess, because in my case it was in Italian, because everything we would say hed put later the subtitles, so for us but for me I was, I was glad because I really felt free to act in the way that I felt the character, so I think its a good thing for us. I dont know, Im not that kind of actress that I need to restrain myself to the lines. Im pretty glad to be freeand either way he put the subtitles, so I dont know!
PILL: Um, it was absolutely terrifying to be like, Yeah, I can just say something else thats not on the page. I dont really like doing that, and, um, its a wonderful challenge and a totally exciting and terrifying thing to do but, um, you know, I am not a gifted wordsmith most of the time, and so I do remember at times just staying up at night going Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. But anyway it is a joy as well.
CRUZ: He gives all these freedoms, which is very liberating. At the same time it feels like a very big responsibility because you dont want to ruin anything, especially when you are working in a different language. Like, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Javier and I, he gave us the scene in English and asked for us to translate it however we wanted, the way our characters would speak, and we didnt know if he was going to be angry with us when he got the translation of what we were saying because we were swearing every three words. [LAUGHTER] Apparently he was happy, actually. He, he gives us a lot of trust, the actors.
ELLEN PAGE: I think I feel very similarly to Alison and Penelope. I think, you know, especially when youre reading a script that is so good, like, theres already such natural fluidity to what youre saying and what youre doing, I mean, I dont think that there are that many incidences where you feel unnatural or that uncomfortable. But it is nice to have that sense of flexibility or comfort in, in talking to him, I guess, when that moment arises. But theres already such fluidity in his words and how he comes across.
GRETA GERWIG: Um, I spent most of my life imitating characters in his movies, and so [LAUGHTER] I, from the age of 11, was trying to talk like them, so my entire identity is confused with [LAUGHTER] other characters identities. So when he says Be yourself, Im like, but thats so fused with these characters that youve written! But I was just excited. I mean, for me it was hard to change the words because I loved them so much but also because just his idea of humans and the characters that hes written are so big in my mind.
ALLEN: I have to add something. I had great faith in the actors, and when they improvise, you know, it always sound better than the stuff I write in my bedroom, cause I dont know whats going on. Im alone, isolated in New York. Then you get on the set and it feels different to the actors, and when they improvise they make it, you know, they make it sound alive. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Javier and Penelope were improvising whenever they felt like, and they were speaking Spanish. I dont speak a word of Spanish, and to this day there are scenes in the picture that I have no idea what theyre saying. [LAUGHTER] I just never knew, but you could tell they were correct by their body language and by the emotions they were going through, and I knew, I never had to know, you know, I just assumed they knew what they were doing, they were professional, and I was right.
In a previous question, Mr. Allen was talking about fame. I would like to hear from the ladies: what has fame brought to your lives?
MASTROIANNI: I dont know, actually. I think that maybe in Italy we have a different kind of fame, so we are, yeah, if you are famous, if you are a very important person and you call a restaurant, maybe they will set aside a table for you, but just this one time, not two times. So I dont know, we have a different relationship with fame. Personally, I dont, Im not really famous. Im not famous! [LAUGHTER] Im just an actress, and Im working in Woody Allens movie so maybe Im a really, really lucky actress, but Im working on it. Maybe I have to think about fame. I have to think about it.
PILL: Um, I mean, I just consider myself to be a working actor. I have no idea what people would, I mean, Im not famous. I dont get stopped on the street. I just sort of do my thing and live my life. I dont like strangers, so I wouldnt look forward to having to meet a lot of them at any one point. [LAUGHTER] Uh, but thats about it. Um, I just, Im waiting for the day when somebody sends me a pet pig. [LAUGHTER] Thats it, thats all I want from fame. People send you free stuff, and Im like, I dont know, what would I want? I want a pet pig. [LAUGHTER] If anyone knows anybody with a pig, then let them know that Im famous and I want a pig. [LAUGHTER]
CRUZ: I dont know, we were talking about it this morning. The only good thing that I have taken out of it is to, to experience it in first person, to realize that there is no real happiness that comes out of it, to be able to say there is no real happiness added to your life because of that. And I agree with Woody that the advantages are very unfair and disgusting, but I also think that some of the disadvantages are pretty tough and difficult to deal with, to the point where sometimes I have to question if I want to continue this job because of that. I dont care if they take pictures of me, but when they take pictures of your family or write about your family, especially when its about children, thatmmmm. I cant tolerate it. And it depends on the country where you live, so children are more protected that way. In the States there is no protection, you can show faces of children, so I am 100% against that. All the magazines have these few pages dedicated to the children ofand its not a handbag! [LAUGHTER] I dont care if they take pictures of me, but that goes into a different territory that is, that should not be allowed.
PAGE: I dont know what to say, you know, Im an actor because I love to act. First and foremost thats what Im always thinking about. And I sort of, um, its not that I forget about it, but the transition occurred after Juno, I guess, so theres definitely a transition one goes through from when nobody knows about who you are to a few more people knowing who you are, of course. And then, I dont know, its sort of just, it sort of balances itself out. Sometimes it comes up if a movies coming out, and then it sort of fades away again, and I just sort of go about my life and dont tend to really have much of an issue, but I also think thats just because Im kind of boring and dont do much. I dont experience things in the way certain friends do, or, I imagine, Penelope has on her plate in that way. I just kind of go about things. [LAUGHS]
GERWIG: Well, I feel like Im not famous at all, but I do like that in New York theres a certain qualitylike, Alison, I knew who you were in New York and I saw you
PILL: Yeah, I know youI, I know!
GERWIG: And I wouldnt say anything, but afterwards Id be like Alison Pill just walked by me! [LAUGHTER] Id call someone, Id tell them
PILL: Yeah, but then its just like, we knew each other, too, and Ive meditated in your house! So thats the other side of it! [LAUGHS]
GERWIG: I do think thats the coolest thing in New York, where its like, a lot of theatre actors in New Yorktheyre not fancy people who get their pictures taken all the time, but I go to the theatre all the time and I know who they are, or comedians who do stuff at UCB and are just around, and you just feel so proud that you live in a city where theres all these artists, and theyre under the radar in a wayor Ive seen New York City Ballet dancers on the subway and Im like, I saw you in The Firebird! and Im so excited, and that level of artistic community and recognizing each other is really nice. Um, but that has, thats a different thing than Roberto Benigni fame. [LAUGHTER]