Ellen Page Online - Press archive - Writer-Director Woody Allen talks TO ROME WITH LOVE, His Previous Films, & His Idea Drawer
Writer-Director Woody Allen talks TO ROME WITH LOVE, His Previous Films, & His Idea Drawer
by Courtney Howard, published on June 20, 2012
The past couple years have heralded a marked change in the way writer-director Woody Allen creates his films. Perhaps getting out of New York City has done him some good. The uptight, stifling neuroticism has disappeared and in its place, a new form of slapstick humor has blossomed. His newest jovial jaunt is the love letter to the enchanting Italian city of Rome.
At the press conference for the film, we (along with many other journalists) sat down with the cinematic auteur to discuss his drawer full of ideas, regrets, and his experience creating TO ROME WITH LOVE.
When you cast another distinct comedian in your movie, like Roberto Benigni in this or Andrew Dice Clay in your next movie, how compatible are they with your style of humor?
They dont have to be. I cast them because they are perfect for what I have written. 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, and that he would irrepressible and Id never be able to get his attention, and hed be running around and hed be crazy and Id have to . But in the end, it turned out that he was quite intellectual and quite poised and quiet and a pleasure to work with. He had nothing to do with my kind of comedy, just did his role. It was quite easy, actually.
And Mr. Clay?
Oh, I havent directed him yet. That is next summer.
Its been a long time since we have seen you in front of the camera. Why at this point and for this movie did you decide you wanted to be in the film?
Only because there was a part for me. When I write a script, if there is a part for me, then I play it. If there is no part And as Ive gotten older, the parts have diminished. I liked it when I was younger, I could always play the lead in the movie and I could do all the romantic scenes with the women, and it was fun and I liked to play that. Now, Im older and Im reduced to playing the backstage doorman or the uncle or something. I dont really love that so occasionally, when a part comes up, Ill play it.
You once said that you had a drawer of ideas. Was this one of the ideas that you had in your drawer?
Yes, I have a lot of notes. Ideas come to me in the course of a year and I write them down and throw them into 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 there will be a little note written on a matchbook or a piece of paper that says, for example, A man who can only sing in the shower, and it will occur to me at the time, this could make a funny story. Thats what happened with this. There were some ideas in this movie that did come out of the notes that I had given myself over the year.
Did you have a hard time convincing Fabio the tenor to do this?
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 qualities. He had lived in New York for a year of his life, he spoke English pretty well, he was a pretty good actor and he had a lovely singing voice so we were very lucky.
What was the inspiration for this and when did you decide the setting would be Rome?
Well, there are two things. One is I had 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, 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 because I wanted to work in Rome and it was an opportunity to get the money to work quickly and from a single source. So, it came together like that.
Is it inevitable that if you shoot in Rome, youre going to eventually shoot in a location from 8 1/2 or a Fellini movie, or did you deliberately choose those locations?
No, it was probably inevitable because I didnt know Rome very well and the art director went around finding pretty locations and interesting locations. I had no idea if any of them had appeared in other movies. I was sure obviously if I was shooting at the Coliseum or something like that it probably had appeared in 50 movies, and that would be true of a number of the locations but I didnt really know where I was shooting and many of the places and streets I was seeing for the first time, and many of the streets. Its really the art director who found all the beautiful locations we had.
So much of this film is a meditation on fame and accomplishment. What sparked the idea to focus the movie around that?
The fact that some of the film deals with that theme is post facto. I didnt think about that when I made the film. I thought, Its a funny idea that the guy sings in the shower and its a funny idea that some guy wakes up one day and suddenly hes famous and doesnt really know why. And two young people come to Rome and theyre just married, and they get involved in the situation. I had never thought of any thematic connection, in any way. Thats all just an accident. Now it may have been something that was on my unconscious at the time and it came out in some strange way. I myself feel about fame the way the character of chauffeur talks about it in the movie, that life is tough and its tough whether youre famous or not famous. And in the end its probably, of those two choices, better to be famous because the perks are better. You get better seats at the basketball game, and you get better tables and reservations places. If I call a doctor on Saturday morning I can get him. Theres a lot of things, indulgences that you dont get, if youre not famous. Now Im not saying its fair. Its kind of disgusting in a way. But I cant say that I dont enjoy it. There are drawbacks in being famous too, but you can live with those. Theyre not life-threatening. If the paparazzi are outside your restaurant or your house and actors make such a big thing of it and scurry into cars and drape things you think theyre going to be crucified or something. Its not a big deal. You can get used to that. Its not so terrible. The bad stuff is greatly outweighed by the dinner reservations.
In addition to being an accomplished filmmaker, youre also quite an accomplished musician and music always plays an important part in your films, including this one. Can you talk about the importance of music in your movies and particularly this?
Im a big believer in music in movies. It covers a multitude of sins. Now, a great director, a really great director, lets say like Ingmar Bergman, did not believe in music in films. He thought the use of music in films was barbaric. That was his word. His films are great enough, so that he doesnt need any outside help. I need help. I noticed, right from the first movie I ever made in my life, Take the Money and Run, there were scenes in it that were just dying when I looked in the cutting room. And the editor, Ralph Rosenblum, said, Put a piece of music behind it. I was so inexperienced, I didnt - He said, Here, let me just put this record on. He put a record on and, and all of a sudden, when I was doing something and it was so boring originally, it came to life. Doing it to music just made the whole thing work. Ever since, Ive been a big believer in supporting the action on film with the appropriate music. Its gotten me out of a lot of jams, over the years. So, music for me is a very big thing in films and I use it unashamedly. I have used all the classics and all the great composers, both classical and tin pan alley. Its the most pleasurable part of a 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, a little something else and the thing suddenly become lively and magical in front of you. Its a great feeling.
VeryAware: 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?
Well, it would be, Dont do that! I would like to go back in time, but just for lunch. I would not like to live in the past because there are all those drawbacks, as I mentioned in my other movie. You dont get anesthetic when you go to the dentist. You dont get antibiotics. You dont get the things that you are used to now, cell phones and televisions and things that 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 Maxims in Paris in 1900, or go back to 1870 just for a couple of hours, take a walk in the park, and then come right back to Broadway.
Not to say that youre not an actor.
Its okay, its been said.
How do you feel about your actors improvising?
I have great faith in the actors. When they improvise, it always sounds better than the stuff I write in my bedroom. I dont know whats going on. Im alone, isolated in New York. Then we get onto the set and it feels different to the actors. When they improvise, 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 they were saying. I just never knew but you could tell they were correct by their body language and by the emotions they were going through. I never had to know. I just assumed they knew what they were doing, theyre professional, and I was right.
The film includes so much slapstick humor and absurdist sight gags and, it feels like a throwback to some of your earlier films. What inspired you to return to that approach to comedy, at this point in your career?
Those stories that make up TO ROME WITH LOVE, a terrible title incidentally. My original title was THE BOP DECAMERON and nobody knew what the Decameron was, not even in Rome. Even the Italians didnt know. I changed it to NERO FIDDLES and half the countries in the world said, Well, we dont know what that means. We dont have that expression. You do go through this on a number of movies so finally I settled on a generic title like TO ROME WITH LOVE so everybody would get it. The stories in this picture just require, in the telling of those stories, a certain amount of that broader, slapstick kind of humor. Not much of it, but a certain amount of it is required. You cant tell the story and avoid, you just cant tell the story properly without doing that, so I had to do it. And I didnt mind. Its fun. I like broad comedy. If I had an idea tomorrow for a film that was all slapstick and broad comedy, and it was an idea that interested me, I would not hesitate to do it because I enjoy watching those kinds of film too.
Youve really mastered the art and study of relationships in your films. What is the greatest lesson youve learned about love?
Well, I was saying to someone else before about the important things in life, you never learn anything. You can learn technological things, you can learn about specific things, but the real problems that people deal with in any subject, existential subjects or romantic subjects, you never learn anything. So you make a fool of yourself when youre 20, you make a fool of yourself at 40, at 60 at 80. The ancient Greeks were dealing with these problems. They screwed up all the time. People do now. All over the world, relationships between men and women are very, very tricky and very difficult and you dont learn anything. Its not an exact science, so you cant learn anything. Youre always going by instinct and your instinct betrays you because you want what you want when you want it. So its very tough, very tough going and most relationships dont work out, and dont last long when they do work out. When you see one thats really lovely, its a rarity. Its great that two people, with all their complex exquisite needs, have found each other and all the wires go into the right places. Its great, so Ive learned nothing. Years and years of failure. I have not got anything to say, no wisdom.
In this film, your character equates retirement with death. Is that how you feel, or do you see a time when you will step away from the camera?
You know, retirement is a very subject thing. I was saying this before, there are guys I know who retire and theyre very happy. They travel all over the world, they go fishing, they play with their grandchildren, all that kind of stuff and they never miss work at all. And then there are other people, Im one of that kind, that likes to work all the time. I just like it. I cant see myself retiring and fondling a dog every day. I like to get up and work and go out. I have too much energy or too much nervous anxiety or something. So I dont see myself retiring. Maybe I will suddenly get a stroke or a heart attack and I will be forced to retire, but if my health holds out I dont expect to retire. But the money could run out. It could be that sooner or later, the guys that back the films could get wise and then they say, This is not really worth all the suffering, and they stop giving me the money. But I still wouldnt retire, I dont think. I think I would still write for the theater or write books.
With all the films that youve directed, produced, written and starred in, and all the nominations and awards youve received, is there one film thats haunted you?
When you make the film, its like a chef who works on the meal. After youre working all day in the kitchen and dicing and cutting and putting the sauces on, you dont want to eat it. Thats how I always feel about the films. I work on it for a year. Ive written it, Ive worked with the actors, Ive edited, put the music in. I just never want to see it again. When I begin a film, I always think that Im going to make THE BICYCLE THIEF or GRAND ILLUSION or CITIZEN KANE, and Im convinced that its going to be the greatest thing to ever hit celluloid. Then, when I see what Ive done afterward, Im praying that its not an embarrassment to me. So Ive never been satisfied or even pleased with a film that Ive done. I make them, Im finished, Ive never looked at one after. I made my first film in 1968, and Ive never seen it since. I just cringe when I see them. I dont like them because theres a big gap between what you conceive in your mind when youre writing and you dont have to meet the test of reality. Youre home, you write and its funny and beautiful and romantic and dramatic, and then you have to show up on a cold morning, and the actors are there and youre there, and you dont have enough of this and this goes wrong and you make the wrong choice on something and you screwed up here and you see what you get the next day and you cant go back. Theres such a difference between the idealized film in your mind and what you wind up with that youre never happy, youre never satisfied. For me, Ive never liked any of them and Im always thankful that the audience bails me out and some of them theyve liked in spite of my disappointment.
Even ANNIE HALL?
Let me tell you, when ANNIE HALL started out, that film was not supposed to be what I wound up with. The film was supposed to be what happens in a guys mind, and you were supposed to see a stream of consciousness in his mind and I did the film and it was completely incoherent. Nobody understood anything that went on and the relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about. That was not what I cared about. That was one small part of another big canvas that I had. In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in the end of that movie, as I was with other films of mine that were very popular. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS was a big disappointment because I had to compromise my original intention tremendously to survive with the film. So youre asking the wrong person. When you see us up here and we made the film and were here in California promoting it and everyones saying what a thrill this was and how great it was to work with this person, you think we made CITIZEN KANE. It always sounds this way at a promotional thing. In the end, youll see the film or youve seen the film and you draw your conclusion from it. Its always, to me, less than the masterpiece I was certain that I was destined to make.
So much of movies I love explore fantasy and things that you in your wildest dreams wouldnt expect to happen to you. Was fantasy and big dreams you thought about when you were writing this film?
Yes, youre able to do that in film. Real life is generally much duller and inevitably sadder, most of the time. In film, you control everything thats going on, so you can indulge the most fantastic, romantic, escapist feelings and fantasies. You can do anything you want. Thats why its very seductive and pleasurable to earn your living making movies because youre not living in the real world. You wake up in the morning and you go to work, youre surrounded by women like this and scintillating guys that are handsome and witty and gifted. You make up stories and everyone has costumes and the music is beautiful. You live your life not in the real world, and you create something thats completely fabricated, escapist. Its great, but its not real, but its fun. It is fun to do. The only place you can do it is in fiction.
For decades you said youd never leave New York to make a film, but in the last 8-10 years youve gone to many places. What do you think youve gained from doing that and has it made the films upbeat?
It was strictly financial. The first one started was MATCH POINT which was not a really up funny film, but they gave me the money to make it in London, so I was happy to make it there. And then, I found that other countries started calling me. Barcelona wanted me to make a film, and then Paris and Rome. I get calls from countries that ask me to come and make films there. So its an interesting experience. The change of venue cannot do anything but help. Ive made 30 pictures in New York, 40 or something, I cant remember how many, 35. And then suddenly you find yourself working in London or Barcelona or Rome, and the necessity of accommodating to these exotic new surroundings forces you into areas that you would not have otherwise explored. You make films and it gives it a certain freshness and exuberance and Ive been lucky that the films that Ive made in foreign countries have been coming out good, and Im sure the fact that Im not making them in New York has been one contributing factor. I think MATCH POINT would have worked in New York. I had originally written it for New York, but doing it in London, I dont know what it was, gave it a certain freshness that wasnt again shooting in Central Park or on Broadway or Park Avenue. That alone made a contribution just as Rome in this picture. The scenery and the very Roman sensibility makes a contribution to the picture thats beyond anything that I can contribute to it. Its just pleasurable for the viewer to watch a story unfold in that atmosphere. As long as that works for me and they keep putting the money up, Ill do it.
Any other countries youve considered?
It would have to be a civilized place. I dont want to make a picture in Uzbekistan or the Sudan, but Im happy to make one in Venice and Madrid.
How about Greece?
Sure, I think Greece is lovely. I was there for jazz concerts.
What about the BULLETS OVER BROADWAY musical?
Yeah, its not my idea but I hope theyre successful with it.
Might we ever see the original ANNADONIA cut of ANNIE HALL?
No, not with that title.
TO ROME WITH LOVE opens on June 22 in New York and Los Angeles.