Thursday, July 5, 2012

PRESS CONFERENCE: Woody Allen and the female stars of "To Rome With Love"

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 costars—and 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 movie—like Roberto Benigni in this and Andrew Dice Clay in your next movie—how compatible are they with your style of humor?
WOODY ALLEN: They don’t have to be. I cast them because they’re perfect for what I’ve written and they, they don’t have to in any way be compatible with me. I didn’t think Roberto Benigni would be compatible with me, I thought that I would have a difficult time with him, that he’d be irrepressible and I’d never be able to get his attention. He’d be running around and acting crazy and I’d 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, and it really had nothing to do with my type of comedy, just his role. It was quite easy, actually.

It’s been a long time since we’ve 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 there’s a part for me then I play it. If there’s no part—and as I’ve 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 I’m older and I’m reduced to playing, you know, the upstaged doorman or, you know, the uncle or something, and I don’t really love that. So, essentially, when a part comes up I’ll 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. It’s 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 you’ll make them even if they don’t want to see them. That’s how I feel as an actor, is just, I just like doing it. I’ll act for anybody and I’m very lucky that I’ve gotten the chance to work with this amazing man more than once.
CRUZ: Me too, I feel extremely lucky. I’ve 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 it’s always too short! Both times I’ve worked with him I did it in three weeks, so I always want more.
ALLEN: I buy that. [LAUGHTER]

Mr. Allen, you’ve said in the past that you have a drawer and you’d pull out the drawer and look at all the different ideas you had and you’d say, “This one.” Is this one of the ideas you had in your drawer?
ALLEN: No—yes, 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 can’t imagine what I was thinking when I originally did it. But sometimes I’ll pull out an idea like, uh, there’ll 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 it’ll occur to me at the time, this could make a funny story. And that’s 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 qualities—he’d 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, you’ve 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 things—one is I’d 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, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, we’ll 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 you’re 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 didn’t 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 didn’t really know where I was shooting and many places I, I was seeing for the first time, many of the streets, and it’s 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 didn’t think about that when we made the film. I thought, gee, it’s a funny idea, the guy sings in the shower, it’s a funny idea that some guy wakes up someday and is suddenly famous and doesn’t know why, two people come to Rome and they’re just married and they get involved in this situation—I 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 you’re famous or not famous, and in the end it’s 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, there’s a lot of indulgences that you don’t get if you’re not famous. Now, I’m not saying it’s fair. It’s kind of disgusting. [LAUGHTER] But I can’t say that I don’t enjoy it. [LAUGHTER] There are drawbacks to being famous, too, but you can live with those. They’re 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 things—you know, you think they’re gonna be crucified or something! It’s not a big deal, you can get used to that. It’s 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 you’d want to follow that—
PILL: Yeah, how can you follow Woody Allen?!

Mr. Allen, you’re 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, I’m a big believer of music in movies. It covers a multitude of sins. Now, a great director, a really great director—let’s 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t, 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 I’ve been a big believer in supporting the action on film with appropriate music. And it’s 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. I’ve used all the classics, all the great composers, both classical and Tin Pan Alley, and it’s the most pleasurable part of the movie too, when you have a movie and you look at it and it’s 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. It’s a great feeling.

In the film, Alec Baldwin’s 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 “Don’t do that!” [LAUGHTER] I’m 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 don’t get antibiotics, you don’t get, you know, the things that you’re used to now: cell phones and televisions. These things are very convenient. It takes all year for the ambulance to come, you don’t want that. But it would be fun if you could every now and then just meet a friend for lunch at Maxime’s 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, it’s 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 who’s 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 he’d 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 it’s a good thing for us. I don’t know, I’m not that kind of actress that I need to restrain myself to the lines. I’m pretty glad to be free—and either way he put the subtitles, so I don’t know!
PILL: Um, it was absolutely terrifying to be like, “Yeah, I can just… say something else that’s not on the page.” I don’t really like doing that, and, um, it’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 you’re reading a script that is so good, like, there’s already such natural fluidity to what you’re saying and what you’re doing, I mean, I don’t 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 there’s 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,” I’m like, but that’s so fused with these characters that you’ve 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 he’s 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 don’t know what’s going on. I’m 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 don’t speak a word of Spanish, and to this day there are scenes in the picture that I have no idea what they’re 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 don’t 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 don’t know, we have a different relationship with fame. Personally, I don’t, I’m not really famous. I’m not famous! [LAUGHTER] I’m just an actress, and I’m working in Woody Allen’s movie so maybe I’m a really, really lucky actress, but I’m 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, I’m not famous. I don’t get stopped on the street. I just sort of do my thing and live my life. I don’t like strangers, so I wouldn’t look forward to having to meet a lot of them at any one point. [LAUGHTER] Uh, but that’s about it. Um, I just, I’m waiting for the day when somebody sends me a pet pig. [LAUGHTER] That’s it, that’s all I want from fame. People send you free stuff, and I’m like, I don’t know, what would I want? I want a pet pig. [LAUGHTER] If anyone knows anybody with a pig, then… let them know that I’m famous and I want a pig. [LAUGHTER]
CRUZ: I don’t 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 don’t care if they take pictures of me, but when they take pictures of your family or write about your family, especially when it’s about children, that—mmmm. I can’t 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 of—and it’s not a handbag! [LAUGHTER] I don’t care if they take pictures of me, but that goes into a different territory that is, that should not be allowed.
PAGE: I don’t know what to say, you know, I’m an actor because I love to act. First and foremost that’s what I’m always thinking about. And I sort of, um, it’s not that I forget about it, but the transition occurred after Juno, I guess, so there’s 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 don’t know, it’s sort of just, it sort of balances itself out. Sometimes it comes up if a movie’s coming out, and then it sort of fades away again, and I just sort of go about my life and don’t tend to really have much of an issue, but I also think that’s just because I’m kind of boring and don’t do much. I don’t 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 I’m not famous at all, but I do like that in New York there’s a certain quality—like, Alison, I knew who you were in New York and I saw you—
PILL: Yeah, I know you—I, I know!
GERWIG: And I wouldn’t say anything, but afterwards I’d be like “Alison Pill just walked by me!” [LAUGHTER] I’d call someone, I’d tell them—
PILL: Yeah, but then it’s just like, we knew each other, too, and I’ve meditated in your house! So that’s the other side of it! [LAUGHS]
GERWIG: I do think that’s the coolest thing in New York, where it’s like, a lot of theatre actors in New York—they’re 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 there’s all these artists, and they’re under the radar in a way—or I’ve seen New York City Ballet dancers on the subway and I’m like, “I saw you in The Firebird!” and I’m so excited, and that level of artistic community and recognizing each other is really nice. Um, but that has, that’s a different thing than Roberto Benigni fame. [LAUGHTER]

To Rome With Love is in theatres now.

1 comment:

Vanessa @ Project Zen said...

Great interview! So proud of you.