Woody Allen thinks his latest film, To Rome With Love, is a disappointment.
As a matter of fact, he considers most of his movies -- yes, even Annie Hall -- as letdowns. Not quite the soundbite you want to give a room full of journalists while promoting your latest piece of work. But isn't that just Woody being Woody? The iconic auteur, the original king of mumblecore, is known for his self-deprecating humor and neurotic ramblings. And for the many passionate writer-directors out there, disappointment comes with the territory. His whole spiel on the issue is something many creative show business-types can relate to and will surely make them feel like they're not alone. Check it out HERE.
While I sit in a room with Woody and his beautiful female cast from To Rome With Love (seriously, Penelope Cruz is stunning in person) at the opulent Beverly-Wilshire, someone asks Woody if he felt similarly about one of his most popular and celebrated films, Annie Hall. This is what he had to say: Woody on Annie Hall 35 Years Later.
Both statements are eye-opening and refreshingly honest. It's safe to say no one expected the talented Mr. Allen to be so...frank. But back to Rome...
To Rome With Love, which recently premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is Allen's umpteenth film as a writer-director (are we up in the forties at this point?) and features an all-star cast which includes Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Alessandra Mastronardi, Flavio Parenti, and Woody himself. The film is comprised of a number of stories focusing on the comedically romantic adventures of several Americans and Italians.
Much like last year's hit, Midnight in Paris, the film is a love letter to a European city chock full of romance and whimsy. It's also the by-product of the many ideas Allen has written on pieces of paper kept inside his treasured drawer at home. "Ideas come to me in the course of a year, and I write them down," he says, "and many of them seem very unfunny and foolish to me. I can't imagine what I was thinking when I originally did it. But sometimes I'll pull out an idea like 'a man who can only sing in the shower,' and it occurred to me at the time that this could make a funny story." That role went to opera singer Parenti, who plays a mortician who's gifted with a stunning set of pipes that only works when he's naked and lathered up.
"I will work with this man anytime he asks," beams Pill, who plays an American who falls in love with the son of the aforementioned shower singer. "It's a joy and privilege."
Penelope, who plays the seductive Anna in a mistaken-identity plot, nods in agreement: "Me too. I feel extremely lucky. I've been a fan of his work since I was a little girl. He makes me laugh all day long."
As one can imagine, getting a chance to work in the Italian capital was an opportunity none of the cast wanted to pass up. Upon asking why he continues to shoot abroad, Allen is straight-up about his reasons. "I have been talking about making a film in Rome with the people there who have distributed my films," he explains. "They always said, 'Come and make a film...we'll put up the all the money necessary to make the film.' So it just came together like that."
The theme of nostalgia also floats throughout Rome. Alec Baldwin plays an architect who meets a young man (Eisenberg) and is suddenly thrown into a predicament reminiscent of a situation he went through years ago. Drawing a similarity from Owen Wilson's character in Paris, we ask Woody if there was something he'd tell his younger self had he been given an opportunity to travel back in time.
"I would like to go back in time, but just for lunch," he tells us matter-of-factly (seems like he might get this question quite often). "I would not like to live in the past because there are [so many] drawbacks...but it would be fun to, every now and then, just to meet a friend for lunch at Maxim's in Paris in 1900 or go back to 1870 just for a couple of hours, take a walk in the park, and then come back to Broadway."
Woody is one of those directors known for letting his actors do their own thing. For his cast, it was both freeing and frightening. "It was aboslutely terrifying to be like, 'Yeah I can just say something else that's not on the page'" says Pill. "It's a wonderful challenge, and a totally exciting and terryfing thing to do, but I am not a gifted wordsmith most of the time."
Penelope: "He's very liberating at the same time it feels like a big responsibility because you don't want to ruin anything, especially when you're working in a different language...he's gives us a lot of trust."
Co-star Ellen Page: "When you're reading a script that's he's written and there's already such a natural fluidity to what you're saying and what you're doing, I don't think there are that many instances where you feel uncomfortable, but it is nice to have that flexibility and comfort in talking to him when that moment arises."
Greta Gerwig (recently seen in Fox Searchlight's Lola Versus): "I spent most of my life imitating characters from his movies, and from the age of 11, I was trying to talk like them, so my entire identity is confused with other character's identities. So when he says be yourself, I'm like 'It's so fused with these characters that you've written!' So for me, it was hard to change the words because I loved them so much."
"I have great faith in the actors," Woody says while looking up and down the table of actresses who surround him. "When they improvise, it always sounds better than the stuff I write in my bedroom because I don't know what's going on. I'm alone and isolated in New York. And then when we get on the set, it feels different to the actors, and when they improvise, they make it sound alive."
Woody on the slapstick element behind Rome (a throwback to his earlier work): "Those stories that make up To Rome With Love, [which is] a terrible title incidentally. My original title was Bop Decameron and nobody knew what the Decameron was, even the Italians didn't know it. So I then changed it to Nero Fiddles, and haf the countries in the world said, 'We don't know what that means'...so I settled on a generic title so that everybody would get it. And the stories in this picture have a broader sense of humor, which is required. You can't tell the story properly without it. I like broad comedy."
What's the greatest lesson you learn about love? "About the important things in life, you never learn anything. You can learn technological things, but the real problems that people deal with in any subject, you never learn anything. So you make a fool of yourself when you're 20, you make a fool of yourself when at 40, at 60, at 80...All over the world, relationships between men and women are very tricky and very difficult, and you don't learn anything. It's not an exact science. You're always going by instinct, and your instinct betrays you because you want what you want when you want it...So, I've learned nothing. Years and years of failure, and I havent gotten anything to say. No wisdom."
On his character's outlook on retirement equaling death: "Retirement is a very subjective thing. There are guys that I know who retire, and they're very happy. They travel all over the world, they go fishing, they play with their grandchildren, and they never miss work at all. And then there are other people, and I'm one of [this] kind, that likes to work all the time. I don't see myself retiring and fondling dogs and playing with children. I like to get up and work and go out. I have too much energy or nervous anxiety...If my health holds up, I don't expect to retire. But the money could run out. Sooner or later, the guys who back the films could get wise and say 'It's not really worth all the suffering' and not give me the money."
To Rome With Love hits select theaters this Friday.
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)
*By the way, we couldn't resist this little nugget from Alison Pill on fame. "I just consider myself to be a working actor. I'm not famous. I don't get stopped on the street. I just sort of do my thing, live my life...I'm just waiting for the day when somebody sends me a pet pig. That's it. That's all I want from fame...When people send you free stuff...I want a pet pig."