The Reel Breakdown

Woody Allen on acting, shooting abroad, and being amused at the idea of having a muse in Penelope Cruz or Scarlett Johansson

Photo by Sony Pictures Classic

Following last year's Oscar triumph, "Midnight in Paris," and his latest foreign-set romantic romp, "To Rome With Love," which goes into wide release this week, writer-director Woody Allen has returned to a cozier relationship with the press. He sat down for a press conference at Loews Regency Hotel New York last Tuesday flanked by his co-stars Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, and Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi.

Q: You're back onscreen as an actor, both in "To Rome With Love" and in John Turturro's upcoming "Fading Gigolo." What sparked the return?

Woody Allen: I've always liked to act, and when I write a script and I look at it, if there's a part that I can play, I play it. In this script I looked at it, and I could do it. I've been performing for years. I made my first film in 1968. I've always been open to acting in other people's films, but no one has ever asked me to be in their films, only two or three times in 30 years. When John Turturro asked me to be in "Fading Gigolo," I said sure.

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Q: Are you playing the fading gigolo?

WA: No.

Q: Your biggest success was "Midnight in Paris" -- why was it so popular?

WA: It was my biggest financial success. You know, I make all the pictures, and I try and make a good picture each time. It was a happy accident. I don't know why everybody embraced the picture so enthusiastically. It's capricious to the filmmaker. No matter where it was, Sweden or Japan, it was the best attendance I've ever had on a picture. It's a complete mystery to me, no more than "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" or "Match Point" or "Annie Hall."

Q: In your latest movie, you joke about the idiotic questions that the press asks celebrities: What's the most idiotic question you've been asked?

WA: You're asking me? I don't think we have enough time. When I walk through those red carpet things, the amount of times that I get asked if Scarlett Johansson was your new muse, is Penelope Cruz your new muse? They assume that I have a muse, that I want a muse, and that that person wants to be my muse.

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Q: Can you talk about the editing process? Do you go into editing room and have multiple cuts of the film?

WA: For me, you start off with great ambitions. You want to make "Citizen Kane." You shoot the film and then you realize that you screwed up irredeemably, and you edit the film so that the editing process is the floundering of a drowning man. From "Take the Money and Run," it was a fight for survival in the editing room. I'm in there selling out left and right, the last ounce of integrity.

Q: Is the advancement of modern technology affecting the quality of relationships?

WA: It's making it electronically quicker to break up but not affecting the real content. You can meet people quicker; you can lose people quicker. You're still going to have trouble. It's a sad situation for everybody. Electronics just facilitates anxiety.

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Q: Your past several films could have been set in any city. What about Rome, or the Italian character, made the greatest imprint?

WA: It's a provocative city to shoot in. It's visually arresting. There is a great Italian film tradition and sensibility. Certain stories are indigenous to Rome. Opera, paparazzi, a young couple that comes to town and gets split up: things for me that are very Roman. The story that Alec, Ellen, and Greta were in, I could have done that in New York, but it worked very well in Rome because it had the added element of somebody coming to visit [and staying] in the house.

Q: So why film abroad?

WA: Because that's where the money comes from. In Europe, Asia, and South America, people call up and say, 'Would you make a movie here?' It started with "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." We raised the money to make my next film in the U.S. -- New York and San Francisco. It's easier just to say yes.

See the trailer for 'To Rome with Love':