Write him off or put him on a pedestal, Woody Allen keeps doing what he does best. A new Woody Allen film comes out virtually every year, and the same old discussions begin: “He used to be so good.” “He’s back!” “Why won’t he do another comedy?” And here we go again with “Cassandra’s Dream,” a drama much more in the vein of “Match Point” than, say, “Sleeper.”
In the new flick, Allen once again explores matters of luck and murder most foul with the story of Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell), two ill-fated brothers who find themselves in a mess of their uncle’s (Tom Wilkinson) making.
The legendary quote machine that is Woody Allen spoke with MTV News about his latest work, why he’s got a thing for Scarlett Johansson, and why you might see him playing with an iPhone.
MTV: “Cassandra’s Dream” is the third film in a row you’ve done in England. Does it feel like these new locales have revitalized you at all?
Woody Allen: As tempting as it is to think that, it’s not really so. I was operating at full energy in New York and then wrote “Match Point” for New York. And then the funding suddenly dropped in from London. Then European nations started calling me to work in their countries. I had an offer to film in France and I had an offer to film in Italy, and I accepted an offer to do a film in Spain. I just completed a movie [“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”] with Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson in Spain.
MTV: How far back does the idea for “Cassandra’s Dream” go?
Allen: I had written an off-Broadway play years ago about a family that was very dependent financially on their uncle. In that play, there was no killing or anything like that. But it occurred to me as I was directing it, what if the uncle came to them and beat them to the punch? When they asked him for a favor, he asked them for one. So that was the germ of the idea.
MTV: There was a report the other day that said you and Scarlett Johansson are going to be a part of a New York anthology film.
Allen: A complete and total fabrication. Made up like a poem by Coleridge. Completely untrue. It wasn’t even grounded in any conversations or anything.
MTV: It is true, however, that you and Scarlett have a great working relationship. Why do you think you two click?
Allen: She just dropped into my professional life inadvertently. It was supposed to be Kate Winslet in “Match Point,” and at the last minute she was exhausted and called up and said she wanted to back out of it because she’d been doing movie after movie and wanted to spend time with her child. And I understood that completely. I don’t think movies should be anyone’s top priority. I said, “Sure, no problem.” Of course I was faking it, because it was a problem for us. We were trying to figure out who was available for it, and Scarlett happened to be available. This all happened over one weekend. As soon as I met her, I had a very good rapport with her. She’s very charming, very bright, very amusing. She livens the set up. The minute she walks on the set, the amperage goes up 200 points. She’s a great kid and very talented. She can sing. She can do dramatic things and jokes if you need her to. Whenever there’s a part she could play, she would probably always be my first choice.
MTV: Are there any other actors high on your list at the moment?
Allen: I’ve always wanted to do a film with Reese Witherspoon and Cate Blanchett. They’re two people I’m extremely high on. I’d love to find something I could do with them.
MTV: You’ve said before you don’t get offers to act a lot in other people’s films.
Allen: Make that never.
MTV: I remember there was talk once though that you were going to co-star with Jim Carrey in “Stuck on You.”
Allen: It’s the first I’m hearing of it. I’ve never had a single offer in my long career approaching that. I’ve done one or two things over the years for no money as a favor. I’ve never had any real offers. And you would think there are certain parts around that I’d be a natural for: a college teacher, a shrink or a lowlife.
MTV: That’s very surprising to me.
Allen: You would think that the parts that Walter Matthau played at this point would come my way. No one asks me to play the father; or Gramps, the lovable old codger; or Pops, the backstage manager at the theater. I’ve never gotten anything.
MTV: Do you use a computer for anything?
Allen: No. I don’t own a computer. I write in longhand, and then I type it up on my Olympia portable typewriter, which I’ve used since I was 16 years old. It’s the same typewriter, and I’ve typed every single thing I’ve ever written on it. It works just fine. You wouldn’t know that I didn’t buy it yesterday.
MTV: So no iPhone or iPod?
Allen: I have an iPhone. Someone put in all my New Orleans jazz music on it so when I go away on a trip I don’t have to carry a lot of stuff with me and I can still sit in my hotel room with earphones and practice.
MTV: Speaking of music, I would think that there’s been interest over the years in turning some of your films into musical theater.
Allen: It comes up all the time. I’ve never been overly disposed to it. I’ve had a million offers on “Purple Rose of Cairo,” a million offers on “Bullets Over Broadway,” but I’ve never been overly enthused about it. I feel once I write it and do it, that’s it. I don’t have to be involved in it. It could be a situation where I simply agree to it and then I see it when it opens and put a bullet through my head. It’s not something that really interests me very much.
MTV: Do you have as much interest in acting as you ever had?
Allen: I don’t go out of my way to write for myself. I’m too old to be the romantic love interest in a movie, so the fun is sort of out of it.
MTV: Do you have a favorite performance of yours?
Allen: I feel I was equally good and bad in all of them. I can’t really act. I do a certain thing. I have a limited range. If you take an actor like Dustin Hoffman or Philip Seymour Hoffman, these guys can play 60 different guys. I have a narrow little thing that I can do that is almost not acting. I can do it and I can do it well because it never ventures into the area of where I’m challenged. It’s a limited menu of parts that I can do. I’ve been good in all my films, but good for me has a ceiling on it.
MTV: So many of your lines have become famous. Does it ever surprise you which ones catch on?
Allen: Yes, it surprises me because I feel I’ve done any number of lines much more worthy of immortality. For instance, I said years ago, “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” That thing has been quoted 20 million times. It’s one of the least-witty things I’ve ever said. I’ve said more profound things that have gotten their laughs in movies but have not made it to the pantheon of Bartlett’s.
MTV: Is there an underappreciated line we should shine a light on?
Allen: There was line in “Deconstructing Harry”: “All people know the same truth; our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.” That’s a good line that never received any notoriety.
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