Woody Allen says he wouldn’t know an Avenger if one walked in the door, but he’s deeply impressed by the box-office power of superhero blockbusters.
“I don’t know anything about [‘The Avengers’],” says Allen on a recent visit to Chicago to promote his latest film, “Irrational Man.”
“I’ve never seen them, I have no interest in them. But in the first weekend — weekend, I don’t mean week — one of those movies will make more money than all of my films in a lifetime added to all of Fellini’s films added to all of Bergman’s films.”
And what does that say about us as society?
“Well, that there’s a big demand for that kind of thing, and the film business is a business,” says Allen with a shrug. “Now there are those of us that consider film an art form, and we struggle. I need 18 million bucks to make a movie, and it’s a struggle to raise that.”
Wearing his trademark uniform of khakis and button-down shirt (there’s a Snickers bar in his pocket and Allen says it’s a treat he’s saving for after dinner), sporting the same style of glasses he’s favored for a half-century, an affable, ALMOST upbeat Woody Allen spoke to me about his films, the 24/7 nature of social media and why he thinks Emma Stone is the next big thing.
“Irrational Man” (opening Wednesday in Chicago) stars Joaquin Phoenix as Abe, a talented, mercurial, deeply depressed professor who arrives on a Rhode Island campus, strikes up a couple of controversial relationships — and springs to life when he hatches a plan to commit the perfect crime.
“That’s the thing that made the story work for me — that [committing this crime] would change his life completely, and even though it was a terrible thing he was contemplating, his life changed for the better,” says Allen.
“To me it’s just as irrational to think there’s a God in heaven who’s going to give you an afterlife and send you to hell if you’re not good. It’s just as crazy as what this guy was thinking. But in both cases they make your life better.”
Abe is a ladies’ man, and Allen said at first he thought a Leonardo DiCaprio or a Brad Pitt should play the role, but his longtime casting director Juliet Taylor suggested Phoenix.
“And I thought, he would be perfect because the vibe he gives off is so erratic and so neurotic and strange, we thought, ‘Gee, he would be perfect.’ Of course he’s a wonderful actor, but if you were sitting here with him and having dinner and you said, ‘Pass the salt,’ he’d be like Hamlet. It would be five minutes of agony and self-doubt and guilt, and finally you’d get the salt.”
As for Emma Stone, who plays a student who falls for Abe and is already committed to another film written and directed by Allen …
“I would always work with Emma if she was right for the part. I think she’s going to be the biggest female star in America in the next couple of years. She’s got everything. She’s beautiful, she’s sexy, she’s highly intelligent, she can sing, she can dance, she can play comedy, she can play drama — and you LIKE her. Whenever I say, ‘Emma Stone is in my movie,’ I hear, ‘Oh, we love Emma Stone …’ There’s something her that just wins you over.”
Allen says, as has been the case with all of his films, now that he’s finished with “Irrational Man,” he’ll never watch it and he’s already stopped thinking about the characters as he focuses on his next project.
“I’ve been been offered to do sequels many times but I never, never have any interest in the film after I’m finished with it,” he says. “I never see it again. I haven’t seen any of them. Not ‘Annie Hall,’ not ‘Manhattan.’ Once I put them out there — cause remember I write them, shoot them, edit them for a period of time, put the music in there. It’s like a chef working on the meal. You don’t want to eat it when you work on a meal all day.”
Nor does Allen have any intention of returning to the Oscars. (He last appeared in 2002, a few months after 9/11, to talk about his love of New York films.)
“I don’t feel one can say that my movie is better than Martin Scorsese’s movie or Steven Spielberg’s movie … plus, it’s always in the basketball season and there’s always a great game on that night.”
Allen told me his four Oscars are on a shelf in a closet in his home. Seeing as how he doesn’t show up to accept them, how do they find their way to him?
“That’s a good question. … I guess they come in the mail. I suppose I just get a delivery in the mail.”
In his more than half-century in the business, Allen still follows the same ritual: first writing in longhand on a legal pad, then using a typewriter. He doesn’t own a computer; he surfs no corner of the Net.
When I explained the basics of Twitter to Allen, he said, “Oh, is that what the Twitter is? Twitter is not a blog? I would have no time for that and I probably would never know how to turn it on. I don’t Twitter, I’d never be able to do it. I’m too preoccupied with my own stuff. I’m shallow. I want to make the movies, I want to watch the Knicks, I want to take a walk with my wife and practice my clarinet. I’m just not into the real world.”
Not that Allen looks down on those of us who “Twitter,” or become preoccupied with reading the gossip provided by the TMZ’s and Perez Hilton’s of the world.
“You know, you’re born and you mark time until you die. And people have got to fill their lives with things, and some people fill it with very noble things, but most people need stuff to fill their lives with. They go to work in the morning, they’ve got to earn a living. In their free time they play golf, they go on their boat, they go to the movies … it livens up their life.
Given Allen’s upbeat mood during our talk, I had to ask: Has he found something approaching contentment?
“You know, given the tremendous nightmare that life is, then I’m OK. Then I’ve had a lucky life. But life is a difficult, meaningless, tragic, suffering proposition, and really for many, many people, [it’s] awful. So you know by the standards of what life is, I’ve been blessed. I’m very lucky.”
We’re nine minutes into the interview with Parker Posey, and I’m up to my third question. She doesn’t so much reach the end of a train of thought as she comes up for air. It’s pretty great and a little unsettling.
You know Posey from “Dazed and Confused” and “Party Girl,” from “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman,” from memorable guest spots on TV shows such as “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Wife” and “Louie.” She appeared in so many small hipster films in the 1990s she was crowned “Queen of the Indies,” although it seems counterintuitive to the very notion of independent film.
Posey has one of her best roles in recent years in Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” in which she plays Rita, an unhappily married professor who dreams of running off to Spain with a deeply troubled teacher played by Joaquin Phoenix. (“Even if he [committed murder], I’d still run off to Spain with him,” says Rita.)
On a recent visit to Chicago, Posey spoke passionately about the state of the business, her love of acting and why she almost quit the business.
“In the 1990s, I basically just said ‘yes’ to everything,” says Posey. “I was in my 20s and I was insatiable. Did you feel the same way?”
“You worked a lot, right?”
“It was that kind of time in American culture, right?”
“And then the movie business changed and it was all about the corporate culture, and we had the rise of Gawker and this cult of fame and gossip and reality television and it’s kind of a new mythology in a way … it’s very strange to me. As an actress, you want to keep a mystique, but people want to know the gossip. In a way it’s provincial, you know? Like we all live in a small town. All the gossip upstages your body of work …”
When Parker Posey pauses — she’s passionate to the point of reaching out and lightly grabbing your wrist as she makes a point — I ask her about almost retiring from acting.
“I had this reputation for being connected to independent cinema, and yet my worth — it’s very much like the Occupy movement. My number wasn’t high, but I had the talent, I could do the job.”
(Note: I’m not sure what that means either, but Parker Posey is just getting warmed up.)
“I’ve missed acting [that involved] storytelling. … I would guest star on the these TV shows, but it doesn’t satisfy me to do a TV show, yet I wasn’t even reading movie scripts, I was just not getting the material sent to me, so I left a bigger agency and now I’m with a smaller agency, because what happens with the bigger agencies is they’re like studios … and I was like, I need other career options because where do I fit in?
“Because I’m not an ‘SNL’ actor. I mean, we’ve seen comedy move to a really broad direction, and you can look back at actors through the decades and say like, ‘Oh yeah, that was kind of the style then …’ Like Dustin Hoffman who was so distinctive and talented, and Judd Hirsch, and Brooke Adams, and Genevieve Bujold, and JEREMY IRONS, and we’re not in a movie culture right now that has an open door to a certain kind of male or a certain kind of woman. There would barely be a place for actors like that if they were coming up today.”
There’s been much talk lately about how actresses of a certain age aren’t even considered to play the leading role opposite actors of their generation.
“You can only imagine the rejection of being told I can’t play Matt Damon’s wife in three scenes of a Hollywood movie because of the politics of Hollywood,” says Posey.
Dead-on point. (For the record, Posey is all of two years older than Damon.)
For maybe the first time in all the years I’ve been talking to actors who are promoting a film, I’M the one who has to bring up the movie.
“I was going to bring you to that,” says Posey. “I got lucky in that there was a part in his movie that was small enough not to need a big star and I was the right essence at that time to play this woman, so with all of the stuff that I just described I feel so blessed and I see how lucky … how much luck it really takes and so yeah I’m sorry if I’m being too intense but … I’m playing, this is a great Woody Allen character. … I thought a lot about [the actress] Sandy Dennis when I started working on it because I didn’t know what kind of movie I was going to be in, if it was going to be a heavy Woody Allen movie or a light Woody Allen movie. …
“Woody Allen is the last man standing. I’d look over at him and he’d be standing in his khakis and hat, and think, ‘He’s the last man standing, the last man who’s got something to say.’ Are you kidding? This movie is off the charts. It’s amazing.”
Writer/director/producer/brand name Judd Apatow brought his Sick In The Head tour to Chicago on June 18. We talked about his wonderful book, adventures in show business, freaks, geeks and stalking Steve Martin.