Richard Roeper Blog

RR talks with Woody Allen about new film, “Irrational Man”


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.”

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