Buro 24/7 interview: Woody Allen discusses irrational men, Donald Trump and Carla Bruni
Read our exclusive interview with the famed director here
When actors of Cate Blanchett and Colin Firth's calibre fall over themselves to be in your movies, it's safe to assume you've reached status as one of American's most legendary writer-directors.
With a now-signature style comprised of witty dialogue and well-drawn characters at the centre of every movie, Woody Allen's oeuvre spans classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan, as well as modern day favourites Match Point, Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine.
His latest film, Irrational Man, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a tormented philosophy professor and Allen's current muse Emma Stone as his student, alongside Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley.
Buro 24/7 correspondent – Nellee Holmes – recently interviewed the iconic director. Hear what he has to say about working with Carla Bruni, Donald Trump and approaching his eighties here...
This is the first time you've worked in the States for a while. If you were shooting in New York today how would it differ from your past vision?
It's not the first time – I did come back for Blue Jasmine. I was in San Francisco, and it's the first time I have been in the East Coast. I would have worked in New York, but it's so hot in the summer, and New York has become more expensive and that's one of the problems. But the city itself is the same. I remember when 9/11 happened and people asked me, right after it happened, can New York City ever be the same again? And I was saying yes, it's going to be just the same. We are walking in the streets, people are going to theatres and restaurants and Madison Square Garden – they're living their lives with great energy and great enthusiasm. It's very creative, very romantic, very exciting – a great place to live.
In Irrational Man, there is this seemingly insignficant scene at the fair where [a character] chooses the flashlight instead of a teddy bear, which turns out later to be a lifesaver for her. Do you believe that our small decisions have a big impact on our lives?
Yeah, I think that's clear. You make these trivial decisions all the time. You walk down one block and you're fine and you go the other route and a piano they are hoisting falls on you or something. The slightest decisions can come back to reward you or haunt you in enormous be it disproportionate ways and it happens to everybody, everyday, all the time.
A character in the movie falls into a creative rut. When you fall into a creative rut, what do you do to get out of it?
I have been very lucky because I have never had a terrible block or creative problem. I'm not talking about the quality of the work – I can certainly do bad work, but I have never had any problem working and usually for me, if things are down or depressing or if I am blue, work has the opposite effect on me. It has a positive effect so I get out of the bad feeling.
Directing 'Midnight in Paris'
You started directing movies in 1969. A lot has happened with the industry technologically over the course of those intervening years. So if you could look at yourself as a director today versus 1969, are you still the same director?
Well, on the set I am the same, because my personality tends to be quiet and uninteresting. But everything has changed. I have made about 45 movies or so since then and you do, even the dumbest student, which I am, does absorb a certain amount of technique and a certain amount of experiential knowledge.
So I am a better filmmaker than I was then. I don't mean I am a great filmmaker by any means but I am better than the first couple of films when I did make Take the Money and Run. I was flying by the seat of my pants completely and did what I thought was funny and now I think if you look at my films and not just the content and the themes and the structure of the writing, but the theatrical technique of the films, it's much different. If you look at Magic in the Moonlight or Midnight in Paris, or Match Point, they have a much different look than Bananas or Take the Money and Run and they are more technically sophisticated.
You are also working on a series for Amazon. Why at this point in your career did you commit to Amazon and is there anything that you can tell us at all about the subject matter?
Amazon called me a few years ago and asked me if I would do a miniseries for them and it could be as little as six half hour shows and I said no, I don't watch those things and I just don't have the time and it just doesn't interest me. But then they called again and this went on for two years and they kept upping the ante and not just upping the salary, they said, you can do it wherever you want, we don't have to know anything about it and you can do it in black and white, you can do it in period and wherever you want – just do six half hours. Finally, I thought this is too good to resist and I thought I would knock it off in a breeze, what is six half hours for a genius?
But it didn't turn out that way and it was much harder than I thought to do a decent job. It's been very, very hard and I overestimated my own capacity to do it. Mercifully it's almost finished and it still may be terrible when you see it, it's possible that when it goes on the air in 2016, you won't like it and you will think god, you should stay with movies or stay with nothing cause this is terrible. And I gave it my best shot and I worked very hard on it, but I underestimated the difficulty of it.
With Carla Bruni filming 'Midnight in Paris'
French people were surprised when you hired Carla Bruni for your previous movie [Midnight In Paris]. Looking back, would you hire her again and do you think it would have been possible to do that with the First Lady in America?
Well, Carla Bruni was an entertainer and she was a very beautiful model and a folksinger, so it wasn't a great stretch. And the American First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Mrs. Bush had no show business relationship whatsoever. I was with the Sarkoszy's with my wife for breakfast one day and it was the first time I met them and I thought to myself, my God, Carla Bruni is so beautiful and she could play the part of the girl at the Rodin museum, so I said to her, you should really act in movies and would you be interested in doing a small part and she said yes, I would like to do one small part in my life, just for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren so I am in a movie. I would hire her again if she was correct for a part, but I don't think she would do it again.
Your 80th birthday is coming up. Are prepared for your eighties? Do you think about mortality?
Well, I have always been obsessed with mortality since I was five years old, so there's not a big change between five and 85 to me. I was always at death's door and every second I was always petrified. I'm not planning anything because I don't like that and there is a sadness when people get together and they say well now you are 80 or 70 or 90 and people drink and celebrate and there's a great exchange of insincerities all over the place, and it's not for me.
But you are working at the same level as a man who is in his forties. To what do you attribute this longevity? Is it happiness, fear or a bunch of vitamins?
Well I have been lucky, I've had good health and I have remained active and athletic and energetic and that's genetic and I think coming from my parents. I don't lead a sedentary life – I exercise, eat well and I don't smoke and I don't have any terrible health ruining habits. I like to work and I enjoy working and people are willing to back my films. And again, if tomorrow I get a stroke over something and I can't remember my name, then I am out, it's over. But if my health holds out, I see no reason why I couldn't make films. I have got a million ideas and I like to write and I don't know what else I would do, I really don't.
Directing Scarlett Johansson in 'Match Point'
Do you consider yourself an irrational man or a rational man?
Totally rational, too rational. That's why I would make a better teacher than an artist. If I was a little bit more irrational, then I think I would be a better artist. But I am too middle class and too rational and too organised and too cowardly. And it's good in one sense and it keeps you sane but too much sanity is not good for the artist.
A few years ago we asked you about the future of cinema and you gave me an answer that was spot on. You predicted digital cinema and many other things. What do you think is the future of cinema now?
If you just look at your neighborhood you see all the movie houses that have disappeared or have become quadraplexes and I think with the advent of mature and sophisticated television content and the technological advances, I think in the very, very near future (and it's happening already), people will have a big screen in their house and the definition will be perfect and movies will be made to be viewed at home. It's not going to be like when I was a little boy, you got up in the morning and you couldn't wait to go to the movies and the movie houses would be enormous and beautiful and hundreds of people would come and wait in line and it would be a magical experience.
You said before that politics doesn't interest you as an artist, but wouldn't Donald Trump kind of fit into the world of Woody Allen characters?
Donald Trump was in my movie Celebrity and he was very good. I think it's amusing and I don't think he really wants the job but I think he's flamboyant and he lends a theatrical spice to the whole thing. I could make individual jokes about it, but it wouldn't stimulate me enough to write a whole thing about it. Right now it's very hot and there would be many very hilarious Donald Trump jokes but it would be very commercial. But cut to ten years from now, it will be old news, unless he gets elected president. But if it is what it looks like, there will be a little flamboyant flap now and it will be fun for everybody except the Republicans. And then it will go away and then my movie will look like yesterday's newspaper.