There is a special reverence for Woody Allen in the film industry – even (or maybe especially) among entertainment journalists. While the din of any Press conference typically diminishes when the talent walks in, the silence that settled over the room when Woody Allen entered signified nothing short of utmost respect. So it came as no surprise that he received the lion’s share of the questions, despite being flanked by talented and beautiful women, including Alessandra Mastronardi, Alison Pill, Penélope Cruz, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig.
It should go without saying that the film takes place in Rome, and Allen explained why he chose the location. “There are two things,” he began, “one, I had been talking about making a film in Rome for years with the people in Rome who distribute my films. They always said, ‘Come make a film.’ And finally they said, ‘Come and do it, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, we’ll put up all the money necessary to make the film.’ And I jumped at the chance ‘cause I wanted to work in Rome, and it was an opportunity to get the money to work quickly and from a single source. So, it came together like that.”
Despite being accompanied solely by the women of the cast, To Rome with Love does have several men performing as well. One of the men in the cast is Roberto Benigni, who is a very distinct kind of comedic actor, and who might clash with Allen’s brand of comedy. Allen dismisses that idea out of hand. “I cast them because they’re perfect for what I’ve written. They don’t have to be in any way compatible with me. I didn’t think Roberto Benigni would be compatible with me…. I thought I would have a difficult time with him. That he would be irrepressible and I’d never be able to get his attention. And he’d be running around and be crazy…but in the end it turned out that he was quite intellectual and quite poised and quiet and a pleasure to work with and really had nothing to do with my kind of comedy. Just did his role and it was quite easy actually.” Allen, himself, is also part of the cast, playing the father to Alison Pill’s character who is about to get married. On why he chose to act in this particular film, Allen says, “Only because there was a part for me. You know, when I write a script if there’s a part for me, then I play it…. As I’ve gotten older, the parts have diminished. I liked it when I was younger, I could always play the lead in the movie. And I could do all the romantic scenes with the women. And it was fun and I’d like to play that. Now I’m older. And I’m reduced to playing the backstage doorman or the uncle or something, and I don’t really love that so occasionally when a part comes up I’ll play it.”
Two of the women on the panel, Alison Pill and Penélope Cruz, have worked with Allen in the past, and they shared their thoughts on working with him once more. “I will work with this man any time he asks,” Pill said. “It’s a joy and a privilege and such a civilized filmmaking environment. And I also appreciate the idea that films can be just-because-you-want-to-do-them and that people will want to see them. You’ll make them even if they don’t want to see them. That’s how I feel as an actor; I just like doing it. I’ll act for anybody, and I’m very lucky that I’ve gotten a chance to work with this amazing man more than once.”
Cruz added, “Me too. I feel extremely lucky. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a little girl. And I was very happy, first of all, to meet him, to be able to spend time with him. He makes me laugh all day long. So I feel like the luckiest girl…. He trusts me enough to give me these beautiful characters.”
“I’ll buy that,” Allen responded after the ladies finished their praise.
The other ladies on the panel shared their experiences with Allen’s gentle directing touch. Alessandra Mastronardi said, “I was glad, because I really felt free to [act] in a way that I felt the character, so I think it’s a good thing for us. I’m not that kind of actress that I need restriction to the lines.”
Ellen Page complimented the writing, which made it easy to have less direction. “There’s already such natural fluidity to what you’re saying and what you’re doing. I don’t think there are that many instances where you feel unnatural or necessarily that uncomfortable. But it is nice to have that sensibility or flexibility or comfort in talking to him when that moment arises.”
Rounding off the responses, Greta Gerwig confessed, “I spent most of my life imitating characters in his movies, so from the age of 11 was trying to talk like them. So my entire identity is confused with other characters’ identities. So when [Allen] says, ‘Be yourself,’ I’m like, ‘But it’s so fused with these characters you’ve written.’ So for me I was just excited; it was hard for me to change the words because I love them so much. But also because of just his idea of humans and the characters he’s written are so big in my mind.”
To Rome with Love explores a lot of themes, including fame and lust, but also love. For a man who seems to write about romantic relationships a lot, it’s surprising when Allen says, “About the important things in life, you never learn anything. You can learn technological things. You can learn about specific things. But the real problems that people deal with in any subject, existential subjects or romantic subjects, you never learn anything. So you make a fool of yourself at 20, you make a fool of yourself at 40, at 60, at 80. The ancient Greeks were dealing with these problems. They screwed up all the time. People do now. All over the world, relationships between men and women are very, very tricky and very difficult. And you never learn anything. It’s not an exact science. So you can’t learn anything, and you’re always going by instinct. And your instinct betrays you, because you want what you want when you want it. So it’s very tough going. And most relationships don’t work out and don’t last long. When they do work out and when you see one that’s really lovely, it’s a rarity. It’s great that two people with all their complex, exquisite needs have found each other and that all the wires go in the right places. So, I’ve learned nothing. Years and years of failure and I have nothing to say.”
On the contrary, Woody Allen has plenty to say in To Rome with Love which opens on June 22, 2012.