Those familiar with Woody Allen’s films would know that the cities he bases them in play as important a part as his stellar cast — usually an eclectic ensemble. In the past four years itself, he’s offered his audience a different perspective of Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008), Paris (Midnight in Paris, 2010) and now Rome, in the just-released To Rome With Love. How about an insight into India now? “If I’m given a chance or if something funny happens in India, I’d love to come,” says the maverick filmmaker with a laugh. In this chat, he talks about the new film, why he will never retire, and how his drawer is his biggest inspiration.
‘I never look back or watch the old movies I made; I don’t like them any more’
Tell us about To Rome With Love. What sets it apart from your other romcoms?
It is a comedy that follows the lives of various individuals, some of whom are American and some Italian, some residents and some visitors, all around the enchanted ancient city. These people from different walks of life will experience romances and adventures, in a place where they’re surrounded by extraordinary culture, art and cuisine.
One of the most delightful things about the film is how casually it blends the plausible and the surreal, and how unabashedly it revels in pure silliness. The plots, which are cut together in no special order, obey different time schemes.
You’re acting in this film as well. What’s the role about? How do you take a call on whether you would best suit a particular role in your own film?
When you make the film, it’s like a chef who works on a meal. After you’re working all day in the kitchen, dicing and cutting and putting the sauces in, you don’t want to eat it. That’s how I always feel about the films I make. When I write a script, if there is a part for me, then I play it. If there is no part, then I’m not in 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 liked 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. Occasionally, when a part comes up, I’ll play it.
The cities you shoot in are almost as important if not equally, as the characters in your films. How was the Rome experience? How do you play off a city’s vibe?
Woody Allen-Penelope Cruz shoot for To Rome With Love
Well, there are two things. 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 and make a film.” And finally, they said, “Come and do it. We have 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 because 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.
‘When I was younger I could play the lead in the movie. Now I’m reduced to playing a backstage doorman or the uncle, and I don’t really love that’
Which are the other cities on your wish list?
I wanted nothing more than to be a foreign filmmaker, because I couldn’t raise money any other way. So I don’t have a wishlist as such.
Do real people and their stories inspire you or are they all from your imagination?
Some are my ideas and some are just funny things that I come across. The incidences that I find funny or the simple little ideas in my mind that sound funny to me, I pen them down and stow them in my drawer. And when I open the drawer someday, I get ideas to make movies out them. So basically my drawer inspires me. All the films and stories that I make are from that drawer. To Rome With Love is also something that I picked up from there.
You’re an inspiration to thousands across the world, but is there something or someone that inspires you?
Books inspire me — from JD Salinger to Elia Kazan and beyond.
You manage to make at least a film a year. Most directors your age are retired, while those far younger are far less prolific. What keeps you going? Do you ever plan to stop?
Retirement is a very subjective thing. There are guys I know who retire and are very happy. They travel all over the world, they go fishing, they play with their grandchildren, and they never miss work, at all. And then there are other people, and I am one of that kind, who like to work all the time. I just like it. I can’t see myself retiring and fondling a dog somewhere. I like to get up and work. I have too much energy, or too much nervous anxiety. So I don’t see myself retiring. Maybe I will suddenly get a stroke or a heart attack and I will be forced to retire, but if my health holds out, I don’t expect to retire. But the money could run out. Sooner or later, the guys that back the films could get wise and say, “This is not really worth all the suffering,” and then stop giving me the money. But I don’t think I would retire even then. I would just go write for the theatre or write books.
‘Freida tried to make the character as understandable as possible and yet keep her mystery’
What do you think of Bollywood?
I have worked with Freida Pinto in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010). I haven’t seen any Indian film though.
What was working with Freida like? What did she bring to the film? Do you plan to work with her again?
I always let the actors add their own flavour to the character; that way each character becomes a special one. She tried to make the character as understandable as possible and yet keep her mystery. She also suggested the name Dia for the character because the actual name Lolita, she thought, sounded like Latika from her last movie, Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
‘I like to work all the time. I can’t see myself retiring and fondling a dog somewhere. I like to get up and work. I have too much energy’
Do you ever feel like remaking any of your older films with a modern set of actors?
I never look back or watch the old movies I made; I don’t like them any more.
What’s your next film about? Where will it be set?
You’ll have to wait to know what it is about, but I can tell you that I am going to be shooting it this summer in New York and San Francisco.