By Carl Kozlowski
At the ripe old age of 75, comic legend Woody Allen still has plenty of surprises up his sleeve. One big one has been his willingness to leave his beloved New York City to film in some of Europe’s greatest locales after swearing for decades he would never shoot anywhere but the Big Apple.
Ever since he jetted off to London to shoot the 2004 release Match Point Allen has become a world traveler. He hit London again for Scoop in 2006, scored a hit and yet another Oscar nod for the sexy screenplay to Vicky Cristina Barcelona, set in Spain, and landed the biggest hit of his career and an actual Best Screenplay win for last year’s Midnight in Paris, shot in the City of Lights.
Now, he has taken on Rome in the new comedy To Rome With Love. As always, Allen has gathered an all-star cast, with Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig all eager to spout the cleverest dialogue found in cinema.
Allen himself takes a role for the first time since Scoop, and looks refreshed and revived onscreen. But he’s even more impressive in person, as seen last Friday, when he made another rare trip from New York to headline a press conference for Rome at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, giving this reporter the singular thrill of serving up the closing question to the cinema icon.
“I had strictly financial reasons to leave for overseas,” explains Allen, when asked about his moves abroad and the reason his films have taken a lighter tone. “The first was Match Point, but that’s not really an upbeat film. It was originally written for New York, but they gave me money to make it in London. Then I found other countries started calling me. Barcelona, Paris, Rome and other countries called me to come make films there. A change of venue cannot do anything but help one’s creativity.”
To Rome With Love is focused on fame and the rewards and travails that come with it, as its multiple storylines include an average-Giuseppi Italian man whose shower-singing abilities make him an opera star, and another in which another nobody wakes up to discover himself chased everywhere by paparazzi. Having weathered massive public attention for decades, the topic is raw in Allen’s mind.
“I myself feel about fame the way the chauffeur in the film talks about it: Life is tough whether you’re famous or not famous, so of those two it’s probably better to be famous,” says Allen. “There are better perks, better seats at basketball games, better tables and reservations, and if I call a doctor on a Saturday morning, I can get him. There are a lot of indulgences you get, and I’m not saying it’s fair—it’s kind of disgusting, but I admit I enjoy it. There are drawbacks, but you can live with them . . . The bad is greatly outweighed by great dinner reservations.”
Weaving deftly among questions from a worldwide array of reporters, Allen revealed what he would tell himself if he could go back in time like his lead character in Midnight in Paris (“I’d say, ‘Don’t do THAT!’ Well, I’d like to go back in time, but just for lunch.”), and why he allows actors to improvise greatly (“I’m alone writing in my apartment in New York, so I’m in my own little bubble, and what do I know about how people really talk at length?”) And Allen revealed that even a filmmaker at his level doesn’t always get to use the title he wants on a film.
“My original title for this was Bop Decameron, but no one knew what it meant,” says Allen. “Then I tried Nero Fiddled, and half the countries didn’t know that phrase, so I finally settled on this terrible title To Rome With Love, so the whole world would get it.”
With more than 40 films to his credit throughout a five-decade career, often exploring love and the very nature of human existence, one might think Allen has a lot to teach his fellow man about the ways of romance and the universe. But even he admits he’s just as clueless as the rest of us.
“The real problems that people deal with, in any subjects, existential or romantic, you never learn anything, so you make a fool of yourself at 20, 40, 60 and even 80,” says Allen. “It’s very tough going and most relationships don’t work out or last long, so when you see one that’s really lovely, it’s a rarity and great that all the wires go to the right places.”