Colin Firth and Emma Stone make for a fetching and very funny duo in Woody Allen’s latest summer release, “Magic in the Moonlight,” which opens in select theaters this Friday. They also make for a fun time in person.
In the 1920’s set romantic comedy, Firth plays Stanley Crawford, a cocky stage magician who doesn’t believe in magic. He meets his match when a close friend persuades him to debunk a young woman (Stone), who claims to be real clairvoyant. In a matter of days he falls under her spell despite his reservations.
Indiewire sat down with Firth and Stone in New York to discuss the experience of working on their first Woody Allen project, and what they make of the fact that the 28-year-old age gap between their two characters is never addressed in the film.
How does one get cast in a Woody Allen film?
Colin Firth (CF): In a way it was straightforward by standards of the way he operates. I was sent the script and was offered it with a note. Scripts come on a computer now — this one did not. It had to be transported, handcuffed to somebody.
Was the note handwritten?
CF: No. There was a note at the end, which was nice. It was just a little thing about how you would be great in this role. I read it while somebody waited. And you know, I don’t have to think too hard about working with Woody Allen. I got a fair idea about this work, really and I wanted to do it. But dates conflicted and they needed an answer quickly. So it had to wait a month or so and then they came back again saying dates had been moved. There wasn’t much conflict.
Same for you, Emma?
Emma Stone (ES): I had a quick meeting with them. I had a four minute meeting and then they asked me to come into his office to read the script. About a month later, I went and there was a note attached to it, not handwritten, saying basically the same thing and that was it.
CF: Did you have to give the script back?
ES: Oh yeah, right away.
Emma, you named your first dog Alvy after the “Annie Hall” character, so it’s safe to say you were a huge fan of his before signing on. How nervous were you about working with one of your all-time idols?
ES: Not that naming your dog after a well-named character makes you the biggest fan, but I do love that character and it did feel like a good name for a neurotic dog. I was incredibly nervous! I mean two of his casting directors were in the room with him and they kind of asked most of the questions and he just nodded a long.
I’m speaking with him tomorrow and I’m terrified.
ES: What are you going to ask him?
I need a night to prep. What should I ask him?
CF: I think it’s a funny thing. He’s shy. One would call him reclusive even. And there are all these things, which are unusual. He’s not big on the formalities and the greetings and stuff like that. But past that I find him really straightforward. You know, I didn’t have conversations with him, lunch or dinner or phone calls or anything, but I find when you ask him a question, it was always a very sane, straightforward and incredibly honest answer. In fact, you know so honest you had to be careful what you asked him. “Am I looking nice?” Don’t ask. I find that he seems to just cut to the chase in that sense.
What’s the most honest answer he gave you?
CF: Well I don’t know the most honest. My conversations with him were only about the scene he was directing. There was nothing else, really. For me. When I meet another shy person it tends to go a little dead. I’m a very repressed Englishman and he’s a reserved, New York intellectual. We tended to keep a strictly professional rapport.
Was yours strictly professional, Emma?
ES: I talked to him about movies, and yeah, we would have little conversations.
CF: But you’re more outgoing! You just come right out and ask people questions.
ES: I did probably ask more or initiate more conversation in the beginning.
CF: He was certainly very vocal in terms of just directing.
ES: I asked him what movies of his he likes. He would say, “None of them are any good.”
CF: Health issues!
ES: If you mention things like that he’s very informed. He knows the medicine for you and what you should be talking to doctors about.
Do you call him up when you’re feeling sick?
ES: No. I usually call a licensed doctor.
What most surprised you about working with him?
ES: I think my preconception or what I had been told is that he wouldn’t direct and he would sit quietly and just aimlessly be throwing things out —
CF: Or just say, “That’s not right. That didn’t work. That’s all.” I was terrified of that, actually. Because given that there would be no rehearsals either, I was scared that I would be in a void. If those stories were true I was going to be in a void. We both had tons of dialogue, huge amounts of material, which needed to be done apparently seamlessly and I was so concerned about that. I really did far more prep on text than I normally do. I like to do as much as backstory as I can, but I don’t normally focus on memorizing. Partly because you get on a set and repeat things, I know them quite quickly.
ES: But also what’s so wild about Woody is you say his lines and — from what I experienced — he’ll say, “That sounds like my dialogue. That sounds like something I wrote. I don’t want it to sound like something I wrote. What I wrote is wrong. Just make something up.” And you’re just like, “OK, I’ll rewrite your beautiful writing.” You really want to memorize the dialogue and once it sounds like dialogue he wants you to throw it out. He’s so not precious about his words.
The age factor in the romance is never directly addressed. What did you both make of that?
CF: It wasn’t written in. I noticed it. I’m not celebrating being on the unflattering end of an age difference. Yes, it didn’t concern me, but I remember thinking this has so many similarities to “My Fair Lady” or “Pygmalion.” I just allowed it — I hope that would give it a pass, because it wasn’t written in.
First I didn’t know who was playing the other role. It didn’t occur to me that it was a younger person. I think for one thing, despite how anyone is going to feel about it, Stanley has had to live enough years to have got things wrong for a long time. And I think that she’s younger, fresher, in a different period in her life. And it corresponds in so many ways to “Pygmalion.” We’re not in some carnal relationship. We are not subjected to that as a spectacle.
What did you make of it, Emma?
ES: Well obviously I noticed it too. I think through the same lenses as Colin. It didn’t feel super sexually driven.
CF: It didn’t loom large.
ES: No. I mean they kiss at the end. I think there was a very — I don’t know. It wasn’t something that I sat thinking about. We were cast.
CF: You noticed it and then we moved on. In the end all that seemed apparent to me was that Emma was right for the role. I mean I quickly couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it.