Speaking about the film previously, you've said something along the lines of "if I make a film about sex I have to make a film about religion"—can you elaborate on the relationship between the two?
I've always like movies about religion, because movies about religion have to deal with rules usually that men have made—the women haven't made these rules. So there's suppression, or you could say oppression. And sometimes you see a movie like "Black Narcissus" that's very erotic…anytime I see a movie about a nun I'm interested. I've always wanted to make a movie about a nun and [Vanessa's character] is in that [same] position. She could be a Muslim woman, a Jewish woman…anything orthodox.
So sex and religion are connected, because of the fear of women. Yes there's been a lot of progress, but there's still a tremendous amount of misogyny in some ways. And the most overt representation of that is in religion, which reduces the dialogue or perception of what a woman is. That's just something that interests me. Religious movies usually stay within the community, but whether your religious or not, the whole question of spirituality—of God and rules—is an interesting one.
For a movie that's purportedly about a male gigolo the second half really shifts to focus on Vanessa's character.
She's the heart of the movie. When I stumbled onto that in my first draft Woody encouraged me—and my son did too, he said: "that's the best thing in the movie." I could write a whole movie about her. I still find myself wondering what her life is like now, as if she really exists. Maybe that occurs when the right person is in the right role, I don't know.
The Hassidic tribunal scene feels very reminiscent of an old Woody Allen short story…absurdist and almost fable-like.
Yeah, but these things really do exist. Now, usually people are not kidnapped to go to them, but there are many more extreme things that happen in reality that I don't show in the movie. When I read about them and would tell Woody he'd say "I don't think people will believe that" and I'd say, "well yeah, but it's real." But yeah, I think that's what he liked about it. When he first read [the script] he said have you read Isaac Bashevis Singer and I said yeah, but I'll read some more. And then when I was actually going and doing research he got nervous and would say "you're actually going and talking to these people? You're not afraid?" And I'd say "…a little…"
But you managed to escape without getting stoned to death.
Yeah. As Bob Balaban says, it only happens once every seventy years.
It's so rare that Woody Allen acts in a movie he hasn't directed. Was it difficult to direct him?
This is only the third time in his life that he's ever done a big role for someone else—but no, after about an hour it was so easy. I mean you have to wet your feet the first day—everyone was just kind of dipping a toe in the water. Sometimes he'd go off the script a little bit and I was a little bit hesitant to correct him, because I thought maybe that'd throw off the way he memorized it or something. But he was very easy to work with. Very professional: always on time and ready to go. He really made the movie possible because he's so quick. Vanessa was also like that, very fast. Having those two helped me so much.
Were you concerned about the commercial prospects of the film given the recent resurfacing of the accusations against Allen in the media?
I don't like to talk about other people's personal lives or about things I'm not informed about. This is something that happened a long time ago and there are going to be people on both sides of the dialogue. I hope that people can just watch the movie. Nobody knows anything really, he's my friend and he's been working for 20 years since this all came into the papers. I'm just another person working with him. Most people if they're going to go, they're going to go. He's wonderful in the movie and I look up to him in certain ways, he's been very generous to me and I'd work with him again.
It's definitely a fruitful partnership.
Oh good, I'll tell him that: "people are saying it's a fruitful partnership, Woody" and he'll say "yeah, sure" [in an entirely convincing Woody Allen impression]. I'll tell him we need to have something else ready to go.