This week, the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival showcases Alison Pill in two of the highest-profile projects in the program: Woody Allen’s opening-night feature “To Rome With Love” and Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom,” the pilot of which will screen Friday, June 22. The Canadian 26-year-old has long made a point of seeking high-strata work like this in television, theater and film.
Indie movies such as “Pieces of April,” “Milk,” Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and “Goon” pepper her resume, and her jaunty performance as Zelda Fitzgerald in Allen’s 2011 breakout “Midnight in Paris” brought her a new level of recognition. On the TV side, Pill played a student diagnosed with cancer in the second season of HBO’s critically acclaimed series “In Treatment,” while her theater work has included parts in “The Miracle Worker,” “Reasons to Be Pretty,” “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “Blackbird,” in which she co-starred with “Newsroom” lead Jeff Daniels. As a newly engaged American abroad, Pill's character in "Rome" must navigate the awkward tug-of-war between her Italian fiance and her crusty retired father, and in "Newsroom" she plays an associate producer of a nightly news show convulsing through a major identity crisis.
Her eclecticism and avoidance of most studio-backed projects is no accident, and while Pill’s goofy charm and enthusiasm were on display at a recent press day for “To Rome With Love,” so was her ardent feminism. Pill’s the kind of woman who seems eager to take a stand -- and she’s the rare bird that doesn’t lose her smile even when expressing the fierceness of her opinions.
To get a sense of what Pill really thinks of Woody’s take on young women, the infuriating standards of studio meddlers, the appeal of playing a happily sexual woman, tolerance for gratuitous T&A or the challenges of speaking Sorkin’s “musical dialogue,” read on.
It’s as surreal as being in a Woody Allen movie. It feels like it’s all a dream and still could be. He’s incredible, and one of the most amazing comedians working today.
Woody has a reputation for not directing his actors that much. Did you find that true compared to other directors? What kind of input does he generally give you?
It’s usually pretty basic. For “Midnight in Paris,” it was really just, “She’s southern and the life of the party.” I was like, OK. I think he’s grown to have trust in his instincts enough that he’s not going to choose somebody who would come in unprepared or be a jerk. Once you find somebody who’s not a jerk and wants to be in your movie, then they’re usually going to do as good a job as they possibly can. And I think he trusts that.
This is your second go-round with Woody. Aside from just working with him generally, what appealed about doing the “Rome” character? Did you see the script beforehand?
Yeah, I got our whole storyline. I had no idea what the other storylines were, like Roberto Benigni’s. And we never met each other. Greta [Gerwig] and I knew each other in New York and saw each other last night. We were both like, “Ah! We’re in the same movie!” On this one, I really just got to laugh at everything and sort of be part of the crew.
How long were you in Rome?
I was there for about a month, the month of August. It was hot as balls! It was awful! Also, there are no Romans in Rome in August. They’re all at the beach, they’re all gone. So you’re sort of like, “Oh, I see, you’ve taken the wise choice, Romans…” Just us and the tourists.
What’s your feeling about how Woody writes young women? Do you think he gets it right?
Ellen Page’s lines in that movie are so hilarious and amazing, and Alec Baldwin’s responses to them are just genius. That’s the thing, is that ultimately Woody Allen has been doing this wonderful thing of both appreciating and being confounded by young women. And most people wouldn’t admit that. So it doesn’t matter what the ultimate line is, it’s about the relationships between men and women more than it is specifically about the woman’s story. And once you see it in that context, you can make total sense of it. As a daughter and a woman with a fiancé [in the film], I think it was totally right. The main focus in your life at that point is the competition between your fiancé and your dad. Even if you didn’t know your dad, you would still be like, Who is this guy? Is he going to be a good dad? Would I want him as my dad?
It’s like that line that you cross when you’re kicking one of your parents along with your spouse until suddenly you’re defending them...
Yeah. “You can’t make fun of my parents. Only I’m allowed to do that.” That tension is all throughout there. And that is reality. I could say that “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl focuses on the female storyline more. But it’s Woody Allen, it’s a comedy, and it’s hilarious, and his appreciation for young women and his interest in them is always more admirable than a lot of male directors who are confounded by young women and then just ignore them.