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Woody Allen on 'Magic in the Moonlight' and What's Wrong With the Younger Generation

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire July 23, 2014 at 1:14PM

Woody Allen talks about "Magic in the Moonlight" with Indiewire.
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Magic In The Moonlight

At 78-years-old, Woody Allen faced what was arguably one of the toughest years of his life in the public eye with the renewed accusations that he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a young child. Yet despite the ugly controversy, or maybe because of it, Allen hasn't been press shy with regards to his latest summer release, "Magic in the Moonlight," which opens in select theaters this Friday.

READ MORE: Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight' is Exactly What It Looks Like

He recently sat down with MTV for 35-minutes to record his first ever podcast, and late last week, Indiewire was lucky enough to chat with the iconic New Yorker. Below is the interview:

I caught your film the other night at the world premiere at New York's famed Paris Theater. Can you even recall how many times you've premiered there over the years?

I can't recall the number, but we have done it on several occasions. And I've played that theater... my films have played that theater a number of times and it's one of the last remaining, wonderful art movie houses in New York. It goes back for me many many years to when I was a high school student and I used to take my dates to the Paris theater to see wonderful French films of the 1950s.

Do you still get excited when you bring new films of yours to that theater, or has it gotten old at this point?

"I think that's nonsense that one generation would be dumber than another generation."

No, no. I like it. It's still like having one foot in where I started. The Paris was one of those theaters of a group that mostly don't exist anymore, that played the band of filmmakers that I love. Truffaut and Godard: the French filmmakers. But also they placed some of the Italian filmmakers and the other theaters around there... The Plaza and Cinema 1 and 2, all those theaters. And the Paris was one of those group of art houses that I went to frequently when I was young, a teenager and then a young man in New York. We saw all those great films in those theaters and talked about them and buzzed about them.

And when people always talk about the dumbing down of America, of course, I think that's nonsense that one generation would be dumber than another generation. It's so silly because the generation now is so much smarter than my generation in so many ways. But I am surprised that we used to go to all those art houses and my friends -- and we were not intellectuals -- I mean I was a guy who went to baseball games and basketball games and played ball in the street and didn't get through one year of college. We all were thrilled by Bergman and Fellini and Antonioni and Godard, and Truffaut of course, and Resnais. This generation doesn't seem to have much patience for the kinds of films that thrilled us when we were young adults in the city.

READ MORE: 17 of the Best Filmmakers Over 75: From Jean-Luc Godard to Ridley Scott

I don't know why that is. I don't know why there isn't a thriving cinema of high class films that you call art house films now. Or at the very minimum the young college kids today are not watching with great interest these films that I'm mentioning. All the Bergman films. All the Fellini films. The Truffaut films. I don't know why they are not watching them from the past or that there isn't an equivalent now for them to enjoy and buzz over.

When you work with younger actors like Emma Stone do you try to instill upon them your thoughts on cinema, and get them to revisit those works you're speaking of?

Magic In The Moonlight

I do. And it isn't even a revisit. For them it's just a visit. When I talk to Emma -- and Emma is someone who will do it because she is interested in film and it's a career and she's a serious actress -- and I tell her you got to see "A Streetcar Named Desire" or you got to see "Cries & Whispers," she will listen and do it because that's her bread and butter so she cares about it. But I've sent kids going to very good schools --Yale and Harvard... very good schools -- to see the Bergman films. I've screened them for them and it meant nothing to them. They didn't care.

About Emma Stone. She's wonderful in the film. Where you fully aware of who she was prior to casting her?

She was in films that I would not have seen. She was in films that were... not that they were bad films, but they were aimed at a completely different market. You know, young adults or college kids. They were of no interest to me. And then I was on my treadmill, which I do everyday, and I surf around to try to kill the boring half-hour that I'm on it. On a couple of occasions I would be surfing through the movies and I'd see, you know, one of those films that she was in. And I pause there for just a moment or two because I could see it was not the kind of film that I would have much interest in, but I saw her. And I think, "My god she is so beautiful and in an interesting way." It isn't just that she's beautiful, but she's beautiful and interesting. And then I notice that she's a good actress.

"I'm very nice to all the actors and I never raise my voice."

She's funny and very believable and I spoke to Juliet Taylor, my casting director, about her, and Juliet, who knows everything about every actor/actress said, "Yeah. She's one of the good people around. She's really a good actress. She's not just beautiful."

And so I met her and we used her for this movie and she was fabulous. And just coincidentally, she was very correct for the movie I'm shooting now with Joaquin Phoenix. So I cast her again.

Emma is famous worldwide but she's still relatively young. You, no doubt, must make young performers nervous when they first step onto a set of yours. How do you work to calm them?

My feeling is that when they meet me they see quickly that I'm not anything to be nervous around. I'm more nervous than them. I'm very nice to all the actors and I never raise my voice. I give them a lot of freedom to work, to change my words, and they see in five minutes that I'm not threat. That they're not gonna have to worry. They are not dealing with some kind of cult genius or some kind of formidable person. Or someone who's a temper tantrum person. You know, they see right away that this guy is going to be a pushover for me. And I am.

Has your approach with actors changed over the years?

Yes. I noticed that over the years I've grown more and more confident in the instinct of the actors and I let the actors really, you know, change my words, drop speeches they don't like, change them, put them in their own words, add things. I give a great deal of freedom to the actors and they like that and it makes them feel relaxed and it makes them feel like they don't rigidly have to do written lines. They can make themselves comfortable with the speeches, say them with idioms that are comfortable for them. And it helps.

Woody Allen and Jacki Weaver at the world premiere of "Magic in the Moonlight" in New York
Woody Allen and Jacki Weaver at the world premiere of "Magic in the Moonlight" in New York, presented by Sony Pictures Classics and Dolce & Gabanna

"Magic in the Moonlight" isn't your first project to feature a magician at its center. What about their trade fascinates you as an artist?

I was an amateur magician as a boy. I loved everything about magic and I did know in the history of magic that Houdini was somebody who would debunk spirit mediums who took advantage of people and took their money and preyed on them. And I thought it would make an interesting story to take a spirit medium and a scientific, more sophisticated magician and have him fall in love with this fraud. And it would lead to a good situation. And I hired two very very good people. Colin Firth, who is brilliant and Emma who is fabulous. I got out of the way and let them do their thing.

What keeps you so inspired to keep creating at your pace?

It's only that I enjoy my work. I enjoy writing. I enjoy making the films. I enjoy spending the days with people like Emma Stone and Colin Firth, or Scarlett Johansson, or Naomi Watts, or Penelope Cruz. It's a good way to make a living and I look forward to it so I keep doing it.

This article is related to: Woody Allen, Magic in the Moonlight, Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Romantic Comedy, Interviews, Sony Pictures Classics






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