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Woody Allen Talks The Inspiration Of Italian Cinema For ‘To Rome With Love’

Woody Allen Talks The Inspiration Of Italian Cinema For 'To Rome With Love'

“With Woody Allen, you have someone who is responsible for more memorable moments than anyone who’s ever been involved in films,” says Alec Baldwin, one of the stars of “To Rome With Love,” who joined various cast members and the director in New York City to talk with press about the film. The 42nd film of the career of the writer, director and legend, Allen doesn’t have to go far to find an exciting collaborator like Baldwin, who bluntly says, “When he calls you and asks you to come and do this, if you’re available, you go.”

“To Rome With Love” is an anthology, centered around multiple love stories set in the beautiful city of Rome. It’s a first for Allen, who has found a second home overseas since 2005’s “Match Point.” “Rome is a provocative city to shoot in,” Allen says. “It’s visually arresting, and there’s a great Italian film tradition.” Adds Baldwin, “I think Italy and Rome have more of a sense of humor than a lot of other places I’ve been. It’s a very loose, very relaxing place, not very self-conscious. Every cliché I’ve heard about spending a lot of time in Rome is true.”

Like the rest of the cast, Baldwin found inspiration not only on the page, but in the heritage of their surroundings. “When you look at Italian films, there’s kind of an openness to Italian acting and Italian film,” Baldwin says. “The people who became stars, from Pasolini’s time to New Wave filmmaking, even [co-star Roberto] Benigni, there are people you can see right into them, there’s not a lot of pretense to them, they’re very available. I tried to keep that in mind.”

Co-star Greta Gerwig, who plays a vacationing student unknowingly involved in a love triangle, used an academic approach to expressing the comedic nature of her work. “I was thinking the commedia dell’arte style of acting,” says Gerwig. “The way actors would play out these ‘types,’ I thought there was some reflection of that in this film.” Though she didn’t have to look far for additional motivation, given her relationship with Allen’s films. “I grew up watching his movies over and over again, I’ve learned what books to read based on references in his films. I read ‘Death In Venice’ because he mentioned it. I wouldn’t live in New York, and I wouldn’t want to be an actor, if it weren’t for his movies.”

Allen also sought inspiration from older films, with one in particular. “One of the films that I was thinking of was one of my favorite Fellini films, ‘The White Sheik,’ ” Allen offers. Suggesting that he was subconsciously borrowing from films from the Italian masters, he says, “I love the film so much, that stuff creeps into your pores and you do it without even know you’re doing it.”

Penelope Cruz stars in the film as Anna, a feisty call girl and a font of advice for an engaged Italian on vacation. In speaking a language that was not her native tongue, she also sought very specific inspiration. “There were things about [Pasolini’s] ‘Mamma Roma’ that were in the back of my head with this role,” she says, citing the Italian neo-realist classic. “She’s a character that has no filter in her brain, and it’s so liberating and refreshing to play someone like that, and to be a part of this homage to Italian cinema.”

Allen also took this opportunity to return to acting, as he hadn’t been seen onscreen in one of his own films since 2006’s “Scoop.” In Allen’s typically modest, straightforward manner, he flatly states, “In the last half dozen scripts I wrote, there wasn’t been anything that I thought I could do.”

“I’ve been performing for years, I made my first film in 1968. I’ve always been open to acting in other peoples’ films, but no one has ever asked me over the years,” he shrugs. “Two or three times I’ve been asked, and I always said yes.” Which explains his involvement in John Turturro’s upcoming “Fading Gigolo.” “It’s shooting in New York City so I said sure, because no one ever asks me.”

While Allen’s role in “To Rome With Love” is in English, he had to direct the film’s many foreign language sequences, despite not speaking the local language. This has apparently never been a problem for Allen, who also worked with Penelope Cruz in her native tongue for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” “I can tell acutely; you just see them acting, and they’re clearly convincing in their body language,” says Allen. “When I did ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona,’ Javier Bardem and Penelope were ad-libbing all over the place. I didn’t understand anything they were saying. To this day I have no idea what they were saying in those scenes. But it didn’t matter to me, I could see that they got it right, they were acting in the correct fashion for that moment. It was academic what the actual words were. The emotions were clearly correct.” Scoffs the prolific living legend, “I did three films in a row with a Chinese cameraman who didn’t speak any English, and the photography was beautiful!”

“To Rome With Love” opens in limited release this Friday.

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