Clouds rolled into Cannes for the Wednesday night opening of the festival and drowned out the good reviews and good will accorded Woody Allen’s latest period valentine, “Café Society.” Despite the opening night rape joke by Master of Ceremonies Laurent Lafitte, and another attack from Allen’s estranged son, the writer-director and his cast had to keep moving.
The next day, the team gamely parried media queries at roundtable interviews over lunch on the Carlton Beach. Hovering over the proceedings were the anxious Amazon team, which spent $20 million to acquire the movie, along with various handlers battling jet lag. Clearly, all the players had been briefed about what to say when the inevitable came up. Will this hurt the movie?
Here’s what we took away.
1. Woody Allen doesn’t read anything about himself.
When a reporter asked point blank about the THR attack, timed for the “Café Society” opening at Cannes, he replied:
“I never read anything about me, any interview I do. I said everything about that issue in The New York Times, some time ago. I have moved so far past that. I work, that’s the end of it, I said I’d never comment again. I said everything I had to say about it. I never read anything, reviews of my films. I made the decision 35 years ago to never read reviews of my movies. You can easily become obsessed with yourself: ‘This person liked this or that,’ ‘This person thinks I should only be doing this,’ ‘This person thinks this about me’… It’s a bad idea to concern yourself with yourself. Do your work. Do not find out what the grosses are, ‘How did we do?’ Forget about all that, just work. It’s worked for me. I’ve been very productive over the years by not thinking about myself or obsessing about myself. I’ve said all I want to say about it.”
As for the off-color rape joke, Allen thinks all comedians should be able to do whatever they want. “I’m completely in favor of comedians making any jokes they want,” said Allen. “I’m non-judgmental. I’m a comic myself. They should be free to make any jokes they want. I’m never offended, it takes a lot to offend me.”
Added Lively: “Any joke about rape, homophobia, or Hitler is not a joke. That was a hard thing to swallow. This is a respectful festival about film and artists. This wouldn’t have happened in the 1940s. I can’t imagine Fred Astaire or Bing Crosby going out and doing that. He made three homophobic comments, a Hitler joke, and a rape joke in 30 seconds.”
2. Woody Allen went way over budget.
This is the most expensive film he’s ever made, more than Sean Penn-starrer “Sweet and Lowdown,” admitted Allen. “I start with an $18 million budget,” he said. “This went over a little bit, and more and more, I guess into the mid 20s. It cost me money. I never made a movie for $30 million in my life. I couldn’t raise $30 million if I sold my wife on the open market.”
Budget concerns meant that when Amazon came to his producers, he had to say yes to their $20-million offer. “I was doing a TV series for them,” he said. “‘We would like to distribute your movie.’ ‘Well, we usually work with Sony Classics, I’m very happy with them. ‘We’ll give you this much’ ‘How do you say no to this?’ ‘OK, provided it was distributed the normal way, theatrically, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it. The money was so not just tempting, it was irresistible.”
3. Kristen Stewart loves comfortable shoes.
While she also loves rocking high heels, she thinks no woman should be turned away from the Cannes red carpet if she doesn’t. And she only wears them for a short time.
“I thought the heels looked better with the dress,” she said of her change from opening night glam to the after-dinner. “The flats looked better with the skirt; it was more comfortable to wear for several hours, I changed. Things have to change immediately, because it’s become really obvious, if we walked up to the carpet together and I wasn’t wearing heels —’excuse me, young lady, you can’t come in!’ ‘Neither is my friend, does he have to wear heels? You can’t ask me to do something you’re not asking for him to do. You can’t ask him to either, you can’t do it anymore.’ I get the black tie thing but you should be able to do either version.”
At the lunch she was wearing comfortable flats, too.
4. Blake Lively is nostalgic about making movies in the old Hollywood era.
“I watch TCM,” said Lively. “It’s always on in our house. It’s the fun version of gossip, now most of it’s made up. If they can’t find out about you they make it up. There’s a level of intimacy there that’s nice because it’s respectful. My husband [Ryan Reynolds]’s dream job is to be [TCM hosts] Ben Mankiewicz or Robert Osborne.”
5. Woody Allen loves digital.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and Woody Allen are “both filmmakers and historians and pioneers,” said Eisenberg. “They are both being saddled with technology most directors lament having to use. But both of them couldn’t care less. I asked them both. It seemed to work fine.”
After working with Gordon Willis, Carlo de Palma, Sven Nykvist and Darius Khondji, Allen ran into Storaro at a restaurant, he said. “We were never on the same schedule. This time we were both at liberty. I called him. And I had the honor of working with this great cinematographer.”
They choreographed the contrast between the “dingy, grimy New York life,” said Allen, “and the California sun, it’s beautiful, everything is waves and the streets are a golden glow.” When Allen grew up in Brooklyn, “my parents were poor, we would read Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, see pictures of Ginger Rogers at the Mocombo and the Trocadero, Bogart on his boat,” he said. “There’s a mythology. We’d see them at the movies, where heroes were never at a loss for a witty line, the women were gorgeous and the men handsome and dashing. This is what Hollywood represented. New York was much more lower class.”
6. Woody Allen and Jesse Eisenberg have much in common.
Allen and Eisenberg have been engaged with each other ever since the 16-year-old Eisenberg wrote a play about Allen and got a cease and desist letter. “Woody comes to my plays,” said Eisenberg. “He emails.”
The actor missed the Cannes debut of “Louder than Bombs” because he was acting in the play he wrote, “The Spoils,” in New York. And this year he’s doing the same play on London’s West End, flying back Thursday afternoon for rehearsals.
Back at the time of “The Social Network” Eisenberg told me how much he wanted to work with Allen. Then he did “To Rome with Love.” It seemed inevitable that Eisenberg would eventually play Allen’s alter-ego, even if Allen insists the character is very different from him. But Allen checked on the actor’s chemistry with Stewart, calling director Greg Mottola about their work in “Adventureland,” before uniting them for a third time, said Stewart, who loves the “old Hollywood on-screen couples when two people work together a lot, like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. That doesn’t happen as much.”
“‘Café Society’ is a movie about a Jewish family in New York in the ’30s,” said Eisenberg. “It’s the story of my family. My great uncle went to California and became rich in real estate, some people were gangsters like Corey [Stoll]’s character. Someone became an entrepreneur and successful. My family was like the sister, the Marxist intellectual. I think about this as a personal film about my family history…
“I’m third generation, while this movie is about recent immigrants who are hungry to make it. Each character is rising aggressively in their line of work, even if it’s illegal mafia work. They’re all ambitious. Jewish culture has assimilated so well that a laziness has set in. I’m reaching it in myself. My dad is a college professor in upstate New York. He has a work ethic, but doesn’t expect me to have it. My Dad says, ‘you can be happy and still write your plays.’ ‘No, I can’t. I’ve never written anything while I’m happy.'”
Allen is directing Miley Cyrus in his untitled new Amazon TV series. “I saw her in ‘Hannah Montana’ when she was younger,” he said. “I remember saying ‘Who is this girl? She has great delivery, great comic flair. She can really tell a joke.’ She was great, was right for the part, wonderful as you will see.”
And Eisenberg just wrapped his TV pilot “Bream Gives Me Hiccups,” which is based on his collection of stories of the same name, for Jax Media. He wrote the project for Amazon, which optioned the book three years ago, but eventually he took it away and made it independently, directing his “Café Society” cohort Parker Posey (“Irrational Man”), who has been his favorite actress since he was 10 years old, when he and his family used to binge on Christopher Guest comedies. “There is no one like her,” he said. “She’s like me, she’s anxious.”
7. When you audition for Woody Allen, you’re in the dark.
“I didn’t know anything about the movie when I auditioned,” said Lively. “They don’t tell you anything: time, period, dialect. You say ‘yes’ before you read the whole script. He writes fully realized women, always faceted characters. Of course I’d say ‘yes.’
‘Would you like to do the movie?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Come in and read the script.’ ‘Yes.’
It’s very casual, very easy, six pages. ‘Here you go, take your time, six pages.’ Five minutes later: ‘How are you doing?’ He he doesn’t want to see people get too stiff or nervous. As specific as he is and his writing is, he hires people to bring what they have within them, he doesn’t want you to see him.”
Stewart had to audition as well, because Allen wanted to be sure she could play both the young sweet innocent and glamorous sophisticate sides of her character. “He genuinely hired me,” she said. “I auditioned. We had no extensive conversations. He trusts you. He hired you for a reason. That gave me confidence to let it find itself and breathe.”
8. Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood share something in common besides being over 80.
Both directors shoot a few takes, know when they’ve got what they need, and proceed. Allen likes long shots. “It’s like a play,” said Lively. “He’s very disciplined and knows exactly what he wants, it’s more beautiful in one shot. People hop over each other, in natural conversation, they interact, you don’t lose energy by cutting. One, mostly two to three, if it’s a longer scene he’ll do six. It’s a lot for him, it doesn’t feel like a lot when it’s all one shot.”
But Allen “won’t move on until he’s got it,” said Stewart. “You have to trust him.”