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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Directors and Screenwriters > Feature Interviews - Actors > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews A to E > Feature Interviews U to Z > Woody Allen, Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson

 

Woody Allen and Larry David on the set of 'Whatever Works.'

Woody Allen, Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson

Willing to Do Whatever Works

by Jay S. Jacobs

 
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 19, 2009.

Itís a pretty well known fact in the entertainment world that legendary filmmaker Woody Allen hates movie promotion. He almost never does publicity junkets for his films, which is why his last minute decision to participate in a press conference to promote his latest film Ė the comedy Whatever Works Ė was such huge news and recently drew dozens of media outlets to a conference room at New Yorkís famous Regency Hotel. 

The most pleasant surprise of the whole thing was that the notoriously shy writer/director not only showed up but took the lead. His filmís stars enthusiastically answered their questions, but mostly sat back and let Allen speak about his career and his film

Whatever Works is an important film for Allen in a few ways. The movie was filmed in Allenís hometown of New York, his first time in several years after a few films made in Europe. Following a couple of his most respected dramas (Match Point and Vicki Cristina Barcelona), the former stand-up is returning to his lighter comic roots. He is also working with a very buzz-worthy cast Ė but then again Woody Allen has never had trouble luring top-flight acting talent.

Three of those cast members accompanied Allen at the press conference.  The filmís star is comedian-turned TV star Larry David, who co-created the sitcom Seinfeld and is about to do his seventh season on HBOís hit comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Also there were respected young actress Evan Rachel Wood (Once & Again, The Wrestler) and acclaimed character actress Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent, Good Night & Good Luck) who was also in Allenís last film, Vicki Cristina Barcelona.

This is your first time working with Woody Allen, a living legend, I believe. What for you was the biggest surprise working with him? 

Larry David: Well, no. Itís not my first time. 

Evan Rachel Wood and Larry David in 'Whatever Works.'It isnít? What was? 

Larry David: I had two very small parts in Radio Days and the other was New York Stories. Very, very small. 

Okay, I was going to ask you if you ever felt that you were Woodyís stand in, if you ever had to resist the urge to play Woody with the lines and the rhythm.

Larry David: Itís funny; we were just talking about that. But I never considered for a second that I would be playing him. I know itís the part that would normally see him play, but I never considered that I would play him, nor would he want me to play him, and it just wasnít an issue at all. There was only one moment in the movie, I remember, I was having trouble with a line and I said ďCome, how do you want me to do it? Just do it and Iíll do it like you.Ē And so he went ďthe Western WORLDĒ  (everyone laughs). And so I did that the next take, but he didnít use that line. 

Evan Rachel Wood:  Itís burned in my memory. 

Woody Allen: I have to interject this, that is not a part that I could have played even I was younger, I could not have played this part, becauseÖ I had originally conceived this thing many years ago for Zero MostelÖ and Larry is able to do this kind of sardonic, sarcastic, vitriolic humor and get away with it because thereís something obviously built into him, that audiences like. Groucho Marx had this, they were never offended by Groucho. They were offended if he didnít insult them, he told me once. Larry has this thing where he can get away with that. If I was to do that I wouldnít be as graceful at it and you would think that I was nasty. If I was insulting people and proclaiming my own genius and saying that people were cretins, you would not like me. Certain people can get away with it and heís one that can. Not something that I would do, because when Zero died, I never thought for one minute of doing the part myself, ďOh, well Iíve got a good script here, and why canít I do it. I can handle this.Ē I never thought that. I put it in the drawer and were it not for an imminent possible actorsí strike I never would have taken it out of the drawer even to look at. I was trying to think: who could do this? It never would have occurred to me that I could do it, and then Juliet Taylor, my casting director, thought that Larry could do it. I agreed completely that it would be like motherís milk to him. Did you want to speak? 

Evan Rachel Wood in 'Whatever Works.'Evan Rachel Wood:  No. I mean, I canít really say that I was surprised by anything because I donít really like to have any preconceived notions. I just like to experience on my own, no matter what. But, I was just amazed. I got a whole new respect for comedians in general. I mean, I knew it was going to be difficult and a challenge, but it was like running a marathon every day. It was just whole new territory for me and Iím just glad that he had the faith in me to offer me the part without even seeing an audition. 

This is actually a question for Evan but also Patriciaís character has a little bit of this. With Melodie can be played very broad, you could go a million different ways with her and I wondered what it was, was it in the script already to sort of rein her in or was that your instincts or where did you feel you were going to far. Any of you can answer this question. 

Evan Rachel Wood:  I think thatís where Woody was great about giving me the freedom to go as far as I wanted and me trusting him to tell me when to reel it in. But funny enoughÖ broad was actually the word that he told me all the time. 

Patricia Clarkson: I think the beautiful thing about Woody is that, reasons Iíll never figure out, he has created trust in us. Itís a beautiful freedom he gives you as an actor which, I think, makes you a better actor. He gives you confidence to go large and wide and trust that you will actually be employed again after youíve seen the film. So yes, I think he actually trusted that we could really stretch it big and still remain truthful. 

Mr. Allen do you have anything to say about that praise that you just got? 

Woody Allen: Well, you know, people have always asked me over the years about performances in my movies. They think Iím being facetious when I say this, but Iím not Ė I hire great people and then I get out of their way. They were great before they met me. Theyíre great in my movie. And theyíre great in the movies after me. You know, I just donít want to mess them up and then tell them that theyíre free to go. If theyíre doing something that I notice is egregiously wrong for some reason Ė  which rarely happens, it does happen, but very rarely Ė so then Iíll say something to them. Iíll say ďYou know, this needs to be more grim or this needs to be a little louder or quieterĒ or something, but thatís it. If you read the script, they understand it, they get it. Thatís why they take the job, and they do it. Afterwards you look great as a director, but the truth is, if you hire the right peopleÖ You know, Evan I had seen very briefly in some things and she was obviouslyÖ (to her) and Iím not saying this because youíre hereÖ she was great. I thought ďGod, this girl is wonderful.Ē I didnít know she could do a southern accent. She said to me ďYes I could do one.Ē But she did not want to do it and show me. I just assumed Iíve seen her in other movies and sheís not going to take the job and make a fool of herself. When she came to the set, the first time I heard the accent she was doing was when we shot her. I never heard her in rehearsal. There was no rehearsal. I never heard it in conversation or the wardrobe test. She just came and did it. Ed Begley, Jr. didnít even know that he was supposed to be doing the southern accent. We were on the set and he was surprised. I got panicky for a second. He said ďokayĒ and he made some kind of mental adjustment and he was just great. 

Larry David in 'Whatever Works.'This is for each of you, what do you do when you have panic attacks, if you have them? 

Larry David: I canít really say in a G-rated press conference. 

Evan Rachel Wood: What do I do? I donít know. 

Woody Allen: Did you ask a dirty question? 

In your film one of the characters watches Fred Astaire films to calm himself. What do you do to calm yourself? 

Woody Allen: Oh. Itís perfectly a benign question. Yes, I can speak for myself in this; I do exactly that kind of thing. You know, you turn on something in television. With me, it would probably be a ball game or something. Something thatís calming, where thereís no sense of conflict. If I was to turn on a movie, Iíd be full of self-loathing and think ďOh God! I make these movies and thereís so many great onesĒ and I couldnít do that. But I could turn on a ball game and be very placid. 

Patricia Clarkson: Actually Iím a news junkie so, even though thereís a lot of conflict, I do like it. It calms me for some reason. I find it soothing. I love watching the news. I watch it 24/7. 

Evan Rachel Wood: Thatís funny. I actually do the same thing, because it makes me laugh. I think if you watch the news long enough itís the funniest thing Iíve ever seen Ė because it just makes no sense. They just have the most ridiculous stories and thereís the weirdest stuff happening and itíll calm me down because itís so ridiculous. 

Larry David: I generally stay with the panic. I embrace the panic. I know thereís no getting out of it. Even if I turned on a ball game, it wouldnít make a difference to me. I would still hear that sick psychotic voice going on in my head and thereís nothing I could do. 

Woody Allen: Itís perfect casting. 

Patricia Clarkson in 'Whatever Works.'Patricia, I loved your character, I thought she was wonderful. How did you prepare for that? I loved the way you got even with your husband and had two lovers. 

Patricia Clarkson: TwoÖ yes! Thank you, Woody. And to be played by Conleth Hill and Olek KrupaÖ I mean what delicious, beautiful men. I was born and raised in New Orleans. Iím a southern girl through and through. I had a similar trajectory. I was a nice southern girl Ė from a far more progressive family than they are, but I do know that lady well from being in the south a long time. I just understood it in ways. You know, at nineteen I came to New York to pursue my art and I arrived with very big hair that wouldnít fit through a door. Slowly it collapsed and slowly the clothing became black. Thatís what happened to me Ė albeit at nineteen, not at middle age Ė but whatever works. 

When Larry was cast, did you rewrite anything to take advantage of Larryís comedic style? And Larry, when you were doing a scene, was there any time when you were like ďI kind of sound like Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm. I kind of want to redo this like Boris.Ē Did any of that voice come out? 

Woody Allen: I didnít rewrite anything for Larry. When I took the script out of the drawer, I did have to rewrite the script, because it had been laying there for a long time dormant. I had to freshen it up and jazz it up and make it more contemporary. But I never changed it for Larry. Larry just seemed to fit it like a glove. As soon as Juliet Taylor said ďLarry DavidĒ a light lit up and it seemed, yes of course. Larry David. 

And Larry about the Boris and the Curb Your Enthusiasm question? 

Larry David: That wasnít your question! (Everyone laughs) What was it? 

Did you ever feel like you were doing a scene and you thought ďThat sounded too much like my character on TV. I want to redo that because that didnít sound like Boris,Ē because you were so used to doing that other character? 

Larry David: No, when I was doing those lines it felt like Boris. I tried to convince him at some point before we started shooting that he should change the character occupation to a former grandmaster. Yeah, I didnít want to be a physicist because I thought I wouldnít be able to improvise because the characterís so much smarter than I am. 

Evan Rachel Wood: But you can improvise a former grandmaster? 

Larry David: I thought I could improvise a chess champion, yeah. 

Evan Rachel Wood, Henry Cavill and Woody Allen making 'Whatever Works.'Woody, given that the script was written in the seventies and the changing times and evolution of your own, how much work did it take to bring this script up to date? 

Woody Allen: It took work. The original story, what intrigued me about it originally is that Zero is this big fat blustery self-aggrandizing. You know Zero in real life was so cultivated, he knew everything about art, literature, science and music and he was always sharing this knowledge with you from a justifiably superior position. I thought it was very funny to be around him. I was around him when we made The Front and he was always carrying on and lecturing. I thought it would be very funny that he would be living with this runaway, this dumb little runaway from the south. Then suddenly her mother shows up and she hates everything about him and canít stand him. Then her father shows up. It seems that original material all remained the same, but references and the concernsÖ the existential concerns remained the same, those will never change ever. The character was mortally afraid of dying and hypochondria about washing his hands. The social and political things, many of them had to be changed and freshened up to contemporary and social patois. 

The tone of the humor is clearly pretty judgmental. Itís misanthropic and particularly aimed at the people in the hinterlands. In the last couple of weeks weíve seen a couple of ugly murders from the religious right wing (the press conference took place the day after the shooting at the Washington Holocaust museum) and I was wondering if you had any thoughts or reactions to that? 

Woody Allen: I personally was against the murders. I never think of it as misanthropic. Even though I know that sounds funny, because that is the source of the humor, but it seemed to me that itís a realistic appraisal of life. Life is quite terrible out there, as you can see by what goes on. This is fiction, and can be read as misanthropic and can be interpreted that way. As I say, I donít think it is. I think itís simply realistic, but the real world is as horrible Ė or actually much more horrible Ė than the world that Boris envisions. He has compassion and feels bad about this, but the world out there is full ofÖ you know, you canít pick up the paper in the morning without a carload of atrocities. Two young women are thrown in prison in Korea. Some guy enters a Holocaust museum and kills the guard. This is the average stuff we live on, every morning. So in a sense, the movie is almost mild compared to the ugly brutality that is just a part of your morningÖ you know, cornflakes and breakfast. 

This question is for Woody. You mentioned that the existential concerns of the film then and now are the same, but basically the social and political concerns have changed, could you talk about that a little? 

Woody Allen: When I wrote the film years ago, the political climate was not vastly different, but the references were different. As I said, the existential underlying anxiety of the film remains the same, but the political situation has shifted. Since then weíve been through a number of presidents. Certainly a catastrophic eight years and now entering into at least a period of some hope of some human possibilities for the country. All of this had to be factored in, in writing. And of course, the references are different. The religious right made an enormous march forward since that time. They existed at that point Ė there were those terrible television ministries that were conning people out of their money Ė but the right became politically powerful. We have made progressed and we have elected our first African-American president. There were a number of things that had to be referenced in this movie that were not. The seeds of them were there, some of them Ė but they were not vivid at that time. 

Woody Allen and Larry David making 'Whatever Works.'There was a recent article about your humor and Larryís humor as being reflecting a certain era or style of Jewish humor. Do you think that it does reflect that and do you think that style is, as that article had said, passing and that a new generation is coming with a different approach? Do you think thatís true? How do you feel about that? And do you think you reflect a certain kind of Jewish humor, or not? 

Larry David: I donít know. I donít quite agree with that, I donít think. Oviously comedic styles do change. I mean, comedy isnít the same now as it was in the 50ís or the 70ís, I suppose. It still has to be funny, but thatís the bottom line. I guess itís a little grosser now to some degree. Really, you can watch movies now and Iím a little shocked at what Iím hearing, but I suppose thatís the biggest change. 

Woody Allen: First of all, Iím not a big believer in this sense of Jews having a monopoly on comedy. I believe theyíve made a contribution, for sure, but Bob Hope was not Jewish. Buster Keaton was not Jewish. W.C. Fields was not Jewish. Jonathan Winters was not Jewish. I mean you could go onÖ Robin WilliamsÖ These people are not Jewish and theyíre hilariously funny. So much has been made of this and I never think of it as an ethnic focus. I agree with Larry thatÖ he put it very simply but right on the noseÖ itís a question on just being funny. Some people are funny and some people are not funny. Many people who are not funny can make a living at it, because you donít have to be great to make a living at it. Just like a doctor. Doesnít have to be great to make a living out of it, and a lawyer doesnít have to beÖ So same with comedians. In the end to really be wonderful at it youíve got to be funny. Every generation there are a few people that are authentically funny. The cosmetics change. W.C. Fields is totally different than Mort Sahl. Mort Sahl was great and he was totally different than Jonathan Winters, whoís great. [Mike] Nichols and [Elaine] May were completely different from Larry and theyíre all great, because theyíre al authentically funny. The ones that are not authentically funny, you know. Your body knows. You may not be able to articulate it and you may laugh at them and get a certain amount of enjoyment, but when youíre asleep at night and you wake up at three in the morning and youíre alone in your bed Ė you know who is really funny. Thatís what it is. Some people are some people arenít. It has nothing to do with ethnicity. 

Evan Rachel Wood and Larry David in 'Whatever Works.'A big deal has been made about the fact youíve done your last four movies in Europe and youíre going back to Europe for your next one. Can you talk about the decision to go to Europe to do those movies? 

Woody Allen: Thatís strictly a function of finance. Itís very expensive to make movies in New York. I work on a very low budget and I canít afford to do it. Iíd like to do it. Iíd like to make movies in New York because I live here and I love it. But surprisingly New York and California, which is the film center of United States, theoretically is too expensive. It just costs a fortune of money. I was going to make my next film in New York and I couldnít afford to. It was millions of dollars short if I made it in New York and then I thought maybe Iíll make it in San Francisco because thatís also a very good city, but I couldnít afford to make it in San Francisco either because that was too expensive. So we shifted it to London, made the cast British, just as I had done with Match Point. I had written that for New York, the Hamptons and Palm Beach. I had written it as an American story and I anglicized it because to make it in New York was a fortune of money. The same thing with the film Iím doing next, to make it in New York is a lot of money. I canít afford it. So I can afford to do it in London. I would love to make more films in New York, because I love the city and I love being here. Itís just a question of being able to afford it. If I happen write a film that budgets within my limited budget I would certainly make it here. 

Do you have to change your sensibilities when you know youíve got to do it in a different country? 

Woody Allen: The sensibilities the same certainly in a city like London. I mean, thatís another version of New York. Barcelona was a little bit different. I wasnít as familiar with Barcelona, so I had to write some of the characters speaking in Spanish and that did have an influence on the content of the script. I mean in this case fortuitously a good influence but it could have had a bad influence just as easily. So my first instinct is to go to London, because they speak English and itís a city with restaurants and bookstores and traffic. I can feel it there. But Iíd just as soon make it in New York if I could do it. 

Whatever Works is really a redemptive about the magic of New York and I just want to know what New York has done for everybody here. What locations in particular had a kind of magic to film? 

Woody Allen: Iíll let you guys answer that. 

Evan Rachel Wood in 'Whatever Works.'Evan Rachel Wood: I kind of did what Melodie did and I moved to New York when I was eighteen Ė when I turned eighteen and I was filming Across the Universe. I was filming on the streets of New York for the first time and singing Beatles songs and it changed my entire life. I donít know what I would have done if hadnít made that movie. I spent a year here and I just felt like I knew who I was finally. The city really does something to you. I have a different experience every time I go there. Iím always finding new places. I donít know where we filmed that feltÖ I mean I want to say Battery Park but that was a nightmare. It was terrible, but it was still pretty cool. The wax museum was pretty fun. The magical way I didnít know who was real or who was fake. 

Why was Battery Park a nightmare? 

Evan Rachel Wood: The noise and the rain, but that wasnít Battery Parkís fault. 

Thereís been a trend recently of films being turned into Broadway musicals, for example Mel Brooksí The ProducersÖ  

Patricia Clarkson: (sings a tune) What-ever-works! (Everyone laughs) I can dance. 

Billy Elliot won most of the Tonys this year. Have you ever thought of transforming one of your films into a Broadway musical? And if so, which one? 

Woody Allen: Well I would have no interest in that myself. None. Producers call all the time and they want to make Bullets Over Broadway a musical and Purple Rose of Cairo into a musical. They do propose these things. I donít care Ė if they want to and they make some deal they can, but I have no interest in it. No interest in writing it, seeing it, knowing about it. Itís just something that would not interest me at all. But some of them would make good musicals in the right hands. The books of some of those things would potentially be good musicals. The odds are of bringing it off are hugely against it. The odds of doing a good musical even if you have a book thatís viable to begin with, the odds are not in your favor. So what would probably happen is they get the rights to one of my movies and make it into a musical and itíd be a terrible musical and everyone would be angry at me. 

Larry David in 'Whatever Works.'Larry, how do you think Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Musical would be... 

Larry David: Uhh, yeah, sure, right. (Everyone laughs) 

Earlier you said that you give your actors the material and then you stand back. So when one of your actors gets an Oscar, do you feel rather aloof from those awards? Do you feel you didnít contribute to it? 

Woody Allen: I donít feel aloof from it. Aloof would mean feeling above it and superior to it. No I donít feel that. But I donít feel like theyíre getting this Oscar because I brought out something in them that nobody else could or wasnít in them. They basically get the Oscar because theyíre good. I mean when Penelope Cruz wins an Oscar or Dianne Wiest or Diane KeatonÖ itís because theyíre great. I do feel a modicum of contribution in that I supplied them with the role, with the role that they can spread their wings and show themselves off. Theyíre not getting that Oscar because I sat them in the room and drilled their character into them or tricked them in different ways. You know, you read [Elia] Kazanís biography and take James Dean on the motorcycle and they somehow get these performances. 

Patricia Clarkson: Yeah Woody took us to Cajun Restaurants and poured gumbo all over us and teased our hair. 

Woody Allen: I mean I canít do that. I donít even talk to them. I try not to talk to them as much as possible. They do what they do and theyíre usually very good at it. I donít feel aloof, I do feel that I made a contribution in giving them a part that they could show themselves off in, but believe me, I donít over direct them. Theyíre getting those Oscars because theyíre who they are; Penelope Cruz was sensational in the Almadůvar film before my film. Michael Caine was sensationalÖ actually Michael Caine deserved the Academy Award for Educating Rita Ė the film he did before my film. He didnít deserve [it] necessarily for my film. I think they were paying off for not giving him one in that. Heís great. But I donít feel aloof from it, no. 

Just a follow up on the magic of New York question, I was wondering if Larry David and Patricia could comment on some of your early New York memories and experiences. 

Larry David: Well, I grew up in Brooklyn and then I lived in Hellís Kitchen, from the time I got out of college until I moved to LA in my early 40ís, so I remember very distinctly the smell of urine as I left my front door. I remember having to take my shoe off before I came in my apartment to kill the thousands of roaches that were in my bathtub. I have very fond memories of it. Shall I go on? 

Patricia Clarkson in 'Whatever Works.'Patricia Clarkson: The first placed I lived was YMCA, because at Fordham University they didnít have dorms then, so I was in the YMCA. I was in the YMCA on 63rd. I remember on Friday nights there were these nice, young boys around and I thought they just returned from a YMCA camping trip. NoÖ 

Evan Rachel Wood: I thought it was fun to stay at the YMCA. (Everyone laughs). 

Patricia Clarkson: No, but, Iím a New Yorker now I guess. I love the Village. I love the West Village. I love downtown. Iíve lived there for a long time. Itís my favorite part of New York. Iím never tired of it, ever, walking with my dog, ever. 

Woody Allen: I remember fighting with people every day because I couldnít get change for a dollar to get on the bus. Nobody wants to give you their change. My memories of New York are unrealistic. The New York that I grew up loving was ironically enough; the New York of Hollywood movies. Where people would live in penthouses with white telephones and come home in five in the morning with ermine draped over their shoulders. This was the New York that I knew. I grew up in Brooklyn, not that far from LarryÖ I never knew New York as it really existed. For that you have to speak to Spike Lee or Martin Scorsese. I only knew New York the way it appeared with popping champagne corks and people dressed in tuxedoes and making very witty banter and elevators rising into the apartments directly. Thatís the New York that I have depicted in my life and have tried to live in my life and itís cost me a lot of grief. 

Iím wondering how you as a director feel your approach to filmmaking has changed from the time when you wrote this script to the time when youíre now making it. 

Larry David, Ed Begley, Jr. and Evan Rachel Wood in 'Whatever Works.'Woody Allen: Well, marginally Iíve gotten better. But itís true; you can only get better marginally because itís not an exact science. Every time you make a movie - Iíve now made about forty movies Ė every time itís a new and different experience. You learn very little from the past. Very, very little. So Iím a little bit better than I was. When I first started I was very protective. I made a lot of coverage and protected myself a lot. As I got more confident, I was able to let actors improvise and do long takes. But you know, itís 10%, 5%. You learn the rest you just have or you donít have. I was lucky enough to be able to have enough to tell my story. Iím not much better than I was. Iím better than I was when I made Take the Money and Run, but not much better than I made Annie Hall or around that era. I learned very little after that. You know, the only thing that does change, I guess, to some degree, is that you have some life experiences and you suffer some amount and you incorporate that into your work. Not into the content of your work, but in the sensibility of your work. Itís nothing that you try and do; it just happens. If youíre lucky people buy tickets to see it. If youíre not lucky they donít like it. But thatís all, thereís been a marginal increase in my technique and very little else good. 

Larry they first called you for the part. What was your first reaction? 

Larry David: When I was offered the part? This is not a good thing. This is not going to be a very good idea. I intimidated and I donít really like challenges. I donít like to be out of my comfort zone which is about a half an inch wide and I called Woody and I said ďI donít know about this. I donít know if I could do this.Ē 

You played The Producers part in Curb. Does that fit the anxiety scene in Curb at the time when you said ďI canít do this. I canít do this.Ē Was that the kind of reaction like that in this role? 

Larry David: No. That was pretend. 

What did they say when you told them ďI canít do thisĒ? 

Larry David: He said that it would be a little bit of a stretch for me but nothing that I couldnít handle.

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT PATRICIA CLARKSON HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2005!

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT EVAN RACHEL WOOD HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2005!

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