Questions & Answers
with Woody Allen
(Interview by Jason Simos)
Pictures and Interview provided by
Films Odeon - Atlantis Viva Films
Question: You’ve said before in interviews
that you often have several potential film projects
percolating at once. How exactly was it that Scoop
jumped to the fore?
Woody Allen: Well, I had done Match Point with
Scarlett Johansson, and we had talked about
doing another film together. Scoop was an
idea that I had which accommodated both of us,
so I thought we would do it.
Q: What was the creative point of entry into this
story, in terms of your writing the script – the
mystery, the romance, or the concept of Scarlett’s
character as a tenacious young journalist?
WA: No, originally the concept was, a reporter so
dogged and so determined that he would come
back and get his story from the afterlife; that there
was a good story to be had that he learned
of after death, and nothing would deter him from
getting that story. It was an homage to first-rate
Q: As opposed to some of the Fleet Street
journalism we’ve seen over the years.
WA: Well, as opposed to lesser journalism.
Q: So it evolved from there to encompass the
young college journalist character played by
WA: Yeah. When I had the idea, I thought it would
be a reporter, because I had the idea prior to
knowing Scarlett. But when I was
formulating the script, and I knew Scarlett was
playing the character, it seemed like it was a
natural that she was a college
journalist on vacation for the summer.
Q: Scoop is your second movie filmed in London,
with a third on the way; unlike the character you
play in Scoop, have you fallen in love with this city?
WA: It’s a very nice place to film in. I mean,
I like filming in New York a lot myself, but London
is accommodating to me; the
weather’s very good there and the conditions for
shooting – the financial conditions, the artistic
conditions – are good, so it’s
a pleasant place to shoot.
Q: Do you now have favored locations in London –
equivalents to, say, Kaufman Astoria Studios or
WA: You know, I don’t know the town that well,
so I still enjoy going around to all the places in
town. I like going around the streets of London,
which is a particularly pretty city. So it’s
very easy to get locations when you combine
the beauty of the city and the beauty of the
weather that you get every day; these
wonderful, moody, gray, soft-lit skies.
It comes out very
seductive on film.
Q: In Scoop, it seemed like there are parts of
London that you’re still exploring, after
WA: Right. Because I don’t know it that well,
of course I gravitate to those places that
I know or that the art director
brings me to that are picturesque. Being a city
person myself, naturally I’m taken – I think
anybody would be, in London – with
the enormous amounts of parks and squares
that they have, and the beautiful white houses
and beautiful country locations. They’re
famous for their country houses and estates,
and it’s fun to shoot on those.
Q: To shoot all these locations for Scoop,
you’ve reteamed with cinematographer Remi
Adefarasin, following Match Point.
WA: I didn’t know Remi at all before I met him
on Match Point, but his reputation preceded him;
people said I’d love to work with him, and he’s
terrific. I met with him and he’s a very affable
guy, and I did love working with him, so I invited
him back for the next one. I was thrilled that he
was available for my second picture in London.
He’s a very gifted cameraman. For my third one
in London, that I’m doing this summer, he’s not
available; he’s on another film that he’s been
committed to for a long time [the Elizabeth sequel
The Golden Age]. So I’ll be working with
Vilmos Zsigmond, who I’ve filmed with before
[on Melinda and Melinda].
Q: In scripting and playing the character of
Sid Waterman – a.k.a. Splendini – you’re returning
to writing about, and playing out, scenes of magic
and those who practice it. What is the appeal;
it’s an interest dates back to childhood, does it not?
WA: Yeah. It’s just something that always was
a little junk-tooth interest of mine. I liked it when
I was a kid, and I’ve grown up as a sucker for it.
It always strikes me as amusing and interesting,
and I’m always taken with the kind of
cheesy-looking Japanese red lacquered boxes
and silk handkerchiefs and swords and cards
and silver rings and all the apparatus that give it
an exotic look.
Q: And also, what the magician wears, right?
WA: What the magician wears, yes. [laughs]
In my case, well, I always take a little license there.
Q: Also regarding your character in Scoop, can
you discuss a little of his journey in the course of
the story? He reminded me of some of the people
in your films or in your stories who find
themselves unexpectedly swept up from one part
of their life to another, and kind of deposited on
another side they didn’t anticipate.
WA: There’s a standard suspense picture gimmick –
in this case, in a comic suspense movie – where an
innocent character is, for one reason or another,
sucked into a story that he has no real
interest in and that he doesn’t want to waste his time in.
But there’s always a reason why they are; in Scoop,
Sid is talked into it by Sondra, because she’s an amiable,
energetic, likable student. He starts to get involved with
the story, and gets carried away with it a little bit in
helping her out.
Q: In the later scenes, he seems compelled to carry it
through for the girl.
WA: Yes, he likes her; not as a girlfriend, but as a person. His
common sense tells him not to get involved – if anything, this is
going to lead to trouble – but she’s clearly someone who comes
from his neighborhood, his country, who he can identify with and
empathize with. So he gets more and more drawn in, and her
enthusiasm is boundless because she’s relentless and because
she starts to fall in love with the subject of her investigation.
Q: Your last several films have spotlighted younger protagonists.
In Scoop, there’s also the element of your and – from beyond the
grave – Ian McShane’s character feeling protective and paternal
towards Scarlett’s character –
Q: Do you think this is a conscious evolution of your films’ storytelling?
WA: Well, no, I think what happens is I, over the years, starred in my
movies and played the lead. And then, as I got older, the lead has got to
be passed on – certainly, the romantic lead has got to be passed on –
to younger leading people. And so, you know, I just cast them that way.
Q: In terms of leading men, was Cary Grant perhaps an inspiration
for the Hugh Jackman character and performance – maybe Suspicion,
WA: No, I think that’s built into Hugh; he’s such a dapper, sweet,
likable, guy who can dance and move gracefully and is so handsome
and can sing that comparisons are inevitable. You could always –
just as there was a time Hugh Grant would be compared with Cary
Grant, because he also is very debonair and charming, well, so is
Hugh Jackman, and it is an inevitable comparison.
Q: Had you seen Hugh onstage in The Boy from Oz?
WA: Oh no, no, I didn’t see him. I had never seen Hugh Jackman or
his movies or even knew what he looked like before I met him. He
was just one of those people who I’d never come in contact with
for one reason or another. I only heard wonderful stories about
him, and how great he was as an actor.
We called him and asked him if he’d be interested in doing
something, and he said “sure.” He came by to say hello, and he
walked in and not only is he fun to look at – great-looking – he’s
also lovely and suave. I offered him the role right away. I was
very lucky that he was free to take it, and wanted to take it.
Q: In terms of knowing people’s work, what was it like working
with Ian McShane – he was making movies in London when you did a
couple, back in the Swinging ‘60s. Were you aware of him from back
WA: Nope, nope. I was completely unaware of Ian McShane as well. I
had never seen his television show [Deadwood] or anything. Juliet
Taylor, who casts with me, said, “I know the guy who would be
great for this role – Ian McShane.” And I said, “Send him in.” He
came in – and it was one of those situations that Juliet’s had me
in over the years where she sends in an actor or an actress that
I’ve never heard of – and the minute Ian walked in, I thought,
right on the money, he’ll be perfect. I looked no further.
Q: As we’ve said, you knew Scarlett Johansson well, having just
made a film prior with her. You showcased an unseen dramatic side
of her in Match Point, and now in Scoop the comedic side. What’s
she like to direct – and, in Scoop, act opposite?
WA: She’s a total joy. It’s like I hit the lottery or something.
She simply has everything. She just lucked out in life; she’s
beautiful, sexy, very bright, funny, nice, quick-minded, easy to
work with. She’s got range; dramatically powerful, and funny when
you need her to be funny.
There are certain people I’ve worked with over the years – Diane
Keaton was one – who were just hit with the talent stick and had
it all. And Scarlett has got it all. She lights up the set when
she comes on; the crew loves her. She’s full of energy, and
infuses the whole set with positive feeling all the time.
It’s a treat to work with her, and I’m not just saying this as her
costar; everyone in the company looked forward to working with her
on the second picture after the first picture’s experience.
Q: Acting with her in Scoop, did you find she kept pace with you
in scenes –
WA: Oh, she leaves me for dead. [laughs] I mean, she’s one of
those people that always – offstage or on – always tops me. No
matter how good a line I come up with – when we’re putting each
other down, teasing each other, whatever – she always nails me
last, and best. Of course, that, to me, earns a lot of respect.
Because I always think that I’m quick and witty, and so when
someone outguns me consistently, I’m just amazed by it. But it’s
true – and everyone on the set will tell you that.
Q: You well know the pool of actors in New York City, and how it’s
evolved. But in the U.K., there’s this incredible bench strength;
there’s people in small roles in Scoop, like John Standing, Julian
Glover, Fenella Woolgar…
WA: Yes; England has a great, great theatrical tradition. The
people there are wonderful. One of the interesting things is, the
most gifted people, the biggest people, have no problem taking
small roles. They don’t get into the business of ego, or size of
roles. So you’ll see a great Shakespearean actor on television,
doing a commercial; there’s no stigma to any of that. So I get
these great people who – perhaps if they were in this country,
wouldn’t deign to do a small part or a 1-2-day part. There, they
do it with great relish and enthusiasm, and they love it.
Everybody’s ready to pitch in, and so you get great actors
throughout the whole fabric of the piece. And I get the benefit of
Q: In terms of the comedic suspense genre, were there any works
that you had in your head while writing the script or being in
London? Scoop is a lighter story than Match Point, but there’s
still malfeasance and mystery…
WA: Well, I was thinking of those murder mystery stories that gave
me pleasure when I was younger, whether they were comic or – more
usually – serious. One of my own favorite films of mine is
Manhattan Murder Mystery –
WA: -- and I like that kind of a film. I liked the Thin Man films
when I used to see them as a younger person, and certain Bob Hope
murder mysteries that I would see when I was younger, and of
course the many non-comic suspense pictures…from Hitchcock all the
way down to other good ones that were made over the years.
You know, when you’re making one that’s comic, you can’t really be
as effective as when you’re doing it seriously. But there’s
nothing I could do about that; this was a comic film, and I wanted
to keep it light – even broad, in spots. It’s a type of film that
I myself get pleasure out of watching, and pleasure out of doing.
Whether an audience will get pleasure out of seeing it, I can only
Q: I’d mentioned Suspicion before in part because of the glass of
milk Sondra brings Peter in one scene, and I thought of Diabolique
later in the movie…
WA: Right, true. You can always go back to – I mean, I don’t want
to make this comparison, because it’s pretentious…but you can
always go back to Hitchcock on these films because he did so many
suspense films and used so many tricks that it’s impossible to do
suspense things without being in some way reminiscent of
Hitchcock; I don’t mean in his high quality, but reminiscent
structurally. But mine is done with the light touch completely –
emphasis on the lightness.
Q: As with Manhattan Murder Mystery, Scoop has two people roaming
around a city trying to make sense of something.
WA: Yeah, and many fast dialogue scenes. In Scoop, I wanted to do
the same thing. You know, I don’t have a big range as an actor;
unlike Scarlett, my range is kind of small. I can play an
intellectual – a college professor, or a shrink – or I can play a
lowlife – a cheesy little bookmaker; in Scoop, a cheap
Q: You mentioned hoping that audiences get pleasure from this
latest movie. In always keeping up such an active filmmaking pace,
is it ever a concern of yours how moviegoers will respond to a
Woody Allen: Well, it can’t concern you. Because if it concerns you,
then what happens is, it paralyzes you and you sit home trying to
anticipate what they’re going to like. And you make a step and
then you panic and think, “No, that’s not it.” So you’ve just got
to do what you want to do, and hope that they like it.
That’s always been the way that I worked; I always made whatever
I’ve wanted, whether it was a musical or a black-and-white film or
a Bergmanesque drama. Whatever strikes me as interesting at that
time, that’s what I make. And I hope the audience likes it. If
they don’t like it, there’s nothing I can do about it; I’m off on
the next one. If they do like it, that’s always nice.
The position you don’t want to be in is, you want to like the film
yourself, and if you make the film and you yourself don’t like
it…I write the script and then direct, and if I don’t like what
I’ve done when it’s over, then even if the audience likes it, I
figure, “Well, I got away with one” or “They’re not perceptive” or
“This is such a piece of junk” – so it’s not a good feeling.
But if you make a film that you like – “This is really a good
piece of work; I got the most out of this script and executed it
beautifully” – and they like it, it’s great. But if they don’t
like it, you still get somewhat of a decent feeling. You figure,
“Well, it’s a bad break for me, they don’t like it; but I really
did the best job I could and I’m sorry they don’t like it.” That’s
a much better feeling than if they love it and you yourself don’t
get any kick out of it.