Cate Blanchett was auditioned by Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine in 45 seconds – Interview

Husam Asi with Cate Blanchett

Like every other actor, Cate Blanchett dreamt about working with Woody Allen for years and waited longingly for his phone call. The Oscar-winning actress had almost given up when 2 years ago the phone finally rang. “Woody was on the phone, and so our first conversation went for about two and a half minutes, where he told me he had a script and would I read it,” she laughs, when I meet her at The Four Season Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Allen wanted to cast her in Blue Jasmine, which tells the story of a self-centered, New York high society wife, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who moves to live with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, after losing everything when her Madoff-style husband (Alec Baldwin) is indicted for defrauding his investors.

Blanchett tried to quiz Allen about the reason behind thinking of her, suggesting that he may have seen her at the theatre playing Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire, which was produced by The Sydney Theatre Company, which she currently runs. Allen told her that he had never heard of it and ended the conversation.

Of course, thrilled Blanchett read the script straight away and called him back. This time the conversation was even shorter, only 45 seconds. “He said, ‘Great. That’s Great. You want to do it. I’ll see you in San Francisco’,” she recalls, shaking her head.

Blanchett is one of Hollywood’s most respected and revered talents. Her exceptional performances have earned her Oscar-nominations for playing Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Sheba Hart in Notes on a Scandal and Bob Dylan in I’m Not There and winning one for playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. Hence, she was not hesitant in making character suggestions to the iconic director.

“The thing about Jasmine is that you learn that she’s already had a breakdown,” she says. “When I spoke to Woody about seeing a lot of people in the streets seemingly well put together but babbling and so I said well, why doesn’t Jasmine have a shower at the end? So even though she’s walking down the streets in a Chanel jacket there’s something off, so I didn’t want to wear anything.”

Indeed, Jasmine has been stripped of everything: the money, the husband, the friends and could hardly bond with her own sister. But her tragedy actually stems from the crumbling of her material life from the glitz and the glamour of Upper East side New York to a grim existence of a run-down neighbourhood in San Francisco, where her sister lives contently. Her sister is happy because her expectations are as modest at the cramped apartment she inhabits.

Blanchett’s ideas were embraced by the iconic director, who is notorious for giving little direction to his actors. In fact, when I visited the film set last year in San Francisco, I saw little interaction between Allen and the actors, when they were shooting a scene at a restaurant. Shielding himself from the scorching sun, he watched the monitors in the protective shade of a large umbrella while the the actors argued at a safe distance in an emotional scene.

The Australian actress, however, insists that she received some incisive directions from him. “I had heard that Woody was monosyllabic on set and I actually found him really funny and warm and available,” she says. “He’ll tell you what he doesn’t like but he expects you to do something. You often had to ask him and if he didn’t find the question particularly interesting he’d go back to his Blackberry,” she laughs.

Although she often needs to discuss her character, Blanchett didn’t wait for Allen to tell her how to portray it. She believes that it’s the job of the actor to figure out her character and bring out on the screen. “You have to make offers so that it can be a conversation and offers with other actors because I could go home and craft a scene and I’m going to say it like this and I’m going to do it like this and do this gesture on this line, but if the other actor does something different then you respond differently and obviously you respond within the framework of your character’s physiology and physical life but so it has to be appropriate to the character but you have to be alive to what happens in the moment,” she says.

During her acting career, Blanchett has exhibited an uncanny ability to transform herself completely in the characters that she inhabited. Interestingly though, in spite of the dearth of direction from Allen, her portrayal of Jasmine possesses the hallmarks of the director’s neurosis, which we often see in his characters. Blanchett insists that she was not even aware of that. “When you work with Woody Allen 97% of his direction is in the script and his word choices are so particular and he has such a particular rhythm to his writing that you have to rise to that. You don’t pull it down to you own rhythm.”

Having religiously watched all Allen’s movies, Blanchett has always been a “drooling fan” of the veteran director, and working with him made her even a bigger fan. “He is the most voracious director I‘ve ever worked with,” she enthuses. “He’s is just so full of ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s so full of possibility as Woody.”

Considering the fact that many of the actors who have worked on Allen’s movies ended up collecting Oscars, the 44-year-old actress could potentially take the trophy home again at  next year’s academy awards.


Woody Allen Spreads Love in Rome

Woody Allen Spreads Love in Rome

Woody Allen Spreads Love in Rome

Given the choice, Woody Allen would never leave New York and would probably avoid spending any time in Los Angeles, but his job has forced him to come today to one of his least favourite cities in order to promote his new comedy, To Rome With Love, which is premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

“It’s not a city I could ever live in because I don’t like the fact that it’s all spread out,” he exclaims, waving his hand in the air. “I don’t like to be dependent on an automobile. I need to get up in a city like New York or Paris or London and get out into the streets, buy food and have everything right around me. And I don’t like sunshine a lot. I like cloudy days,” laughs Allen as I chat to him at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills.

Other than his aversion to sunshine, the panaphobic director loathes flying. “I’m always sitting in my seat, clenched fists, braced for the crashing of the plane,” he muses, shifting in his seat.

Amazingly, in spite of a glorious career and a great fortune, the notoriously pessimistic director still finds life to be unfulfilling. “My life has been a tragic journey,” he exclaims in a dismissive tone.

And death is not something he is eager to visit either. “I’m still against it,” he laughs. “I see no advantage in death no matter how hard I study the problem.”

His phobias are invariably manifested in his movies, including To Rome With Love, in which he plays a retired music producer who reluctantly flies to Rome with his wife (Judy Davis) in order to meet the family of his daughter’s (Alison Pill) boyfriend (Alessandro Tiberi).

Playing this character was Allen’s first acting job since 2006. Although he enjoys acting and invariably tries to write a suitable role for himself, the multi-Oscar winning director-writer   insists that he doesn’t consider himself an actor.

“I could never play Chekhov or big range of characters,” he says, waving his hand. “There’s one or two things I can do: I can play a lowlife like in Broadway Danny Rose and a more scholarly person because I look scholarly –although I am not- but I look that way.”

Allen, who began his career as a stand-up comedian in New York nightclubs, neither had formal training nor adopted any method in acting. Unlike other professional actors, who constantly seek to push the limits of their abilities and try a wide gamut of roles, Allen has no interest in expanding his acting talent or inhabiting unfamiliar characters.

“I don’t rehearse or practice,” he says. “It’s a very limited thing I can do, so if there’s a need for that kind of character in the movie, you can hire me and I can do it. But if there’s a need for something more complex then you get Dustin Hoffman.”

Allen’s philosophy on acting also extends to his dealing with his actors. Not only does he offer little direction, he rarely auditions actors for roles and never rehearses with them. Instead he hires the best actors around and trusts their interpretation of his characters.

Working with foreign actors, who speak a language he doesn’t understand, hasn’t affected his directing methods. Remarkably, to this day, he says that he still doesn’t know what Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz –who won an Oscar for her performance- were saying to each other in some scenes in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

“You can tell when someone’s acting well and when they’re not or when they are insincere,” he quips. “So I tell an assistant director to tell the actor to talk more swiftly or to not be so histrionic, but usually I don’t. I tell very little and let them go and do it by themselves.”

Nonetheless, actors from all over the world clamour to work with the legendary director. In To Rome with Love, Allen casts some of the finest Italian actors, including Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni, who plays an average family man being thrust into sudden fame and subjected to the harsh, scrupulous scrutiny of the press.

In spite of enduring the hazards of his own fame in the early nineties when he was unforgivingly attacked by the media for having a relationship with former girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, whom he later married, Allen still believes that fame is not a bad idea.

“There’s many terrible things about being famous, believe or not, and many wonderful things. The good things in the end are better than the bad. It’s better to be famous if you have the chance,” he chuckles.

Other than dwelling on the dizzying nature of fame and its victims, To Rome With Love, is a social commentary on family values, the anxiety of youth, the fragility of love and marital infidelity – a subject that Allen has explored in many of his movies.

“There is nothing more lucky than two people with very complex exquisite needs to meet and not get on each other’s nerves for 50 years of however long that monogamous relationship is,” he says. “When I was growing up people didn’t get divorced, they stayed together even though they were miserable. Now it’s much more freer and less people are even marrying.”

Having lucked out himself in finding the right woman after 5 decades of searching, the nerdy director says that his needs from a woman are not different from those of an average Joe.

“I have shallow needs,” he exclaims. “I need somebody that I enjoy looking over the orange juice in the morning. The rest of the stuff is not too far off the middle of the road. You want someone kind, intelligent and amusing. But if you’re really starting from scratch, you would start with, say, Penelope Cruz and you’d build from there,” he laughs.

Having shot movies in several European cities including London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome, the 76-year-old has been invited to work in other foreign countries such as Brazil, but he chose to shoot his next movie on home ground in San Francisco. Notoriously secretive about his projects, he is reluctant to reveal much about the new one.

“It’s a kind of serious piece about two sisters, Sally Hawkins and Cate Blanchett,” he teases.

Before he departs, the left-leaning director couldn’t resist predicting a win for Barack Obama in the next American Presidential Elections and suggested completely changing the whole Republican party.

Woody Allen wins at the WGA awards

Woody Allen wins at the WGA awards

Woody Allen wins at the WGA awards

For the fifth time, Woody Allen has won the Writers Guild of America’s award for the best original screenplay; this time for Midnight in Paris. He has previously won the trophy for Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The best adapted screenplay award went to Alexander Payne, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon for penning The Descendants, which is based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemming. It was Payne’s third WGA award, having won it previously for Election and Sideways.

The WGA awards are often seen as a good indicator of the Oscars, to be held next Sunday, because many of its voters are members of the Academy. However, there could be an upset this year, because a major Oscar contender, The Artist, was ineligible for the WGA awards. The black-and-white silent film, which has triumphed at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Producers Guild Award, was written by a French writer, who is not a WGA member.

The TV winners of the evening included Homeland for best new TV series, Modern Family for best comedy TV series, Breaking Bad for best drama TV series, Too Big to Fail for best long form adapted and Cinema Verite for best long form original.

Owen Wilson drives into the past

Owen Wilson drives into the past

Owen Wilson drives into the past

One of the comedic icons of Hollywood, Owen Wilson began his film career collaborating with his college roommate Wes Anderson on a short-turned-feature Bottle Rocket in 1996. Although the film bombed in the box office, it was critically praised, winning Wilson notice, both for his keen scripting and his relaxed, assured screen presence.

Husam Asi with Owen Wilson

Unfortunately, due to his twice-broken nose that marred his good looks, the blond actor faced resistance to casting him in lead roles, but thanks to his enviable timing, mastery of dialogue and his ability to mine throwaway lines for comedic gold that he demonstrated in playing small roles, he gradually climbed the Hollywood ladder, starring in a number of the most successful stand-out comedies of the 21st century including Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers, Cars, You, Me and Dupree and The Royal Tenenbaums, which garnered him an Oscar nomination for Screenwriting.

“It’s a natural thing for me to look and see what’s funny about something but not necessarily like slapstick, but just kind of human moments that can be funny, awkwardness or insecurity,” Wilson tells me when I met him at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood.

Laid back and easy going, the native Texan exudes a child-like innocence and a carefree demeanour, which is incongruous with the fact that he has suffered mental depression and even reportedly attempted suicide in 2007 after his break up with actress Kate Hudson.

Wilson attributes his charming on-and off-screen persona to his upbringing in Dallas. “Growing up in Dallas, there is maybe a way that you speak and politeness that contribute to it, but I think that if I was from New York or Boston my voice would have a different sound to it, maybe more abrasive,” he laughs.

Wilson has recently reprised voicing the role of the race car Lightning McQueen in the pixar-animation, Cars 2, in which he gets entangled in an international espionage adventure when he heads oversees with his friend, tow truck Mater, in order to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world’s fastest car.

Wilson does not conceive the story of Cars 2 as merely about international racing and adventure. “This is a story of the friendship between Mater and Lightning McQueen that is very funny but there is a sweetness to it,” he says.

Invoking his friendship with director Wes Anderson, Wilson thinks that friendship is one of the great things about life that helped him a lot both in his professional and personal life.

“We met in college and he’s still one of my best friends. That friendship means so much not just with creativity but also as somebody that you can call and somebody that supports you.”

Also a friend of the environment, the Santa Monica resident drives a hybrid car, a Prius, which he has had for 6 years. “It’s just a very easy car to get around in. You can go to the beach. You don’t have to worry about it or about dog jumping in, muddy and stuff…” he quips.

The other motivating factor to having a Prius was to get free metered parking in Santa Monica, but recently his parking tickets have been piling up, because he is still unaware that the city has rescinded those parking privileges to Hybrid cars.

“What am I doing with Prius then if I am not getting any perks anymore,” he cried. “Might as well go to a Humvee,” he moaned, laughing.

In Woody Allen‘s upcoming movie, Midnight in Paris, Wilson goes on a nostalgic journey into the past as he plays Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter who aspires to be a novelist. While on a holiday in Paris, Gil journeys into the early twentieth century where he gets to meet his literary and art legends such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald Patrick, Picasso, Bunuel and others.

Inhabiting Gil’s character, Wilson had his own personal nostalgic journey to his past. “I can go back to Dallas and drive by where I went to school and I look out and I think ‘Oh, that was incredible back then,’ and you can do that a lot with your life.”

“I think the word nostalgia means something like a wound. I think that’s a common syndrome that you think that happiness is never really right now. It was always just back there.”

Wilson leapt at the opportunity to work with Allen when he received his script, but he was surprised by the legendary director’s methods, who is notoriously known for his hands-off directing.

“Woody didn’t really give a lot of direction. We had never spoken on phone and we didn’t meet until the camera test 3 days before the shooting and he asked me how my flight was and I said it was good,” he laughs.

And in the first couple of weeks of shooting, Allen and Wilson hardly talked to each other. “He was always polite and wasn’t attached to anything. He said, ‘If there’s something that I just want it to sound natural and if you want to change something then that’s fine. Just make it believable.'”

Wilson also dismisses the notion that Allen had rewritten his part in order to suit his personality. “He rewrote the part for me but all I can see is that he changed it so the guy was from Pasadena,” he quips.

This has been my first close encounter with Wilson and frankly, judging from the character he usually plays, I was expecting a wilder guy, but I found him slightly subdued and mallow. Probably he has been tamed by the recent arrival of his first son or perhaps by the inherited stress of stardom.

“There’s a lot of things that you don’t anticipate when you’re sort of starting out that would go along with becoming recognizable,” he muses.

Nonetheless, the 43-year-old actor, who grew up in a house, where creativity was encouraged from an early age, considers himself lucky to be able to make a living doing something creative.

“I feel most alive when I am trying to come up with something on Cars or Midnight in Paris, when there’s a scene that doesn’t seem to be quite working and I start brain-storming trying to come up with ideas for it,” he enthuses.

Whatever brain-storming Wilson invests in his work, he is so natural and affable his performance invariably seems effortless. And in spite of the reported misfires in his personal life, audience still flocks to see him on screen. In fact, he is so popular, his movies have made over 2 billion dollars in the box office. But I’ve got the feeling that Wilson, like Gil in Midnight in Paris, wants something else in his life!

Woody Allen Journeys Into The Past

Woody Allen Journeys Into The Past

Woody Allen Journeys Into The Past

Dressed casually and looking as bright and sunny as the weather outside, Woody Allen marches into a room in the Lowe Regency Hotel in New York City, ready and eager to shower us with the fountain of his wisdom and preach against reality, the reality he has been exploring in his movies for over 43 years, without seemingly finding a positive or optimistic resolution.

I’ve always been an outspoken opponent of reality,” Allen exclaims. “I think we live in a very, very cruel existence. I am greatly in favour of escaping reality in any way. The problem is: It’s very difficult to escape reality. You can’t really escape reality without going crazy. So as long as you’re stuck in reality, I think the best thing you can do is maybe distract yourself from it, but I don’t think in the end you can finally escape from it. I wish I could. I would be the first one out of here, ” he laughs.

In Allen’s new movie, Midnight in Paris, the lead character, Gil,escapes the reality of the present by embarking on a nostalgic journey into the past. Allen, however, insists that time travel is not the subject of this movie, but is merely a narrative tool to transport the audience into a different world, giving them the “fun” of exploring what it would be like to be back in that kind of situation.

“I myself am not interested in time travelling. It’s not possible and it’s silly to daydream about it. But what does interest me in fiction is bringing together colourful characters and getting them in situations that could not really be possible in the everyday world. There are certain limitations in a realistic movie; you don’t get anything out of it that you can’t get from living day to day. But when you can get into something like time travel, for example, you can create for the audience an experience that’s quite different than what they’re used to.”

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, who is not satisfied with his well-paid, monotonous job and aspires to be a novelist. One night, while on holiday in his beloved Paris with his fiance’e Inez (Rachel McAdams), a car from the 1920’s, carrying a group of charmingly cheerful people pulls up and takes him on a journey into the early twentieth century, where he gets to meet, socialise and party with his idols, such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald Patrick, Picasso, Bunuel and others.

It took Allen months to come up with this romantic idea, after he was asked to make a movie in Paris, his favourite city in the world after his hometown of New York. “It’s strictly made up. I myself would not get into a car if people pulled up,” the notoriously neurotic director quips. “I just wouldn’t do it. I’d be afraid I’d wind up in a basement in Darfur,” he laughs.

“I am not that adventurous or romantic. But I have the characters I write about do anything ’cause it’s fiction,” he adds.

And he is not even fond of the idea of going back in time. “When you think back nostalgically, you tend to extrapolate all the nice things. So when you think of the 20’s, you think of horses, carriages and beautiful women, but you don’t think that when you go to the dentist, there’s no Novocain, drill and air-conditioning,” he jokes.

“Once you’ve lived with a certain amount of contemporary conveniences and advances, it would be very painful to really go back. So I don’t think I would want to go back. Maybe for a day, every now and then, to dip in to visit and enjoy it.”

And he wouldn’t want to meet Gil’s idols either, describing Hemingway as difficult and obnoxious, Picasso as mad and Scott Fitzgerald and his wife as crazy. His choice of characters, he says, was dictated by the period of the 20’s. “These were the ones that are most ubiquitous in the writing about that era.”

Allen also confesses that in the course of his life he has invariably eschewed meeting his own idols, because he prefers beholding them through the eyes of his imagination: inflated and supernatural.

“I don’t want to know that they exist in real life, and that they are hungry and bored and annoyed and they have a headache,” he exclaims, throwing his hand in the air.

Yet, Allen admits that he wrote the movie for a character like him, “A kind of eastern, more scholarly, kind of guy.” But, there was a catch.

“When I write a film and I look at it and I figure ‘Ah, there’s nothing in it for me’ I move on and cast it. I couldn’t have played Gil ’cause I’m not young enough and I couldn’t think of anybody like me,” the 75-year-old quips.

Failing to find an actor in reality who would inhabit the character of his fancy, Allen succumbed to the persuation of his casting director and rewrote the role for the comedic Hollywood star Owen Wilson. “Owen is not like me. He is very laid back and very California. He’s like a beach boy with a surfboard who could be combing the beach. He’s like a guy who would live in California and make a fortune writing movies, but also play a character who wants to do better than that.”

Known for casting the best actors in the world in his movies, the Oscar-winning director raised some eyebrows when he cast France’s first lady, Carla Bruni, who plays a tourist guide in this movie.

“When I first met Carla, she was so beautiful, and I said, ‘Would you be interested at all in doing a small part in a movie? Just for fun and it would not take much of your time. Maybe two or three days maximum.’ And she thought about it and said ‘Yes, it would be fun. Maybe someday to show my grandchildren that I was in a movie.’ and she came and did it effortlessly.”

Like many of Allen’s films, which invariably dwell on metaphysical and philosophical issues, Midnight in Paris is imbued with literature and art references, which could potentially alienate a large section of the audience, but the legendary director is indifferent, insisting that he makes films for the educated and literate who want something sophisticated that does not cater for the lowest common denominator, like car crashes and bathroom jokes.

“I always have a limited audience, no matter what movie I do,” Allen enthuses. “I am not an intellectual. I never went to college and I always take it for granted that the audience knows as much as me.”

Having two young adopted kids at home, whose icons are not the masters of literature and art, but rock stars such as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, the aging director knows that his audience is shrinking. “They have nothing but contempt for me, for trying to educate them. They feel that I am an ancient, out of it, a know-nothing and an embarrassment as a father,” he laments, laughing.

Indeed, the days when moviegoers, young and old, eagerly awaited and religiously attended Allen’s movies are long gone. Ten years ago, pecuniary constraints squeezed the native New Yorker out of his beloved hometown, where he had shot all his movies, turning him into a nomadic director, shooting films in different cities around the world, including London, Paris, Barcelona and soon in Rome, where he has found a comfortable financial cushion and supportive authorities.

“New York is a very expensive place to shoot. I’d love to be able to shoot here all the time, but what happens is my money doesn’t go as far,” Allen explains.

Suddenly, Allen’s eyes glint behind his thick glasses as he nostalgically recalls the good days of the 70’s, when his backers, United Artists, granted him free rein in making his movie, without vetting his scripts or interfering with casting or demanding a final cut. The prolific filmmaker, who has made 47 movies during his career, believes that many filmmakers who emerged in the 70s would not be able to emerge today because of the current financial, economic structure.

“The 70s, when I came along, were very good creative times,” he effervesces. “Now there is a different dynamic, because the film companies discovered that it’s to their advantage to spend $100 million on a film and make $300 million. They want to gamble for bigger stakes. They couldn’t care less about making good films. They’re interested in making huge profits and they found a way to do it. Even if they make five films for $100 million and they’re all failures and they have one success, they make so much money that it covers it all. They are businessmen and we are not. So we have different goals.”

Later Allen tells me that even if no one would hire him for anything and he had to wash dishes for a living at some place, he would come home at night and he would write. Writing for him is not merely a vocation, but also a pleasure.

“It’s something I could always do. I could always write, even before I could read, I could write. When I was a little boy, I could always make up stories and I could write. I can just do it and when you have the ability to do something, it demands expression. It’s just natural, a born-interest,” he smiles.

In spite of his gloomy, tragic outlook at life, Woody Allen is truly inspiring and thoroughly entertaining. His charm stems from his ability to eloquently articulate his dark thoughts with a blithesome honesty, transforming sorrow into joy and melancholy into passion. He has evidently succeeded in negotiating a safe path with his inner demons to a placid existence via leading an active life.

Before we parted, I told him that he should form a cult to give direction to so many lost souls, but he responded with a dismissive laughter followed by a typical Allen stammer. This kind of self-deprecation is what really makes Woody Allen great.

Woody Allen meets a tall dark stranger

Woody Allen meets a tall dark stranger

Woody Allen meets a tall dark stranger

Woody Allen is still searching for the meaning of Life.

Woody Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world, turning in one or two movies, year in and year out, since 1969. He has been nominated for 15 Academy awards for his acting, writing and directing, winning for both best screenplay and director in 1978 for Annie Hall, and best screenplay in 1987 for Hanna and her Sisters.

The 75-year-old filmmaker strides purposefully into the room in Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, a khaki jacket hangs on his shoulders, thick glasses cover his eyes and a nervous smile painted on his face. He looks unassumingly tame but when he talks, a fire of profound wisdom, occasionally coloured with convivial banter, gushes out of him.

His films invariably dwell on the absurdity of existence and the inevitable mortality, youth and old age, marital angst and infidelities, crime and romance, science and religion. But after all these years of trying to unravel the intricate complexities of life and the psychology of those who inhabit it, Allen is still struggling with the same questions that he was asking when he began writing at the age of 16.

“We still have the same questions that were asked by the Greek playwrights thousands of years ago, and by Shakespeare and Chekov and nobody seems to make any progress with them,” he says. “It’s hard for us to get comfortable that we want things explained to us, and things are explained more and more, and we learn more things, but there is something about human existence that’s incomprehensible.”

“Life itself is a very unsatisfying, unresolved issue. Everybody goes through life trying to find the meaning of it, trying to find some kind of great love, some great ambitions. When you finally die, you haven’t really learned any great answers or any great meaning of any of your questions.”

Some of those existential dilemmas were battled with by the characters in Allen’s new movie, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. In the film, aging Alfie leaves his wife, Helena, to pursue his lost youth with a free spirited call girl named Charmain. Consequently, Helena abandons rationality and surrenders her life to the loopy advice of a fortune-teller. In the meantime, their daughter, a bored housewife, develops a crush on an art gallery owner, while her husband, suffering from writer’s block, becomes moonstruck over a mystery woman.

“I think my film shows a group of characters running around in frantic pursuit of some way of dealing with the troubles that life offers, all the sadness and the terrors. There’s a lot of noise and people doing foolish things and hurt other people and get hurt themselves, and in the end the next generation comes along and all the people that are on the face of the earth now are gone, and it’s a fresh generation of people so it goes toward no apparent end,” Allen says.

Allen suggests that we waste our lives brooding over the brevity of life and our mortality instead of just accepting it. There is a tall dark stranger waiting for us, but unfortunately not the kind we want to meet.

“We can’t go round thinking that, because you’ll learn you have to live as though life is not a little temporary thing, and that you will not meet a tall dark stranger, but that you will just go on in perpetuity, and some day you’ll be surprised that it’s not that way, but until that time it’s best not to think of it and to the degree that you can push it out of your mind.”

People who can accept death as part of life, and are not terrified by it, amaze Allen. “These people are either religious, which is a gift that they have, or they have some kind of personal resources that I don’t have, and I will never have, I guess,” he quips.

Indeed, Allen doesn’t much believe in God or any spiritual practices. He is so scientific minded that he even denigrates alternative medicine. “I feel what little progress one can point to in human existence really comes from science,” he stresses. “It’s unglamorous, and it doesn’t solve all the problems and it’s disappointing at times, but it’s the best we have. When you are sick, you should go to a doctor to cut out the tumour rather than take some kind of odd herbal thing you put on and hope for the best,” he laughs.

In the movie, Helena seeks the wisdom of a fortune-teller in her quest in finding a meaning of her life. Allen believes that Helena’s action stems from a weakness of her mind. He is actually surprised by people, like Helena, who put their faith in such “a ridiculous thing” and guide their decision by it, but nonetheless, he understands it.

“If it works for them, it’s no different than my parents, who are moderately religious Jewish people, and they put their faith in all that. Some people put it in fortune-telling, Catholicism, Judaism. As long as you have something, it seemed to me that it was better than nothing, even if you were deluded about it, and I feel all these people are deluded, but if it makes your life better, then why not?” he laughs.

Allen’s solution to overcoming the tormenting thoughts of his pointless existence and mortality is distractions. “If I sit home, and I think about it all the time, I get terrified and anxious and upset, but if I distract myself, if I work a lot, if I go to the movies or if I watch the tennis match or if I watch the baseball game… this helps me to get through life,” he enthuses.

However, Allen couldn’t escape the social and political troubles that beset his city, New York. He is disgusted by the “brainless bigots” who are rallying against building a mosque in downtown New York. He believes that only the people, who have lost loved-ones in September 11, are entitled to make their case in this matter.

“I’d argue with them that to build this mosque downtown, which I’m completely in favour of, would go a certain amount toward seeing that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. It’s a positive step toward bringing people together and to not allow it is a step in the other direction. It’s a polarising step. It seems to me a clear-cut issue that this mosque should be built.”

In spite of being religiously scientific, Woody Allen admits that he is a surreptitious guy, who insists on slicing a banana in 7 pieces on his cereal. “You know I could cut it in 6 or 8, but I have nothing to lose by cutting it in 7 and that takes the possibility that it’s a 7 because there is so much of the world that we don’t understand. So who knows that by me bringing my hand down here, I am not creating a little breeze that in some way affects something somewhere else – everything is so interdependent. Therefore, I cut the banana in 7 slices because things have been going well, and I see no reason to mess with good things,” he laughs.

Neurosis aside, Woody Allen, unlike the characters in “You will meet a tall dark stranger”, feels that he is a lucky man thanks to his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, who is 34 years younger than him.

“I’ve had my share of misfires over the years like everyone else, but I did get lucky with my wife, and if you had told me when I was young that I would be happily married now for years with two kids, to a woman much younger than me who was Asian, I would have said you’re crazy, because I thought I am going to get married to some actress or some director or choreographer or someone in my business, and someone more age appropriate for me; something more logical or natural. This thing occurred and it’s worked out very well.”

If Woody Allen, the legendry pessimist, has met his tall dark stranger, then there is hope for us all.