Woody Allen on his prolific career
Stepping gingerly into an elegantly appointed hotel suite in Beverly Hills, shoulders slouched, eyes casing the room, Woody Allen looks a little out of his element. No surprise: This is the man who raised feeling uncomfortable — in social settings, in love, in a cold and godless universe — to an art form, and, as anyone familiar with his life and work knows, Los Angeles is not exactly his turf. As the Brooklyn-bred filmmaker quipped in his 1977 masterpiece Annie Hall, Los Angeles is ”a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.”
Settling into a sofa, Allen says he enjoys visiting L.A., ”but I could never live here. I need a more close-packed city. And I don’t like the sunshine.”
But Allen has been straying outside his comfort zone more and more lately. Even as his films have struggled to find an audience, he has entered into new partnerships, like a three-picture deal with DreamWorks from 2000 to 2002, that step up the pressure on him to at least break even at the box office. In 2001, he split with his longtime friend and producer Jean Doumanian in a bitter legal battle. The next year, he stunned audiences by making his first-ever appearance at the Academy Awards — in a tuxedo, no less.
His new film, Match Point — his 36th — represents another unexpected turn. Filmed in England, with a mainly British cast, it’s a straight-up Hitchcockian thriller: the story of a social-climbing tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who dives into a passionate, ill-fated affair with his brother-in-law’s fiancée (Scarlett Johansson). Since debuting at the Cannes film festival — where Allen walked the red carpet and did his best to smile for the cameras — Match Point, in limited release Dec. 28, has been heralded as a return to form for the director and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama.
Allen seems wary of the buzz. ”People like to talk,” he says dismissively. The reality is, after 50-plus years in show business, he’s heard it all. He’s been hailed as a comic genius and attacked as a self-indulgent narcissist. His films have been celebrated as cultural events (Annie Hall, Manhattan, the list goes on) and panned or, worse, ignored (September, Anything Else, that list goes on as well). His persona as the neurotic Everyman made him an unlikely folk hero, while his offscreen life — most notably the revelation in 1992 of his affair with his current wife Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his longtime girlfriend and cinematic muse Mia Farrow — brought scorn from some quarters. Allen says he tunes out the background din of acclaim, disdain, and everything in between: ”Even when I’m embraced, I’m not embraced warmly. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Earlier this month, Allen turned 70. He’s a little hard of hearing and moves more slowly than he used to. Yet he keeps plugging away, making a film a year with a regularity you can set a watch to. His parents lived to be 93 and 100, and with his next comedy, Scoop, already in the can, he shows no signs of stopping.