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After setting recent films in locales like Hollywood, Rome, and the French Riviera, Woody Allen was lured back to his roots by the sand, surf, and sights of Coney Island. The Brooklyn-born filmmaker’s latest drama, Wonder Wheel, is set in the beachside neighborhood in the 1950s, a place and period Allen knows well.
“I grew up fairly near there, and I always thought it was a very colorful atmosphere to have a story in,” Allen tells EW. “[In] 1950, I was 15 years old and a perfect age to spend time there, so many of my fondest memories of Coney Island are from those years.”
The film revolves around Ginny (Kate Winslet), the wife of a carousel operator (James Belushi), who perks up when she falls for a handsome lifeguard, Mickey (played by real-life handsome person Justin Timberlake). But when her husband’s estranged daughter (Juno Temple) resurfaces and also sets her sights on Mickey, it begins “the great unraveling of Ginny,” Winslet explains.
In the photo above, from a scene early in the film, Ginny strolls the shoreline in hopes of spotting a certain lifeguard at his post. “She just happens to have a nice dress on and just happens to have time in her day to go and just see if Mickey is working that afternoon,” Winslet says with a laugh.
The Oscar winner got along swimmingly with Timberlake. “He’s such a wonderful person,” she says. “I would turn to him and say, ‘Do you know what, Justin Timberlake? The best thing about you being in this film is that you’re really not “Justin Timberlake.” If you had really been “Justin Timberlake” it could have been a complete nightmare, but really you’re not “Justin Timberlake” at all, you’re just some guy named Justin.’ He’s totally unvain, he has an absolutely infuriating ability to learn lines fast, and he’s an all around great person — humble, fun, hard-working, easygoing, no ego. Such a joy, really.”
But despite the setting, playing Ginny wasn’t exactly a day at the beach. “There was not one single moment that I was not utterly terrified,” she says. “It’s an incredibly complicated character — maybe the most complicated female character I’ve ever had the challenge of grappling with.”
“Every day was like a white-knuckle ride day, and yet the most exhilarating acting experience I’ve ever had,” Winslet adds. “But highly stressful as well — I didn’t sleep a solid night of sleep while we were making the film because I was always so anxious about the next day and could never quite switch off from it.”
Allen never had any doubts about his leading lady, whom he’d wanted to work with ever since she reluctantly dropped out of Match Point after having a baby. “There are certain actors and actresses that I consider great — there’s Cate Blanchett, there’s Meryl Streep — and Kate Winslet is one of them,” Allen says. “There are really just a few actresses that are deep enough to really give me a sensational rendering of the character.” (Fact: Kate Winslet knows how to render.)
Wonder Wheel will premiere as the closing night film at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 14, followed by a Dec. 1 theatrical release.
—Additional reporting by Shirley Li