"YOU DO HAVE TO BE LUCKY"
Woody Allen on the terrorist attacks on New York, a secret hope for a career as a con artist, the neuroses of his colleagues and the power of love
Published in SONNTAGSZEITUNG ZÜRICH and on
Mr. Allen, is it true that you don't particularly care for comedy?
No, no, that's always put the wrong way. I love comedies. It's just that my own personal favorites over the years in the theater and in the cinema have always been more serious things. I love comic films. I've always loved the Marx Brothers. I've always loved Chaplin. I've loved Lubitsch. I've loved Billy Wilder. But my absolute favorite things over the years have been Eugene O'Neill and Ingmar Bergman and Tennessee Williams -- these have been the things that have given me the most pleasure. But when people hear that, they immediately think, Well, he doesn't like comedy. But it's not true.
You once actually considered a career in crime.
That is true. When I was younger, a teenager, all my friends were going to school to become doctors and lawyers and that didn't interest me. I had no interest in any of the professions that I saw around me. I didn't know what I wanted to be. One of the options was, in some way, a life in crime. Because I thought that that would at least be interesting. I thought about the possibility of being, first, a gambler. Making money through just playing cards and dice. And then I thought about the possibility of being a card cheat. Making my living that way. Then I thought, What if we did crimes? What if we did robberies or crimes -- and then I found out I could write jokes. And once I found out I could write jokes, it was like a whole world opened up for me. I wrote a few jokes after school and sold them and I've been working ever since. I was hired immediately. Hired to write a radio show, hired to write a television show and never stopped working. So all those things became fantasy.
Would you have had the nerve to be a criminal?
I don't know if I would have had the nerve. You know, I also thought about being in the FBI. Because that was interesting. I wanted something exciting. I would have had the nerve to be a card cheat. Because I was always, as a boy, a magician, and to this day, I can deal cards, shuffle cards, you know, do all those things that are necessary to cheat at cards. Dice a little bit, too. So I could have done that. But I never wanted to be a businessman or a doctor or a lawyer. But being able to write jokes completely changed my life. Completely. Because, if it wasn't for that, I don't know. I probably would have ended up in a menial job of some sort.
How can you convince all these actors to work for less?
Well, it's interesting. We don't have a lot of money. These actors will sometimes get $5 million, $10 million, $20 million for a picture. We can only pay them $5000 a week. So, if they work ten weeks on a picture, they get $50,000 and that's it. That's all we have to give them. If they like the part and they're not doing anything -- you know, if somebody else is saying, "I'd like you for my movie and I'll pay you $10 million," they'll do the other person's movie. But if they're not working and they have a movie, say, next September, and I need them in the summer, and they say, "Look, I'm off and I love this part. I make $10 million on every movie I do, so I don't need the money," then they do it.
But isn't, "Hello, I'm Woody Allen," kind of convincing, too?
I don't have to convince them. I send them the part, and if they like the part and they're unoccupied, they do it.
Well, don't you think that your status as a legend works a little in your favor?
But won't some of them say, "Oh, this is Woody Allen, I've got to do this."
No. No, I think that they have to read it. I don't call them up and say, "I have something here and I'm a legend. So, you don't even have to read this. Just be thankful that you're working with a legend." I don't tell them that. They have to read it. And when they read it, they have to like it. There are times when someone will say, "I'd love to work with you, but this is not the time. Please ask me again some time." But very often, they see it and they like it and say, "When would you need me?" And we tell them and they say, "No, I can't. I'm making a picture for Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg." And I can't get them. Or they say, "No, I'm not doing anything. I'll be home." And they do it.
Has anyone refused to work with you -- in spite of the fact that they had time?
Yes. Jack Nicholson had to have his money. Dustin Hoffman does not want to work for a low salary. Robert De Niro -- usually men. It's an interesting thing. You know, there's this theory that the difference between actors and actresses is that men consider acting a kind of, you know, an insignificant or effeminate occupation, whereas it's perfectly wonderful for a woman. The men, feeling that, have to act macho in other ways. So they insist on many crazy things that the women never insist on.
The women come in, they´re delightful. They're no problem at all. The men all want to have their campers and their trainer and their private airplanes and their money, you know, a lot of things that accrue to masculine status. So I have had trouble getting men. Not a lot of them. I've gotten a lot of men without trouble. But where it's been trouble, it's usually been with a man. They don't like to get anything less than their salary.
And I've been in positions where I've heard from people -- for example: Jodie Foster was someone that said, "I want to work with him. I don't care what it is, I just want to do one of his pictures." So I sent her something, and she said, "Yes, I'll do it." Now, I've heard that from men, where they'll say, "Oh, I don't care about the money. I'll do anything." So I send them something and they'll say, "Oh, I like this very much." And then, they have to get the money. And we say, "Well, we don't have the money. What you get for your salary for a movie is more money than we have to make the whole movie."
How do you explain that your movies are sometimes more popular in Europe than they are in America?
Yes, that's often the case. I have a few explanations. One is that people tend to like imported things. Americans like French wine and European cheese and German cars. They feel it's special if it comes from another country. Also, when you see someone else doing my voice, or you see subtitles, the mistakes are not as obvious. So they gain something in the translation. They don't lose something in the translation, they're better!
When I was first making films and I saw a dubbed version of my film in Spanish or Italian or German, I thought, "Oh! This is a catastrophe. This is terrible. I'm speaking and a foreign voice is coming out of my mouth." But over the years, those films have done better than when my own voice came out. So something good is happening in the translations. They're getting very good people in Germany, in Italy, in France, in Argentina and all these places. Very good actors are doing my lines and very good translators are writing the subtitles. So it's great.
What's your take on love?
Well, it's a nice thing. I feel that one must be completely lucky, that there is nothing that you can do -- you can't go out "to meet somebody." You know, people always say, "We have a relationship that's so-so, but we're working on it." I don't believe you can work on it. I believe that, like all those things in life that you really get pleasure out of, you don't work at them. When you love something -- you know, a man buys a boat and loves his boat. He loves to come home from work and works on his boat. And it's not work for him. He loves to paint it and so on, it's pure pleasure. That's why it's great.
If you have to work at it, if it's a chore, then it doesn't work. And I feel the same thing is true with a relationship. Sometimes you get lucky. Two people meet and all the little details are right. But it's very rare because there's a thousand wires and they all have go right. So it's rare that you find really good relationships in which people are happy and fulfilled and sexually happy and emotionally happy and practically happy. But it does happen. It's just that you do have to be lucky.
And this has happened to you?
Yes, late in life. You know, I went through a lot of relationships in my life and I got a certain amount of pleasure out of some of them and a certain amount of pain out of some of them. And then, late in life, inexplicably, with a woman that I never would have imagined I'd have any interest in -- I mean, it was like dropping off the moon. I used to always like these blond New York intellectual women that were students who'd studied philosophy or, you know, neurotic women who'd studied acting, and suddenly, I meet this woman that's much younger than me, has never seen half or three quarters of my films, doesn't know anything about show business, comes from Korea, doesn't look like anything I've ever known in my life, you know... It's, like, completely off the moon. And it's worked great. It's great. We're married, we're delighted with each other, we've been together for years now, we have two children. We do everything together, you know, it's complete luck. And I never would have dreamt it.
If you ever met a clone of yourself, do you think you'd like him?
I would like some things about him and there would be some things about him that I would not like. There are a some things about myself that I like, that I think are very decent, and there are some things about myself that I wish were better, that I wish I could improve on. I don't think that I have any really terrible faults, you know, I wouldn't do anything really awful. But I do have flaws that could certainly use improvement.
Oh, I could name a lot of them for you. I'm a mediocre artist. I'm lazy. I have at times in my life been unfeeling to people. I could think of many. None of them brutal. I wouldn't kill somebody. I'm not guilty of deliberate cruelty, but I am guilty of lazy cruelty and errors of omission and things that have hurt people that I should rise above.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?
The usual one. That I'm the character in my movies. That is the biggest one.