Will The Real Woody Allen Please Stand Up?

Woody Allen i i

Woody Allen wrote his first film in 1966, What's Up Tiger Lily? He has won three Academy Awards. AFP/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty
Woody Allen

Woody Allen wrote his first film in 1966, What's Up Tiger Lily? He has won three Academy Awards.

AFP/Getty

This week on Fresh Air, we're marking the year's end by revisiting some of the most memorable conversations we've had in 2009.

For someone who has spent the majority of his career making comedies, Woody Allen sees the world — and his lifelong profession — through a surprisingly dark lens.

"Life is a terrible trial and very harsh and very full of suffering...[Film] is a different kind of pain. Making a movie is a great distraction from the real agonies of the world," Allen tells Terry Gross.

Though it may be a struggle coordinating actors, temperaments, scripts, cameras, and sticky plots, Allen has managed to make it through the process 40 times in over 5 decades. "In the problems of moviemaking, if you don't solve your problem, all that happens to you is that your movie bombs. So the movie is terrible. So people don't come to see it...This is hardly a terrible punishment compared to what you're given out in the real world of human existence."

Allen's films are known for blending the "real world" with fiction, from the more extreme twists on the documentary form featured in Zelig to Annie Hall's relationship between the comedian Alvy Singer and the title character, played by former couple Allen and Diane Keaton.

His latest work raises even more questions about reality. Whatever Works tells the story of a New York City professor who takes in — and eventually falls in love with –- a young girl nearly 40 years his junior. It's a story that shares some elements with Allen's own romance with his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, though the screenplay was written before she was even born.

Allen shirks at the comparison between Larry David's character and himself. "People always look for clues [about me] in my movies no matter how many times I've told them over the years I make this stuff up," he says.

Still, it's hard not to see Woody Allen in his films — especially when he has starred in so many of them. Although Allen plays a mousy intellectual on the screen, Allen claims that his true self is much different. He says, if anything, he's always been more athletically minded.

"When I explain to people I'm the guy that you see in his T-shirt with a beer watching the baseball game at night at home on television, they find that hard to square with the characters that I played in the movies," Allen tells Terry Gross. "But in the movies, I'm just acting."

This interview was first broadcast on June 15, 2009.

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