Woody Allen: A 'Stranger' Always, And Mortal Too Woody Allen's films tend to involve rococo relationships, which is probably why questions about the autobiographical impulse tend to dog him in interviews. But he says the characters in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger come mostly from his imagination -- though he won't entirely discount his unconscious obsessions.
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Woody Allen: A 'Stranger' Always, And Mortal Too

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Woody Allen: A 'Stranger' Always, And Mortal Too

Woody Allen: A 'Stranger' Always, And Mortal Too

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The latest movie by Woody Allen begins with a silver-haired woman who's been abandoned by her husband in London. She goes, for solace, to sit across the table from a fortune teller, a woman who offers a glass of Scotch and a vision of hope.

(Soundbite of movie, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger")

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) You're bathed in a rose light, my darling. You've got nothing but good coming to you. I promise you.

Ms. GEMMA JONES (Actress): (as Helena) Well, 40 years of marriage is a long time. One becomes terribly dependent. My husband walked out on me for one, simple reason: I was too honest with him. I refused to allow him to delude himself.

INSKEEP: The husband, played by Anthony Hopkins, runs off and marries a much younger woman. That story comes from a writer and director who in real life, famously left his longtime partner, Mia Farrow, and married Farrow's adopted daughter.

Woody Allen's latest creation is called "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."

So, who is Alfie, this man played by Anthony Hopkins?

Mr. WOODY ALLEN (Director, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"): Who is he? He's just a guy who, as stated in the film, wakes up in the middle of the night and is laying there - as we all do every once in a while - in the black of the night at 3, 4 in the morning, and we start to imagine our own mortality and the meaninglessness of life. And it scared him. He was not ready to pack it in. He still wanted to live, and embarks on a life that becomes catastrophic.

INSKEEP: You describe, just now, that moment of reality in the middle of the night so vividly, that I couldn't help but start wondering how you slept last night.

Mr. ALLEN: I sleep fitfully. But I experience that moment. You know, I have moments of waking up in the middle of the night and questioning exactly what the purpose of life was. And it's, certainly, has always frightened me.

INSKEEP: So this character you write about, Anthony Hopkins, he runs away from his wife; he proposes marriage to a call girl, and then brings her to meet his adult daughter and son-in-law, played by Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin. Afterward, they talk about that meeting - and here they are.

(Soundbite of movie, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger")

Ms. NAOMI WATTS (Actress): (as Sally) I found that whole public display completely disgusting. And did you see the ring he got her? I'm telling you, she'll take him for everything he's worth, and then leave him pouring his heart out to some bar man.

Mr. JOSH BROLIN (Actor): (as Roy) Oh, he's a big boy. She'll put a charge in his battery. Maybe she'll give him that son he always wanted.

Ms. WATTS: How infuriating will it be if he has his second family before I have my first?

INSKEEP: Where do these characters come from, for you as a writer? Are they you? Are they someone that you relate to?

Mr. ALLEN: You know, I make them up. I can find traits, sometimes, in people that I meet or newspaper stories I read; or sometimes I just fabricate them from scratch, completely. That's what you do. People always think that writing is based on characters you've observed or autobiographical things, because it's hard for them to really empathize with an act of imagination. But the author is sitting in a - empty room and making up the story completely.

INSKEEP: You're not working out some obsession of yours here?

Mr. ALLEN: I'm sure I'm working out some obsession without knowing it. I'm not consciously. Consciously, I'm trying to entertain and hopefully, make some kind of statement about life or call attention to something or, you know, to do something and not just fill time for an hour and a half.

INSKEEP: Well, here's one of the reasons that I ask about your obsessions. When people watch your movies and reviewers write about them, in more recent years, when you've less and less often appeared in them as an actor, people will try to identify who they think the Woody Allen character is. Is there a Woody Allen character in your movies?

Mr. ALLEN: Sometimes there are characters in my movies that I would have played if I was younger. I mean, if I was Josh Brolin's age, I might have played his character - married to Naomi Watts and coveting the beautiful, next-door neighbor, and trying hard to be a writer. I couldn't play it as well as Josh. If I played it, I would play it much funnier, much broader. But that's the character that I would have played.

And very often in my films, there is a character that I no longer can play because I'm too old, that I would have played years ago.

INSKEEP: There are some reviewers who've watched his movie and thought that Josh Brolin is the character that Woody Allen might have played once upon a time. And there are some reviewers who have thought that Anthony Hopkins, the actor who is about your age and playing an older man who leaves his family, that that's the Woody Allen character.

Mr. ALLEN: I could conceivably play that, but the difference is, if you can get Anthony Hopkins or you can get me, I want Anthony Hopkins. I mean, you know, it's a blessing to get an actor of that quality to play it. I could've played the character, but I could never have played it, in my wildest dreams, like Anthony Hopkins plays it.

INSKEEP: Well, you've got Anthony Hopkins, then, speaking these lines that you wrote, that you as an actor could have delivered - but delivering them differently than you would. Did you hear those lines in your head as you wrote them, and did you have to get used to them being delivered in a different way when Hopkins took over the role?

Mr. ALLEN: Yes. I do hear them in my head when I'm writing them. But when an American author hears a British actor do his dialogue, it suddenly gets catapulted into a more artistic realm. This happened to me when I did "Match Point," and I first heard Jonathan Rhys Myers read my lines. All of a sudden it sounded like I could write, you know? I think, my God, did I write that?

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting because in some ways, you could have imagined this story taking place, with only a few changes, in New York City instead of London. And New York used to be always a character, or even almost a leading character, in your films. But it sounds like you're feeling comfortable, in more recent years, as you've moved to other locations.

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I do feel comfortable. But I'd like to shoot in New York - you know, I live in New York, and I love it. And the places I've filmed at are places that are not that different than New York, in a certain sense. I've filmed in Paris, Barcelona - London, a number of times. These are all highly cosmopolitan, sophisticated cities. You know, I couldn't - the way some directors do - go out, you know, in the desert and make "Lawrence of Arabia" for two years and live in that kind of atmosphere, or go out to farmland in the United States.

INSKEEP: I'm just dwelling for a moment on that possibility you raised, of a Woody Allen "Lawrence of Arabia" kind of desert epic of some kind, and what that might be like.

Mr. ALLEN: Yes, that - directors like that. They go away, and they pick these exotic, far-off places. I can't do that. I don't have that kind of dedication to my art. You know, if I get an idea for a brilliant film in the Sudan, I crumple it up and throw it in the wastepaper basket and you know, take a lesser idea that's on 42nd Street.

INSKEEP: Woody Allen's new film is called "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." Thanks very much.

Mr. ALLEN: OK. Thank you.

INSKEEP: And you can comment on this, and other stories, by following us online. MORNING EDITION is on Facebook, and also on Twitter. You'll find us @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep.

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