MEETING HIM IS LIKE MEETING BUGS BUNNY. Over three decades ol lilmmaking. his iconic unilorm ol black-rimmed glasses. beige cords and kicked-around-the-cutting-room-lloor check shirt has become lamiliar to the point ol being cartoonish. When he wanders into the room wearing this very outlit. yott listen out lor the l.oony Tunes lanlare. "l‘hisf says the press ollicer a little unnecessarily. ‘is Woody Allen.‘
The 63-year-old director shambles over to a super-comlortable. oyer-upholstered chair and shakes hands belore sitting down. ‘l‘ye got the cold.‘ he coughs. apologetically. ‘You'll haye to wash yottr hands now.‘ He looks like himsell. like a million moyie stills with the Brooklyn Bridge silhouetted in the background. but old and lragile. Surprisingly. he‘s lriendly and open. He doesn’t eyade questions or grouch about personal lines ol enquiry. l-‘rankly. he‘s charming.
Woody Allen is in London today. but he could just as easily he in Paris or Venice ~ cities that he enjoys and where his international lame occasionally takes him. He has a reputation lor being unable to lunction outside the rarelied atmosphere ol his natiye New York. but. while that city remains his muse and security blanket. he is still a member ol the jet set. albeit one who gets nauseous on aeroplanes. The world is his home. and that home is lit by the llash and bttrn ol paparax/i cameras. Appropriately enough. then. Woody Allen is here to talk about his latest moyie. ('e/eln'ily. a comedy which takes a long. hard look at the nature ol lame at the end ol the 90s
('e/c/n'ity stars Kenneth Branagh and Judy l)a\'is as a diyorced New York couple. The break-up plunges l)a\'is into a state ol limbo which ends when she remarries and becomes a teleyision personality. Branagh plays a showbi/ journalist who crayes his own moment in the spotlight. In his scrabble lor lame. Branagh attempts to ingratiate himsell with people who could he ttsclul to him prolessionally. including Brandon Darrow. a beautilul. bad boy actor played with exciting yerye by Leonardo l)i(‘aprio.
(‘asting l)i(‘aprio. the Very lace ol
contemporary celebrity. seems a masterstroke. bttt the actor had signed up bclore li'Iu/Iir‘ opened and sent him interstellar.
’When I lirst saw him. he was not lamous.‘ conlirms Allen. 'Diane Keaton took me to see this picture .lluri'ink Room and I thought he was great. So when l was casting ('c/v/H‘iiy I said. "Why don't we take this kid l)i(‘aprio'.’" He‘s just perlect a handsome kid and a line actor. 'l'hen six months later. 'Ii'lunir hit and he
'In the United States everyone is a celebrity. A person is taken hostage on an aeroplane, thenthey come back to New York and get a ticker tape parade and a book deal.’ Woody Allen
became the biggest celebrity in the world. So I was Very. very lucky. [I was just good lortune.~
()n casting Branagh. Allen admits that he wrote the part ol l.ee Simon lor an American actor. bttt could lind no appropriate leading men. ‘American movies are so geared towards a heroic myth that there are no regular people around.‘ he grumbles with a shake ol his head. 'You‘re either 'l'om (‘ruise and you‘re gorgeous. or you're Robert De Niro and you‘re tough. I wanted a regular man with anxiety. who wasn't so good looking. Kenneth captured that New York anxiety that nervous. slea/y desperation ~- lirilliunlly.~
Despite Branagh's character"s attempts to interest Darrow in a script he has written. his dream is an empty one which can only end in disappointment. lior Allen. the whole concept ol lame is highly suspect.
'(‘c/e/n‘i/y is about a culture that has taken a wrong turn. In the l'nited States eyeryone is a celebrity. liyery cook. eyery restaurant owner. eyery priest. liyery lawyer in the ()J Simpson trial has now got his own teleyision show. eyery plastic surgeon has a claim to lame. A person is taken hostage on an aeroplane. they haye done nothing but haye a gun pointed to their head. then they come back to New York and get a ticker tape parade and a book deal.‘
Allen sits lorward in his chair. gesticulating incredulously. becoming increasingly animated as he warms to his theme. "l‘he most lamous woman in America has had sex with the President.~ he says. "l'wo weeks ago. someone called me and said. “We heard Monica Lewinsky is going to be in your next moyie". This is the lirst I’m hearing ol this. So now the lellatrix ol the White House is suddenly eligible lor moyies'.’ Nobody thinks that‘s strange. eyerybody thinks that‘s absolutely line. So. the culture has gone ln'rserk.’
Like so much ol his work. Allen didn‘t have to look lar lrom home to lind his theme. He has been lamous since the early ()(lS. when liye stand—up and appearances on the likes ol The lid Sullivan Show brought him to national prominence. But it was his ugly l‘)‘)2 split with Mia Farrow met his allair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi l’reyin (now Allen alter their marriage last year) which really made him tabloid lodder. ln Barbara Kopple's sr'li/t'p/iumentary ll'i/r/ .llu/t Blues. Allen makes a 23-date tottr ol liurope with his New Orleans Jazz band. 'l'hroughout the WW) trip. Allen and Soon—Yi are repeatedly hounded by papara/xi hungry lor pictures ol the controyersial couple. An unwelcome celebrity lor the reclusiye director.
"l‘hc downside ol celebrity is that you haye no priyate lile whatsoeyer.‘ he says. "l‘he paparazzi and press are always writing about your marriages. your pictures. your parents. eyery detail ol your lile. Also. I go to some public place and someone will start yelling out "Woody Allen! lley! 'l’here goes Woody Allen!” and ljtist want to die. It‘s the most embarrassing thing in the world. bttt it‘s not like I haye a ttnnour or something.
"l‘he upside ol celebrity is that you get the best seat at the theatre. and when you call a restaurant they giye you a booking right away. ll I’m home and I‘m sick on the weekend. my doctor drops his gollgame and comes over. whereas someone else gets a Wednesday appointment. You become part ol a triyial aristocracy. You get Used to it. and it‘s yery. yery pleasant.'
With that. he‘s oll. spluttering and coughing his way through his notorious lile. oil to explore a London bathed in llashbulb glare. lle'll make other moyies about the world he knows. a world ol lainous laces. gallery openings. expensiye restaurants. dyslunctional relationships. short men and tall buildings. There goes Woody Allen. 'l‘hat‘s all lolks.
Celebrity opens on Fri 18 Jun and will be reviewed next issue.
2 l0 J..r 1000 THE llST9