Interviewing Woody Allen is truly a privilege; with a career spanning 50 years and 24 Oscar nominations its impossible to know where to begin a conversation, we could talk to him for hours about classics like ‘Annie Hall’, ‘Manhattan’, ‘Hannah and her sisters’ or ‘Midnight in Paris’.
Today he’s here to talk to us about his latest film ‘Irrational Man’ a mystery drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley. Joaquin Phoenix plays tormented philosophy professor Abe Lucas who starts an affair with two women at the same time and the complications that changes the life of all three people forever.
I read that you think you’re a serious person. Do you think you have to be a serious person to make comedies like IRRATIONAL MAN?
Woody Allen: No, you just have to have a talent for it, which inexplicably, I have. No-one in my family was funny; no-one was in show business. For whatever crazy reason – it was like an ear for music – I was able, at a very young age, to write jokes; they were jokes that people wanted to buy. It’s pure luck; I have no idea why… As I said, no-one in my family – my father, my mother, my grandparents, my uncles – nobody has a sense of humour… I mean they have a normal sense of humour! And yet I was able to do it. I am very thankful for it; it’s given me a whole life.
It seems that you can identify with Joaquin Phoenix’s character in ‘Irrational Man’, that life is meaningless. Have you ever had a moment in life where all of that changed?
WA: No. It’s a bad deal. We got a bad deal. It’s unfortunate. As Jean-Paul Sartre said; as soon as you are born, you’re condemned to death; you are a condemned man in a prison. It’s a death sentence. It’s a terrible thing, and there is no way out of it. You can rage impotently, and that’s what Joaquin does. In fact, his impotence in the movie is symbolic of his impotence to life’s problems You can scream all you want, you can philosophise, you can rationalise and debate; you can fool yourself with a religion, you can think that you are an artist and your work will live on, but the cold, hard facts are that you’re in for it one day.
How do you manage to live with this very negative knowledge?
WA: I have wrestled with this problem my whole life; the only thing you can do is distract yourself. You will notice, if you wake up at three in the morning and you are laying in bed, and you don’t have your distractions, it can become very, very frightening, but in the daytime you have distractions. I make movies, and I work.
Joaquin’s character Abe spends a lot of time planning the perfect crime in ‘Irrational Man’; is this a fantasy of yours?
WA: Yes. If I could kill people and murder people, I would be the only one let in the world, I think. I could run through them one after the other. This is in the movie; there is something aesthetically pleasing… When you are sitting on the train or the bus and just thinking, many times I will plan the perfect bank robbery, or I will plan the perfect jewel robbery and sometimes a murder; you think to yourself ‘I want to do the perfect murder, how could I do this?’ and there’s a creative aesthetic to it. You get the same genes working, the same juices flowing; you’re making up stuff, and you’re creating things and it’s very satisfying. I am sure mystery writers do that all the time, and when they do, they get a very good mystery story written.
Abe seems very complex in the movie, is Joaquin as complex as an actor?
WA: You think he is, he’s a very sweet guy; very nice, and very gentle, and very professional – he learns his lines, he’s on time, he’s very kind to everybody – but tortured. If he was here, and you said to him at the table ‘Pass the salt’, it’s like Hamlet. I never had to direct him! If you just look at him and put the camera on him he looks like he’s suffering every minute. I don’t think he’s suffering, I think he’s fine. He’s a very nice person – he’s got a girlfriend and he functions – but you would think that you’re with one of the most tortured, disorientated, crazy person… Something in him projects that, but he’s not. He’s a very sweet man.
Would you agree that casting Parker Posey in one of your films is one of the best things you have ever done?
WA: I always was intrigued, as you have to be with the name Parker Posey. I would see her in these offbeat pictures, and she was always very good in them, and I never had anything that she was right for, but I would have used her in a second. Then my casting director Juliet Taylor ran into her in Poland, and came back and said ‘I think she would be very good to play the other teacher’ and I thought ‘Yes, she’s attractive, she plays that mixed up quality very well’, so she came in and I met her for two minutes. We hired her, and she was great.
You are working on a TV series with Amazon right now, how is that going? I read that you were jokingly saying it was going to be a disaster…
WA: Yeah I wasn’t joking! For the first time in my life I am having a very hard time with it, a very difficult time. I thought that it would be easy because it’s six half hours, but it’s very hard. I’m struggling with it and I hope I don’t embarrass myself, I hope I don’t disappoint Amazon. It’s coming very slowly and ponderously. I don’t have a good feeling about it.
‘Irrational Man’ is released in Irish cinemas on September 11th.
Watch the trailer below
Words: Brogen Hayes