Film icon Woody Allen continues his globe-trekking ways following the success of his films set in London (“Match Point,” “Scoop”), Barcelona (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) and Paris (“Midnight in Paris”), with yet another beautiful old European city as the backdrop of his latest romantic comedy, “To Rome With Love.”
Allen, 76, insists the setting of his latest ensemble comedy, which stars Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni and Jesse Eisenberg dealing with issues relating to amour, is partly a financial consideration.
“I get calls from countries that are asking me to come and make films there,” the bespectacled New Yorker explains. “The first one was (2005’s) “Match Point.” They gave me the money to make it in London, so I was happy to make it there. Then I found that other countries started calling me. Barcelona (Spain) wanted me to make a film. And then Paris and Rome.”
Allen fans will be pleased to know the director, who last appeared onscreen in his 2006 mystery-comedy “Scoop,” again acts in “To Rome With Love.” He plays a retired music industry executive who can’t cope with retirement. “Retirement equals death,” he tells his onscreen wife (Judy Davis) in the movie. Instead, his character, Jerry, who is in Rome to meet his daughter’s Italian fiancé, nudges his future son-in-law’s father into becoming an opera singer. Only problem is the poor fellow suffers from stage fright. It’s up to Jerry to figure out how to bring the singing mortician’s booming tenor out of the shower and in front of a paying theater crowd.
That story intertwines with three other comical plots: a country bride gets lost in the city and is tempted with infidelity by an unscrupulous movie star; an American expatriate invites her actress friend to visit despite a warning she’s a boyfriend stealer; and an ordinary working Giuseppe becomes a paparazzi target for no apparent reason.
Q: It’s been a while since we’ve seen you in front of the camera. Why did you decide to be in film?
Allen: Because there was a part for me. When I write a script, if there’s a part for me, then I play it. As I’ve gotten older, the parts have diminished. I liked it when I was younger. I could always play the lead in the movie and I could do all the romantic scenes with the women. Now I’m older and I’m reduced to playing the backstage doorman or the uncle or something, and I don’t really love that.
Q: What was the inspiration for setting this in Rome?
Allen: There were two things. One is I had been talking about making a film in Rome for years with the people in Rome who distribute my films. They always said come and make a film. Finally, they said, “We’ll put up all the money necessary to make the film,” so I jumped at the chance because I wanted to work in Rome. It also was an opportunity to get the money to work quickly, and from a single source.
Q: How did you know Italian star Roberto Benigni would be compatible with your style of humor?
Allen: I didn’t think it would be compatible with mine. I thought I would have a difficult time with him, that he would be irrepressible and I would never be able to get his attention, and he’d be running around being crazy, but in the end, it turned out he was quite intellectual and quite poised and a pleasure to work with.
Q: Where did the idea of an opera singer (played by opera star Fabio Armiliato) who only can sing in the shower come from?
Allen: Sometimes I’ll pull out an idea from my drawer that says, for example, a man who can only sing in the shower. It’ll occur to me this could make a funny story. That’s what happened with this. There were some ideas in this movie that came out of the notes that I had given myself over the years.
Q: So much of the film is a meditation on fame and accomplishment. What made you decide to focus the movie around those situations, and how you feel about fame in your own life?
Allen: I feel the same way the chauffeur (in the movie) talks about it: life is tough, whether or not you’re famous. In the end, of those two choices, it’s better to be famous because the perks are better. I’m not saying it’s fair. It’s kind of disgusting in a way. But I can’t say I don’t enjoy it.
Q: Alec Baldwin’s character takes a trip down memory lane in the movie. If you could go back in time where would you go?
Allen: I would like to go back in time, but just for lunch. I would not like to live in the past because there are all those drawbacks, as I mentioned in (“Midnight in Paris”). You don’t get an anesthetic when you go to the dentist. You don’t get antibiotics. You don’t get the things that you’re used to now. Cell phones and televisions and things like that are very convenient. But it would be fun if you could, every now and then, just meet a friend for lunch at Maxine’s in Paris in 1900 or go back to 1870, just for a couple of hours. Take a walk in the park and then come right back to Broadway.
Q: In this film your character equates retirement with death. Is that how you feel as well?
Allen: Retirement is a very subjective thing. I was saying this before that there are guys I know that retire and they’re very happy. They travel all over the world. They go fishing. They play with their grandchildren, all that kind of stuff, and they never miss work at all. Then there are other people like me. I like to work all the time. I can’t see myself retiring and fondling a dog someplace. I like to get up and work and get out. I’ve got too much energy, too much nervous anxiety or something. If my health holds out, I don’t expect to retire. But the money could run out. The guys that back the films get wise and then they say this is not really worth all the suffering and they stop giving me the money. But I still wouldn’t retire I don’t think. I think I would still write for the theater or write books.
Q: With all the films that you’ve made, is there one that haunts you?
Allen: No. When you make a film it’s like a chef who works on the meal. After working all day in the kitchen and dicing and cutting and putting the sauces on, you don’t want to eat it. That’s how I always feel about the films. I just never want to see it again. When I begin a film I always think that I’m going to make “The Bicycle Thief” or “Grand Illusion” or “Citizen Kane.” I’m convinced this is going to be the greatest thing that ever hit celluloid. Then, when I see what I’ve done afterward, I am praying it’s not an embarrassment to me. I’ve never been satisfied or even pleased with a film I’ve done. There’s such a difference between the idealized film in your mind and what you wind up with that you’re never happy or satisfied. I’m always thankful the audience bails me out and some of them they’ve liked, in spite of my disappointment.
Q: Even “Annie Hall?”
Allen: That film was not supposed to be what I wound up with. It was supposed to be what happens in a guy’s mind. You were supposed to see a stream of consciousness in his mind. I did the film and it was completely incoherent. Nobody understood anything that went on. The relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about, and that was not what I cared about. That was one small part of another big canvas that I had. In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton and that relationship. So, I was quite disappointed in the end of that movie, as I was with other films of mine that were very popular.
Q: Are there other countries you’ve considered making a film?
Allen: It would have to be a civilized place. I don’t want to make a picture in Uzbekistan or the Sudan. I’d consider Greece. I’ve been there twice. I saw a jazz concert there.